Educators and students who took part in the 35th annual Land Day commemorations on 30 March are being investigated by the Israeli education ministry, which sent letters to Palestinian schools inside Israel demanding to see attendance reports.
Land Day is the annual day of remembrance for six Palestinians with Israeli citizenship gunned down by Israeli forces in 1976 during a general strike in protest of expanded land confiscation inside the state. Since Land Day protests began, many Palestinian citizens of Israel, across all sectors, have engaged in general strikes on 30 March.
The Alternative Information Center reported that “Dr. Orna Simchon, director of the [Israeli] Education Ministry’s northern district, sent a letter to Palestinian schools in the region on Land Day, demanding to know whether classes were held that day and if not, why. They were also asked to immediately report the attendance records for the day, including lists of teachers who had and had not come to school” (“Israel Begins Witch Hunt against Palestinian Educators, Pupils who Honoured Land Day,” 6 April 2011).
The Follow-up Committee on Arab Education - Israel responded to the investigation, sending a letter to members of the Knesset (Parliament) and the Ministry of Education.
The letter stated, in part: “We wish to emphasize that this is the full right of the Arab population, as a national minority and as citizens with equal rights, to conduct a strike in order to protest policies of discrimination and home demolitions, together with the worrying racist tendencies that have picked up speed in the state, in addition to the raging racism that is expressed by, amongst other ways, racist legislation that pushes Israel to become an apartheid state.”
The letter demanded that education ministry officials cease the investigations and “persecution of the Arab teachers,” and added that “[s]uch inexplicable steps serve solely to increase the feeling of distrust of the Arab public in the system and the alienation amongst Arab pupils, teachers and parents.”
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Palestinian schools in Lydd were personally visited by education ministry representatives, who conducted “surprise visits that morning and checked which teachers were absent” (“Education Ministry hunting for Arab teachers absent on Land Day,” 11 April 2011).
A teacher told Haaretz: “We felt like we were under a military regime … Like they were searching for criminals.”
This attack on Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who participate in actions that commemorate Palestinian struggle and resistance comes on the heels of the Knesset recently passing the so-called Nakba Law, which criminalizes recognition of the expulsion of more than 750,000 indigenous Palestinians during the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947-48.