Israeli Arabs Mark Land Day in Protest; Organizers Disappointed Over Low Turnout

A group of protesters attack an Al Jazeera reporter claiming that his coverage of the conflict in Syria was slanted and anti-Assad.

Around 10,000 people participated in the Land Day rally in Sakhnin on Saturday, while only around 1,000 came to the main event in the south of the country, a march in the vicinity of the unrecognized Bedouin village al-Sayed. Organizers of the latter event said they were disappointed with the low turnout, particularly in light of the fact that this year's theme was opposition to the Prawer plan, which calls for relocating tens of thousands of Negev Bedouin from unrecognized villages to recognized communities. The organizers attributed the low turnout in part to the scheduling of concurrent events in both the north and the south as well as to the deep sense of shock in the Negev Bedouin community after three brothers from the same family drowned while swimming at an Ashkelon beach a few days ago.

A group of protesters in Sakhnin attacked an Al Jazeera reporter claiming that his coverage of the conflict in Syria was slanted and anti-Assad. The reporter, Alias Kram, a resident of Nazareth sustained light injuries in the attack. Arab MKs and other activist helped the news crew escape to a nearby house.

The event began when dozens of protesters gathered around the news crew and towards the end of the rally and began chanting pro-Assad slogans after which some protesters assaulted the crew and broke their cameras.

Ramiz Jaraisy, the mayor of Nazareth who is also the chairman of the committee of Arab local authorities strongly condemned the attack, saying that it merely detracted from the main event.

Land Day is an annual event commemorating protests that broke out in 1976 against government land seizures, in which six Arabs were killed by Israeli security forces.

Figures in the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, an umbrella organization that includes most political parties and movements in Israel's Arab community, called for the expansion of the territorial jurisdiction of the country's Arab communities, most of which suffer from overcrowding and have little open land for new construction. Also on the agenda was the denunciation of incidents of anti-Arab bigotry and calls for the release of Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israel, especially older prisoners. In a press release the committee said Land Day in 2013 is not substantively different from Land Day in 1976, adding, "the Israeli government continues to take more and more land from the Arab public," first in the Galilee and in the Triangle - an area in central Israel, roughly bounded by the Arab towns of Baka al-Garbiyeh, Taibeh and Tira - and now in the Negev.

Participating in the Sakhnin rally were dozens of activists from human and civil rights groups, including a delegation from the unrecognized Bedouin village al-Arakib north of Be'er Sheva. As usual, participants waved Palestinian flags; a few activists, mainly from the Sons of the Village movement, waved Syrian flags. Demonstrators chanted slogans against the Israeli occupation and Israel's expropriation of Palestinian land. There were calls for the unification of the Palestinian factions, in particular Fatah and Hamas, as well as for the international and Arab communities to take immediate action to stop Israel's settlement policy, which jeopardizes any potential peace arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians.

MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) said: "Land Day is not an event that we remember, but rather it is the name of the main battle between us and the state. On Land Day [in 1976] the state explicitly declared that its main project is the Judaization of the land, and in so doing it declared itself to be an entity that is hostile and aggressive to the natives, the Palestinian citizens, and it is still so. The state did not begin to implement the principle of "the Jewish state" in '76, but rather since the establishment of the state, and it continues to do so today. The state expropriated 86 percent of the land of the Arabs, who today live on 3 percent of their lands, and it continues today with the expropriation of 800,000 dunams [about 200,000 acres] in the Negev, while at the same time uprooting 30,000 natives who were here before the establishment of the state. Not only racism but also chutzpah, immigrants come and ask the natives to prove their connection to the place! And if they do not, then they uproot them. The struggle for the land," Zuabi concluded, "will continue to be the main battle between us and the state, which does not cease to be hostile and aggressive toward us, and I have no doubt that it is the struggle that will ignite this already tense relationship."

The chairman of Hadash, MK Mohammed Barakeh, said the 37th annual Land Day comes at a time of the Israeli establishment's escalation of its battle for what remains of the land of the state's Arab citizens, particularly in the Negev, in addition to the land shortage in the Arab villages in the Galilee and the Triangle: "We are on the border, and before reaching a deterioration in relations between the state and the Arab citizens with regard to land reserves, I call for a popular struggle, to be headed by the Arab local government heads, on behalf of the expansion of the master plans; at the end of the day the state is not doing a favor when it expands these communities, but rather restoring, if only to a small extent, that which was expropriated over the course of many years," Barakeh said.

Land Day activities began earlier this week in certain Arab communities as well as mixed Arab and Jewish cities such as Jaffa and Acre. Hundreds of people, including a few Knesset members, took part in a rally in Taibeh on Friday for Land Day.

For the first time, Land Day was marked in Beit Safafa by opposition to a plan to build a road through the center of the East Jerusalem village.

Israeli Arabs wave Palestinian flags during a rally in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin