Middle East

Palestine: Thousands Mark Land Day

Concertina wire lies between Israeli soldiers (right) and Palestinian demonstrators shouting slogans against the Israeli occupation during a protest marking Land Day in the village of Umm Salamunah, near the West Bank town of Bethlehem on March 30, 2008. (Photo: Hazem Bader / AFP-Getty Images)

Thousands of Palestinians across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel demonstrated on March 30, the 32nd anniversary of the killing by the Israeli security forces of six unarmed Palestinian demonstrators who held Israeli citizenship. They were participating in a protest against Israeli expropriations of Arab land.

At this year's Land Day commemoration, Higher Arab Monitoring Committee chairperson Shuweiki Hatib told protesters in Sakhnin, a Palestinian city in northern Israel, that Israel was continuing to pursue "its longstanding policy of discrimination with the intention of disenfranchising us." According to the March 30 Haaretz, he said that discrimination against Palestinian Israeli citizens "is everywhere."

Palestinian Land Day rallies took place in West Bank cities including Nablus, where Palestinians sought to highlight the Israeli occupation forces' restrictions on Palestinian movement. At Khadar, near Bethlehem, 400 Palestinians and Israelis demonstrated against the illegal annexation of Palestinian land and the construction of the apartheid wall.

Israel has continued to expand its illegal settlements. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced the expansion of the Israeli settlements of Givat Zeev and Neve Yaccov. According to a report issued on March 31 by Peace Now, the expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem has accelerated since the November 2007 "peace conference" between Olmert and Palestinian Authority (P.A.) President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel has also continued its collective punishment of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, placing severe restrictions on fuel, electricity, food, and medical supplies.

The restriction of fuel, in particular, has resulted in extensive electricity blackouts in Gaza, resulting in hospitals not being able to carry out surgery and run life-saving medical equipment. Hospitals have also not been able to dispatch ambulances due to lack of petrol.

The Israeli siege has also resulted in shortages of fresh drinking water, as diesel fuel is required to run water filtration pumps. According to the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utilities, around 30 percent of Gazans are without drinkable water. The utility company has also been forced to dump untreated sewage directly into the sea at a rate of 30,000 cubic meters per day, as there is no fuel to run Gaza's sewage processing plants.

Israel has sought to justify its illegal collective punishment of a civilian population as a way of putting pressure on Gazans to turn against Hamas, which won the last P.A. elections. Since Hamas defeated a United States-backed coup plot in Gaza by Fatah security bosses, Israel has continued to put pressure on Abbas not to reach an accommodation with Hamas.

Israel's latest attempt to maintain Palestinian disunity came on March 24, just one day after Hamas and Fatah signed a Yemen-sponsored reconciliation deal promising to reconvene direct discussion to end hostilities between the two movements and to enable the re-establishment of a Palestinian national unity government.

The Sanaa Declaration, signed by Hamas negotiator Moussa Abu Marzouk and Abbas envoy Ahmed Qureia, stated: "We, the representatives of Fatah and Hamas, agree to the Yemeni initiative as a framework to resume dialogue between the two movements to return the Palestinian situation to what it was before the Gaza incidents." It affirmed the "unity of the Palestinian people, territory, and authority" and proposed new elections, the creation of a national unity government and the reform of Palestinian security forces in both Gaza and the West Bank along national rather than factional lines.

However, within hours of the agreement being signed, Fatah began to backpedal. The March 24 Haaretz reported that Israel had threatened to end "peace talks" with Abbas if Fatah and Hamas reconciled.

Despite Israel failing to meet any of the benchmarks it promised at the November Annapolis "peace" conference, Fatah quickly renounced its commitment to the Yemeni plan. According to Fatah leaders, including Qureia, the document was agreed to only as a result of a "mix up." Hamas, however, has stated that it will adhere to the agreement.

From Green Left Weekly.