Demonstrators during a Land Day protest in Lod, March 29, 2011.
Demonstrators during a Land Day protest in Lod, March 29, 2011. Photo by Tali Mayer
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Organizers of international protest marches scheduled for Friday to mark Land Day have expressed concern that the demonstrations could get out of control due to the involvement of outside activists, some from as far away as East Asia. Land Day marks the anniversary of protests in the Israeli Arab community in 1976 over government land policy in which security forces killed six demonstrators.

Plans have been announced in the Arab world calling for protest marches up to the Israeli border. Haaretz has learned that major disagreements have developed between leading, mostly Palestinian, protest organizers in the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries, and other activists identified with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. It has also been learned that the protest organizers, who are billing the event as the Global March to Jerusalem, are attempting to refine their protest message and avoid a physical confrontation with Israeli forces.

The rift between the initial organizers and the outsiders developed after a delegation of pro-Palestinian activists from East Asia and some Arab countries promoting the Global March to Jerusalem arrived in Iran and met with a senior Iranian adviser to the country's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran promised support for the protest, which was not widely welcomed by the initial group of mostly Palestinian organizers of the protest, who wanted to maintain their independence.

Particular concern is being expressed that the outsiders will take over protest marches and seek confrontations on Israel's borders, particularly the Lebanese and Syrian frontiers, and that the outsiders will convey messages contrary to the original organizers' wishes. Members of the initial organizing committee say their group's plans call for peaceful marches in areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, in the Jerusalem area, Jordan and several locations in Europe, notably in front of Israeli embassies.

The protest message will include opposition to Israeli settlement expansion and alleged Israeli efforts to change Jerusalem's character through Palestinian home demolitions and expulsions, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz. The committee, which has cautioned Syria, Lebanon and Iran of the importance of an united approach to the Land Day protest, is planning additional action in May for "Nakba Day." Discussions have been held about possibly bringing thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters to Israel at that time.