In 2017, Land Day comes amidst new efforts to expand Israeli settlement project

By James Killin

Last Thursday 30th March marked the annual Land Day (youm al-ard) commemoration by Palestinians living in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza, and in the global diaspora. Demonstrations took place in towns and cities to mark 41 years since the killing of six unarmed Palestinians living in Israel – four killed by the IDF and two by the police – in response to Israeli policies of land expropriation for settlements, illegal under international law.

The decision in 1976 to seize 20,000 dunams (2,000 hectares) of land belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel around Sakhnin and Arraba in the Galilee was met with protests and a general strike, and more than 100 people were injured and many more arrested in protests that represented a significant moment in political organisation amongst Palestinians living in Israel, whose participation in national public life had been, and continues to be, hampered by discriminatory laws and practices.

Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has compiled an Index of what it points to as more than 60 active laws that “directly or indirectly” discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and which rule on a variety of measures “including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures”. These range from the 1950 Absentee Property Law, which they described in 2015 as being designed “to confiscate Palestinian refugee property after their displacement from their homes”, and the 2010 amendment to the Land (Acquisition for Public Purposes) Ordinance, which permits the state to use confiscated land contrary to the purpose for which it was initially seized and blocks the routes by which citizens can demand the return of confiscated land. These laws constitute and enforce a clear system of inequality on the basis of ethnicity, and the events of March 30th 1976 are just one example of the desperate lengths to which Israeli governments have gone to confront and deter opposition to this system.

In 2017, Land Day comes in the wake of renewed developmental and judicial efforts by the Israeli government to extend its settlement project, including with the approval of Emek Shilo, the first new settlement in the West Bank for 20 years, and fears of a revived “Prawer Plan” to dispossess and displace between 80,000 and 90,000 Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel in the Negev. The ‘regularization bill’ passed in February retroactively legalises sites on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, a move that UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov warned would have “far reaching legal consequences” for the country. The law, which passed its second and third readings in the Knesset on February 6, reifies a hitherto oblique method employed by the Israeli government to legalise unauthorised settler outposts by recognising them as neighbourhoods of larger government-approved settlements, as reported on by the New York Times last year.

Since January the Trump administration has adopted an overtly acquiescent stance towards the Israeli government and offered only the gentlest admonition to “hold back on settlements for a little bit”, allowing Netanyahu to acknowledge to say in a recent statement that “out of consideration to President Donald Trump’s position” his government would “take the necessary steps to minimise” settlement expansion, before going on to suggest that this would not always be possible, in which case development outside of existing areas would indeed take place.

This practice of land annexation continues, of which the construction of settlements – for Jewish Israelis only, with access to tax breaks and increased government infrastructure funding, protected by armed Civilian Security Coordinators whose salaries are paid by the Ministry of Defence – is only the most visible manifestation of occupation. With them come expropriation of natural resources and cultivable land, restrictions on movement and development through permit systems, house demolitions, and the increased militarisation of the West Bank, all of which coalesce in a multi-layered, incremental and active process of further encroachment on Palestinian private land. In this manner the material and judicial machinery of occupation are entrenched, further solidifying the “one state reality” and complicating any hypothetical division of jurisdiction between two sovereign states.

It’s important to remember that resistance is not organised according to anniversaries or significant dates but is a daily fact of life for a population living under occupation, manifest either as an actual military presence in the West Bank or as a de facto system of blockade by land, sea and air, as in Gaza. As such, it is imperative that pressure is applied both on and by the British government to recognise and criticise the practices of land confiscation and settlement construction, to demand an immediate halt to settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and to oppose any economic activity that is the product of a violation of international law. 

James Killin is an intern at Caabu