Arab leaders in Israel have decided to carry on with their plans for the 46th annual Land Day on Wednesday amid concerns by both Palestinian and Israeli officials that events may exacerbate tensions at a volatile time, after three deadly attacks against Israelis in a week.
Palestinians worldwide have commemorated Land Day since 1976, when Israeli forces shot dead six Israeli Arabs who were protesting the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel to build Jewish communities. About 100 others were wounded and hundreds were arrested during the protest on March 30 of that year.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee's chair, Mohammad Barakeh, said following a Wednesday morning meeting on plans for the day that events will be held "despite the difficult atmosphere and the bloodshed." Barakeh said events across the country, which are planned in coordination with police, will be limited.
The main event in Israel began in the Galilee town of Sakhnin, and from there marchers will continue to Arabeh and then to Deir Hanna, the site of the main rally. Only a small and young crowd attended the demonstration that departed from Sakhnin.
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The protesters were waving Palestinian flags and calling against Israel's occupation and land expropriation, including calls for supporting the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev.
Deir Hanna’s mayor, Kasem Salem, told Haaretz that logistical preparations had been completed but that organizers were worried that participation would be low due to the recent wave of attacks.
A senior member of the monitoring committee said, “We will not let the attackers dictate the agenda, we will continue with the events even if [participation] is limited. We condemn the attacks, the assailants not only hurt innocent people, they also pour fuel on the incitement against Arab citizens ahead of Ramadan.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip announced that Land Day would be marked in the plaza at the Gaza Port and not near the border fence.
According to the organizers, the change of location is meant to reduce tension and keep the event away from the border fence with Israel. Nevertheless, there is also concern in Gaza that groups of young people may approach the fence nevertheless.
According to a Hamas official, the organization does not want escalation at this time and so even if people gather near the fence, it will not be a large crowd.
Security officials met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to assess the situation. The army says it does not expect security incidents to be initiated by Hamas against Israel on Land Day, but it has been decided to beef up forces in the West Bank and southern Israel near Gaza in expectation of the day.
Intelligence officials said that the improved situation in Gaza has led Hamas to control demonstrations expected in Gaza.
Local rallies are also expected in the West Bank. According to a senior figure in the Palestinian security services, the events of the last few days and the high level of tension will also require the Palestinian Authority to act to curb escalation. The problem, according to the official, is in areas where the PA’s control is limited.