Thousands of Arab Israelis marked the 31st anniversary of Land Day on Friday by staging a mass rally in Sakhnin.
In addition to thousands of Arab citizens, the mass march through the city drew Arab Israeli MKs, Arab community leaders, and Jewish left-wing activist Tali Fahima who had been in administrative detention for contacting a Fatah military commander in the West Bank.
"Olmert, Peretz, and Lieberman, this is our homeland and we will not leave it," protesters shouted, referring to the prime minister, defense minister and the leader of right-wing party Israel Our Home, Avigdor Lieberman.
The yearly march commemorates the deaths of six Arab Israelis killed by security forces during a demonstration held on March 30, 1976, in protest at the government's decision to expropriate Arab land near Sakhnin.
Mohammad Bashir, the Mayor of Sakhnin, and Shaouki Khatib, the Chairman of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Affairs, were the main speakers at the rally.
"The thousands who came here proved that the Arab population had not disconnected itself from politics – the opposite is true," said Bashir. "This strengthens our fight for our land – to defend what remains and to demand that lands taken from us be returned."
"This historic day has become a general Palestinian, Arab and international day," said Khatib. "This is a day that symbolizes the struggle against discrimination as well as our legitimate rights."
"We are the indigenous inhabitants of this homeland, and the new and renewed incitement will not remove us from our land," he added.
Responding to recurring doubts cast by right-wing politicians about the loyalty of Arab Israelis to the Jewish State, Khatib said: "They ask about our loyalty to the state and we say that we are citizens of this country and above all we deserve full rights with no conditions and we will fight for that."
Speaking to Ynet at the rally's conclusion Khatib said: "There is a reality for the Arabs and a reality for the Jews and the Arabs are those who are being sidelined. We want to change this situation through democratic and legal means."
Khatib called on Israeli leaders to stop dealing with Arab Israelis as "a problem that needs to be solved" and to start treating them as full citizens.