Land and Blood: The Transformation of an Annual Commemoration into a Daily Experience

Guest contribution by Mohamad Ballan

Palestinians remember dates. For a country with such a rich heritage, this is an unsurprising fact. Over 17 civilizations have risen and fallen in Palestine in the last three millennia. It would almost be expected for such a people inhabiting an ancient land to remember some of the key dates which shaped the Palestinian people into who they are today. However, unlike other nations, which have the privilege of commemorating their accomplishments or historic milestones, Palestinians have the sad honor of recalling tragedies, not victories. For a population whose grandparents were subjected to imperial brutality, parents forced into exile, and children forced to endure one of the longest military occupations in modern history, it is no surprise that the Palestinian national calendar is devoted to remembering the martyrs that have fallen. For the sake of brevity, let us recall some of the dates which are now etched onto the Palestinian collective memory. November 27th: the illegal partition of Palestine against the wishes of its indigenous population. April 9th: the brutal massacre of 250 men, women, and children. May 15th: a day appropriately termed the “Day of Catastrophe,” commemorates hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages that were either extinguished from existence or systematically emptied of (over 750,000 of) its ancient inhabitants by Zionist paramilitaries, a process the world euphemistically terms “ethnic cleansing.” I wish to turn now to another date, no less important than those above but less understood. March 30th. Land Day. Yom al-Ard. Yom ha-Adama. This date carries its own significance. In addition to marking a historical event, it also represents a historical process and symbolizes the experience of an entire people.

Land Day, commemorated on March 30th, like the above events remembers a particular historical occurrence: the general strike and massive demonstrations on March 30th 1976 organized by Palestinians in the Galilee (so-called Israeli-Arabs) in response to Israeli land confiscation and settlement policies. In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli military and security forces, six Palestinians—all citizens of the State of Israel—were killed, about one hundred were wounded, and hundreds of others arrested. This was the first time since 1948 that Palestinians in Israel had organized a response to Israeli policies as a collective national body. It was, however, not the first time that Israel had opened fire on unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, this being part of its modus operandi since the inception of the state. Let me be clear on one point: on March 30th, Palestinians were not simply protesting a few land laws or Israeli settlements. They were responding to nearly thirty years of systematic oppression, violence, and discrimination directed against them by the Israeli state apparatus. Between 1948 and 1966, Palestinians in Israel were subjected to martial law, which allowed the murder of innocent civilians, the confiscation of land with impunity, and the expulsion of Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries with impunity. While martial law was finally lifted in 1966, the Israeli government eventually applied the very same regulations in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. This essentially subjected Palestinians formerly under Jordanian and Egyptian military control—hardly benevolent regimes—to the brutal system of repression and discrimination which their brethren in Israel endured for nearly two decades. For all the talk in Zionist propaganda circles that there is no shared Palestinian experience, their policy-makers sure did a bad job of distinguishing between “Israeli-Arabs,” “Gazan Arabs,” “Jerusalemites,” and “Judean and Samarian Arabs”. In fact, the casual observer might be forgiven if they concluded that all Arabs between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River were subjected to the same treatment. It is one of the many ironies of the modern Middle East that in their mistaken belief that the use of excessive violence would break the fabric of Palestinian society, it was this shared experience (courtesy of Israeli forces) which contributed to the revival and diffusion of Palestinian national consciousness from Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean coast, from the Negev to the Galilee. Some might even say that the unbreakable nature of Palestinian sumud (perseverance/steadfastness) was wrought in an Israeli furnace.

