For the past few weeks, Israeli machinery and bulldozers have been working at the northern entrance of Bethlehem city to construct the Segregation Wall. The path of the wall is almost complete in the area, confiscating Palestinian land and olive groves, and segregating Palestinian houses in the vicinity.
Yesterday (March 30), the residents of Bethlehem city went out to peacefully protest against the Israeli policies and the theft of their land for the on-going construction of the Segregation Wall. The demonstration was part of a national day of action to commemorate Yom Al-Ard (“Land Day”) in Palestine.
Yom al-Ard memorializes bloody confrontations in 1976 when Palestinian citizens of Israel marched to protest land confiscations in the Galilee. Six Palestinians were killed and around 100 injured by Israeli police, who opened fire on the demonstration. Since then, Yom al-Ard has been a time for Palestinians around the world to march for their national rights.
Foremost among the rights that Israel has stripped from Palestinians is land rights. Like many colonized indigenous people, Palestinians have seen the Israeli state appropriate massive quantities of land for Jewish settlements and colonization. As Marwan Bishara explains:
“In 1948 and the subsequent few years, Israel confiscated nearly 85 percent of the territory within the Green Line [what is now Israel] from Palestinians. Most of this land was taken from the 800,000 Palestinian refugees who were thrown out or fled for fear of massacres during the 1948 war. Over the five decades since then, Israel confiscated more than two-thirds of the land owned by its Palestinian citizens and on which they depended for their livelihood. Their share of land has dropped from 9 percent in 1948 to less than 3 percent in 2000.”
There are many shared experiences between the Palestinians who have remained in what is now Israel and those who currently live under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or in exile around the world. Yom al-Ard, however, is one of the few national events commemorated by Palestinians everywhere.
The day was highlighted by marches and demonstrations throughout Palestine. In Bethlehem, approximately 100 Palestinians, together with internationals, marched at noon from the center of the city to the checkpoint where the wall construction is taking place. The demonstrators chanted, sang songs and waved Palestinian flags and posters.
As the march neared an Israeli military base and a home occupied by the Israeli army, a line of soldiers met the marchers on the street. The soldiers pushed against the leaders but the rest of the march flooded past, as the chants and cheers grew louder. The process was repeated 3 or 4 times as the soldiers, realizing they were soon left at the back of the march, ran forward to try again to head off the demonstration. Each time, the march overwhelmed the army and surged ahead.
The march proceeded for several hundred meters in this manner before it was met by a large number of Israeli soldiers who parked military jeeps across the road to block the path. There, in the shadow of the Segregation Wall, the crowd sat in the street and sang songs for Palestine. The soldiers stood in a line and clutched their weapons which were loaded with live ammunition (instead of the rubber coated metal bullets which Israeli army regulations specify for use as “crowd control”).
Palestinians at the demonstration affirmed that their struggle against the Wall, and the Israeli policies in the area, would continue, and condemned any unilateral action taken by Israel to kill the hope of Palestinians to establish their own state and their right to live on their own lands.
Bethlehem Bloggers are Palestinians and internationals who are living in the Bethlehem region (see Map), and who want to tell the world what it is like to be living in occupied territory, under an economic siege, encircled by a wall and military checkpoints: what it is like to live in a Palestinian Ghetto. Visit the Bethlehem Bloggers site at bethlehemghetto.blogspot.com