March 30, 1976, marked the first Land Day. The demonstrators then protested the government’s decision to expropriate land belonging to Arab citizens in the Galilee. The protest focused on the ongoing economic and cultural discrimination on the part of the Israeli government. Army and police forces were brought in to the Arab communities to suppress the demonstrations. Six protesters were shot dead.
The events of October 2000 erupted to protest the violent military repression of Palestinian resistance to the occupation, and the visit of then-Likud chairman Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount / al-Haram al-Sharif. Thirteen protesters died, the majority due to police fire. The Orr Commission which looked into the events stated, among other issues, that “the discrimination of Arab citizens in land and housing must be addressed urgently, and land must be allocated for construction in the Arab sector, in line with their legitimate needs for natural growth.”
The demonstrations, which have intensified in recent weeks against the evacuation of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, against restrictions on the number of worshipers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, and against the establishment of Jewish settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, have spread to other Arab communities and mixed cities in Israel. The police response is all too similar to that of 1976 and 2000.
The reasons for the protests 45 years ago were also relevant in 2000 and are still relevant today. The struggle of Palestinians – against the occupation, against the takeover of their lands by settlers, and against planning that does not allow construction for residential purposes – parallels the struggle of Arab citizens in Israel against the policy of continued discrimination in spatial planning, a policy which has led to severe housing shortages, to unlicensed building, and to the threat of home demolitions.
For those who ask how we got here, the writing was on the wall:
• Since 1948, the number of Arab citizens of Israel has increased eightfold, but their land has been reduced by 50%.
• Since the de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, over 80% of the land of Palestinian residents has been expropriated, taken over, or zoned for construction of Jewish neighborhoods, national parks and archeological sites.
• The Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem make up about 40% of the city’s population, but all the Palestinian neighborhoods together make up less than 20% of the city’s area.
• While the plans for Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and for other Jewish communities allow for residential construction, many of those prepared for Arab communities and Palestinian neighborhoods allow for almost no additional residential construction.
• In the Arab localities in Israel, in East Jerusalem and in Area C, the lack of up-to-date plans has caused an acute shortage of housing, and therefore unlicensed construction. The homes of many Palestinians living under Israeli control are thus in constant danger of demolition.
What is happening today is not just a struggle between ethnic groups and religions, or of an indigenous population against the reduction of its living space. This is the struggle of men and women for a dignified life, in homes protected from demolition, for living conditions which include proper infrastructure and social services, and for an ending to displacement.
We join the call to end the occupation, to cease the harm to innocent people in Gaza and in Israel, and to stop all violence. We further appeal to the community of planners not to take part in planning that pushes Palestinians out of their lands and does not allow them to live in dignity and exercise their rights. We hope that Israel will finally learn that the use of force is a choice that condemns us all to life in the shadow of constant violence.