The commemoration of Palestinian Land Day (March 30) this year coincides with yet another step forward in the implementation of the Sharon government’s long-term strategy aimed at crushing Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation and Palestinian demands for a comprehensive and just peace consistent with international law and UN resolutions (i.e., right to self-determination and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin) by means of the gradual re-occupation of all or most of the areas designated as Palestinian controlled areas under the Oslo Accords.
In the early hours this morning the Israeli government authorized a yet unprecedented military campaign against the Palestinian people and its leadership, including the mobilization of Israeli reserve units, the “complete isolation” of Palestinian president Arafat, and “deep and long-term” army incursions into Palestinian population centers. Currently the Palestinian presidential compound in Ramallah is being attacked by Israeli tanks, several Palestinians have been killed and injuries are reported from inside the building.
Israel’s latest large-scale military campaign is not simply a response to the recent violence, including Palestinian suicide bombings, in Israeli towns and colonies (i.e, settlements) in the 1967 occupied territories. Recent Israeli intelligence reports conclude that Israel’s military campaign has a negative effect on events on the ground, seriously damage the ability of Palestinian Security forces to carry out orders, and that there is a direct link between Israel’s military strategy and suicide attacks. Rather, the new military campaign begun this morning is part and parcel of Sharon’s strategic plan that builds on the earlier ‘achievements’ of his government. Since the first, rather limited and short-term Israeli incursions into Palestinian controlled areas (i.e., Area A) in mid-2001, the Israeli government has been able to establish the fact, that such incursions are accepted as a normal phenomenon by the international community. (See BADIL press release E/45/2001, 29-8- 2001). At the same time, Israel has gradually increased the lethal character of weapons used against the Palestinian population, from snipers, to tanks, Apache attack helicopters and finally F-16 fighter jets.
As the international community continues to stand by passively, the escalation of Israel’s military assault on the Palestinian people represents a tragic step backwards in the quest for justice and peace in the Middle East. It might well set the stage for the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict for decades to come. The commemoration of the 26th anniversary of Land Day tomorrow is a sober and urgent reminder of the unresolved root causes of the ongoing conflict - i.e., the mass dispossession of an entire people.
2002 Land Day Memorials in Palestine
Land Day commemorates the day nearly three decades ago when Israeli security forces shot and killed 6 Palestinians during demonstrations and a general strike called by the Palestinian leadership inside Israel to protest ongoing expropriation Palestinian land to build new Jewish colonies and expand existing Jewish cities. Today Land Day symbolizes Palestinian frustration concerning ongoing expropriation and unresolved claims to real property restitution. Inside Israel the Arab Higher Follow-Up Committee will hold a central commemoration event in the unrecognized village of al-Araqib in the Naqab (Negev) in order to highlight the specific plight, needs and demands of the indigenous Bedouin community. Activities will take place around an existing protest tent set up in February following the destruction of 14,000 dunums of Bedouin wheat fields in by the Israel Lands Administration. Scheduled activities in the occupied Palestinian territories are unable to proceed due to Israel’s military assault and re-occupation of Palestinian population centers.
Land Day and Ongoing Palestinian Dispossession
Since the commemoration of Land Day one year ago, Israel has continued to dispossess and violate the basic human right to property of the indigenous Palestinian population. Inside Israel, the government demolished Palestinian homes in numerous villages and towns, including Katamat, al-Bean’ana, al-Kbasi, Deir al-Assad, al- Hussainiya, Majd al-Krum, al-Khalid, Jisr al-Zarqa, Ramle, Iballin, and Lydda among others. Land continues to be expropriated for a new Trans-Israel highway that will further divide Palestinians inside Israel into isolated and discontiguous geographic zones. The Israel Lands Administration (ILA) continued to damage cemeteries, mosques and churches in depopulated Palestinian villages and destroy crops planted by the Bedouin in the Naqab. On the eve of the 26th anniversary of Land Day, plans were revealed for the expropriation of 13,000 dunums of Palestinian land near the Palestinian town of Shafr Amr to establish a nature reserve and national park.
In the occupied Palestinian territories the expropriation and damage to property also continued unabated. Around 30 Palestinian homes were demolished in eastern Jerusalem in 2001 with hundreds more in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000 it is estimated that Israel has demolished more than 500 shelters in Palestinian refugee camps alone. Thousands of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been damaged. During Israel’s last military assault on Palestinian refugee camps at the beginning of March at least 1,800 refugee shelters were damaged. Between 29 September 2000 and the end of February 2002, Israel bulldozed more than 32,000 dunums of Palestinian land, uprooted nearly half a million trees, and demolished more than 200 homes of Palestinian farmers.
Dispossession and Displacement 1948 - 2002: The Root-Cause of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Israel continues to reject all claims to real property restitution for Palestinians inside Israel, in the 1967 occupied territories and for Palestinian refugees in exile. During the year, the government once again refused to implement an outstanding 50 year High Court decision allowing the residents of two Palestinian villages, Iqrit and Bir’am to return to their village, lands and homes. Israel also rejected a request to release information on the moveable property of Palestinian refugees held by Israel’s Custodian of Absentees’ Property because “it might damage Israel’s foreign relations.” At the same time Israel continues to support Jewish claims to real property restitution and restore Jewish absentee property inside Israel to the appropriate heirs.
Since 1948 Israel has expropriated more than 17 million dunums (17,000 sq. km) of land owned by Palestinian refugees, nearly 1 million dunums owned by Palestinians inside Israel, and has further expropriated and/or controls some 4.7 million dunums in the 1967 occupied West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. In 1948 Palestinians owned more than 90 percent of the land in historic Mandate Palestine. Today, the indigenous Palestinian Arab population owns and controls just over 10 percent of the land within the borders of their historic homeland (i.e., inside Israel and the 1967 occupied territories). At the same time, more than half of the indigenous Palestinian population has been displaced/expelled to areas outside the borders of the their historic homeland. A total of three-quarters of the indigenous Palestinian population are displaced either outside or inside their homeland.
Israel’s mass dispossession of the Palestinian people violates principles set forth in at least four bodies of international law, including the law of nationality/state succession, human rights law, humanitarian law, and refugee law (a subset of human rights law). Numerous UN human rights bodies have examined Israel’s land policies and have issued reports all of which find Israel’s land and housing law and practice concerning Palestinians to be in violation of international human rights law. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Committee on Civil and Political Rights, and Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination have called upon Israel to remedy the “deeply imbedded discriminatory social attitudes, practices and laws” with regard to land and housing and further called upon Israel to “respect property rights irrespective of ethnic origin” and the “right of many Palestinians to return and possess their homes in Israel.”
Israel’s latest military assault on the indigenous Palestinian population on the eve of the 26th anniversary of Land Day comes in the wake of a comprehensive peace proposal unanimously endorsed by the member states of the Arab League. Israel’s decision to reject the proposal highlights the unresolved root cause of the conflict. Explaining Israel’s position, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak stated on CNN International that ‘Israel is not a normal democracy, it is not enough for Arab states to recognize Israel, they must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.’ In other words, the condition for peace set by Israel’s military and political establishment is Arab/Palestinian recognition of Israel’s ‘right’ to permanently displace and dispossess the Palestinian people regardless of fact that such displacement and dispossession violates all norms of international law. If Israel is not a normal state, as acknowledged by Barak and other Israeli politicians, how is it possible to achieve a just peace and conduct normal relations?