Land Day rally in Sakhnin
Israel's Arab citizens went on a general strike on Wednesday to mark the 40th anniversary of Land Day.
Businesses, public institutions, and medical centers in the Arab sector were closed Wednesday, while protests organized by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel were held in the Galilee and the Negev in the afternoon.
Thousands of people protested at the villages of Arraba and Sakhnin in the Western Galilee and the village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev. Protesters called to continue the fight against home demolitions and land expropriation. They waved Palestinian flags and banners that said: "Give me land or give me death."
"We will keep fighting for our lands. The Israeli government and the police won't deter us," one of the protesters said.
Protesters were also joined by Arab MKs and by the leader of the outlawed northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Raed Salah.
"The Israeli government may come one day and accuse us of terrorism or incitement that they're responsible for," Salah said. "That's why we will say that we're the victims of terrorism, racism and incitement, which is perpetrated by the Israeli government. Even if they shut down the Islamic Movement a thousand times, we'll remain on our lands and in our homes and fight for our people and continue saying 'we will sacrifice our lives for al-Aqsa.'"
Ahmad Mansour, a resident of Tira, was not convinced the strike was effective. "The strike won't contribute anything. The Follow-Up Committee is wasting time and doing nothing to save the lands and save homes from demolition orders. Every year they do the same thing, but we're tired of it. Their silence will just encourage the government to continue the demolitions and land grabs," he said.
A businessman from Acre agreed, "The Follow-Up Committee doesn't represent us, it can't make us strike."
The chairman of the High Follow-Up Committee, Mohammad Barakeh, disagreed with the critics. "The strike has been very successful. We also learned of a lot of citizens who are coming to the main rallies today in the Negev and Galilee. It sends an important message to the government in Israel - there's no doubt about the need to fight for our existence and our home. The government must respect our rights at any cost," he said.
In the Gaza Strip, a 2.3-kilometers-long fence was created by local artists, who painted murals depicting Jerusalem's history. The fence's center goes through Gaza City's al-Katiba Square.
One of the artists told Palestinian newspaper al-Quds that the fence is meant "to display the history of Jerusalem throughout the generations, as well as the Judaization process it is undergoing today."
Another artist said he sought to express "the steadfastness and patience of the Palestinian people in their struggle against the occupation."
In addition to the fence, giant models of the Dome of the Rock and the Damascus Gate were erected in the center of the square.
Land Day is marked on March 30 every year since 1976. On that day 40 years ago, Israeli Arabs declared a general strike in protest of government decisions to expropriate Arab lands in the Galilee. A day before the strike, violent clashes broke out between IDF and Border Police forces and residents of the villages Deir Hanna, Arraba and Sakhnin in the Galilee. In an effort to stop the escalation of violence, the IDF sealed off these villages as well as nearby villages. Some of the residents tried to leave and six protesters were killed and 38 wounded in clashes with security forces.
A year later, Israeli Arabs started marking the day with memorials, strikes, and protests. The Palestinians in the territories joined them at a later stage.