Last month I toured Lifta as part of Palestinian Land Week, a series of activities organized by the Balad Student Movement at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Palestinian Land Day. The underlying purpose of Land Week 2011 was to reiterate that Land Day, which commemorates the slaying of Palestinian citizens demonstrating for their rights by Israel in 1976, goes far beyond the narrow geographical limits and the traditional annual demonstrations held in the Galilee villages of Sakhnin and Arraba.
Although the Land Day demonstrations originally erupted in Sakhnin, Arraba and Deir Hanna — known as the Land Day Triangle — the March 1976 events, when six Palestinian civilians were murdered by the Israeli police, carry an enormous practical and symbolic significance that should not be reduced to mere folklore. Shackled for years by a repressive military regime, Palestinian citizens of Israel broke the psychological barrier of fear and braved the austere emergency rules to organize peaceful demonstrations against the mass land expropriation in an inspiring act of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance.
Adamant to expand the scope of Land Day, we kick-started Land Week 2011 with a massive demonstration of approximately 2,000 protesters in the southern city of Lydd on Tuesday, 29 March, in order to show our unwavering solidarity with its Palestinian inhabitants who have been the victims of a systematic policy of house demolition that exclusively targets Palestinian citizens.
The demonstration was unique in the sense that it was not organized by the High Follow-Up Committee for the Arab Citizens in Israel, an umbrella organization representing Palesitnian citizens of Israel on a national level, but rather by university students and young activists. That Tuesday’s demonstration drew thousands of Palestinian youngsters from the south, the north and Jerusalem as well as Jewish solidarity activists. They flooded the streets of Lydd, chanting against the occupation, land confiscation, house demolitions, the siege on Gaza, racist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the totalitarian regimes in the Arab world and the harmful intervention of the US in the region.
On 30 March, Palestinians from all walks of life — students, teachers, workers and shop owners — went on the annual public strike.
On Friday, 1 April, we participated in the Lifta tour organized by the Civic Coalition to Save Lifta and followed it by taking part in the weekly demonstration in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. There, we voiced our support for all the Palestinian families who have been evicted from their own homes to make way for settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. The families of Ghawy, al-Kurd and Hannoun — to name just a few — have been expelled from their own homes by Israeli forces in the last few years. These same forces have been unashamedly turning a blind eye to the violent settler attacks against Palestinian residents and have tried on countless occasions to crush the peaceful demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan with tear gas, bullets and arbitrary arrests.
Land Week 2011 came to a close on Wednesday, 6 April. The final event was titled “The Youth Revolution” and took place at Hebrew University. The evening’s events, however, were overshadowed by the tragic death of the great Palestinian filmmaker, actor, theater director and freedom fighter Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was murdered days earlier by unknown gunmen outside the Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. We screened a short but touching documentary filmed in the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, in which “Jule” and his students explain what freedom means to them (“The Freedom Theatre”).
The evening was capped off by the Haifa-born revolutionary singer and songwriter Ala Azzam, who sang for Palestine and social justice and against blithe apathy and the status quo. Azzam, singing and playing the oud in front of the Palestinian flag, articulated with his lyrics the challenges that Palestinian citizens in Israel face, along with our insistent yearning for freedom and justice.
Land Week may have officially concluded, but our nonviolent struggle against the ongoing onslaught of the racist, apartheid government against the Palestinian land and collective memory — demonstrated with the newly-approved “Nakba law” which criminalizes the commemoration of the Nakba (the dispossession of historic Palestine in 1948) and continuous land confiscation and house demolitions — will go on.