Explainer

What Is Palestinian 'Land Day' and Why Is Israel Worried?

Assessments suggest that Hamas will rally some 100,000 people to demonstrate this coming Friday

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip plant olive seedlings ahead of the Land Day near the border with Israel, March 20, 2018.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP

Israeli security forces are girding themselves for potential violence on Friday, when thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip plan to march toward the border fence with Israel to mark Land Day.

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What is Land Day?

Palestinians worldwide have commemorated Land Day since 1976, when Israeli security 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 prostest on March 30 of that year.

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What's different this year?  

In addition to incidents along the Gaza-Israel border, a number of factors have led observers and officials to worry about the potential for violence. 

Backed by the Hamas government in Gaza, Palestinians intend to establish several tent camps housing thousands near the border. Thousands of Palestinians will camp out near the fence until Nakba Day in mid-May, with weekly demonstrations on Fridays.

Assessments suggest that Hamas will rally some 100,000 people to demonstrate this coming Friday. While the display of protest is meant to be nonviolent, Israel is preparing for outbreaks of violence. The recent detonations of explosive devices along the border and the crossing of three armed Palestinians into Israel on Tuesday morning on have brought the always-simmering tensions closer to a boiling point. 

Hamas's military arm conducted a large-scale drill throughout the Gaza Strip on Sunday, with machine-gun fire triggering Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system. Furthermore, the collapse of reconciliation efforts between Hamas and rival Palestinian faction Fatah means there is no end in sight for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

Meanwhile, a number of significant dates are likely to contribute to more protests: the upcoming Passover holiday, the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Palestinian Prisoners' Day and Israel 70th Independence Day. And it's not just Gaza. In the West Bank and Jerusalem, one Israeli civilian and two soldiers were killed by Palestinian attackers within the space of three days this month.