If I was permitted several volumes of space, I would be able to elaborate in detail on the specific regulations and laws which Palestinians in Israel were forced to endure between 1948 and 1966. As I write these words, the repression faced by the people of Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank since 1967 is still ongoing, and has in fact intensified. It is important to recognize that we cannot begin to understand Land Day without first framing it within this broad context of the Palestinian struggle for human rights. Although for many, Land Day has become nothing more than an annual ritual where we wave a few flags, light a few candles, and sing several songs, for the overwhelming majority of Palestinians Land Day is a daily experience. Land confiscations, Israeli settlements, police brutality, severe repression, and martyrdom are all aspects of Palestinian life under occupation. Bi’lin, Gaza, Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Jerusalem, Ni’lin, Hebron, Nablus, and Jenin are all a testimony to this fact. The Palestinians in Israel, subjected this week alone to three apartheid laws, share in the suffering of their brothers and sisters across the Apartheid wall. Land Day is thus a representation for the Palestinian cause as a whole. The relationship between identity, land, and blood lies at the very heart of the Palestinian struggle and is not simply a relatively obscure event that occurred in March 1976.

I would like to urge all Palestinians—and supporters of human rights around the world—that this March 30th they remember the martyrs that fell on Land Day and every day, because Land Day is not merely a historical commemoration, it is an ongoing process. Everyday has become Land Day for the Palestinian people, just as every Palestinian—regardless of whether they live under occupation, under Israeli rule, or in the Diaspora—endures the systematic oppression of the Israeli state and yearns for liberation from this apartheid system. Below are some of the names of martyrs that have been murdered by the Israeli regime on March 30th, including the names of the original six, whose martyrdom now symbolizes the sumud of the Palestinian people. I ask that you light a candle and recite a prayer for their souls:

March 30th 1976

Khayr Mohammad Salim Yasin (23 yrs old) from Arraba

Khadija Qasem Shawahneh (23 yrs old) from Sakhnin

Raja Hussein Abu Rayya (30 yrs old) from Sakhnin

Khader Eid Mahmoud Khalaila (24 yrs old) from Sakhnin

Muhsin Hasan Said Taha (15 yrs old) from Kufr Kanna

Rafat Ali Az-Zheiri (21 yrs old) from Nur Shams refugee camp

March 30th 1988

Suleiman Ahmad Al-Jundi (17 yrs old), from Hebron

Mohammad Faris Az-Zein (17 yrs old), from Jenin

Husni Mohammad Shahin (22 yrs old), from Jenin

Mohammad ‘Arif Qasim Salah (22 yrs old), from Nablus

Khalid Mohammad Salah (23 yrs old), from Nablus,

Wajiha Yousif Rabi’ (50 yrs old), from Ramallah

Abdil-Karim Mohammad Musa Al-Halayqah (25 yrs old), from Hebron

Shakir Mohammad Ali Malsiyeh (20 yrs old), from Ramallah

Musa ‘Azmi (30 yrs old), from Tulkarem

Iyad ‘Azmi (21 yrs old), from Tulkarem

Ma’rouf Mahmoud Nu’man (27 yrs old), from Tulkarem

March 30th 2000

Sheikha Yousef Abu Salih (72 yrs old), from Sakhnin

March 30th 2001

Ayish Ghazi Mustafa Zamil (19 yrs old), from Nablus

Ahmad Mahmud Abu Maraheel (16 yrs old), from Nablus

Sufyan Sa’id Abdel Rahman Saloum (31 yrs old), from Nablus

Murad Salih Ahmad Sharay’ah (21 yrs old), from Nablus

Khalid Shehadeh Deeb Al-Nahleh (27 yrs old), from Nablus

Mohammad Abdel Muhsin Khalid Al-Wawi (20 yrs old), from Ramallah

March 30th 2002

Ahmad Fathi Mahmoud ‘Ajaj (23 yrs old), from Tulkarem

Azmi ‘Adel Mahmoud ‘Ajaj (21 yrs old), from Tulkarem

Ahmad Abdel Jawad (22 yrs old), from Nablus

Isma’il Ibrahim Deeb Isa (56 yrs old), from Ramallah

Hussein Husni Hussein Al-Ashqar (27 yrs old), from Qalqilya

Fathi Jihad Fathi ‘Amerah (18 yrs old), from Nablus

Majdi Abdel Jawad Abdel Jabbar Khanfar (21 yrs old), from Jenin

Muhannad Ibrahim Fayyad Salahat (16 yrs old), from Bethlehem

Nuha Ziyad Ahmad Ikte’ (8 yrs old), from Gaza

Khalid Fathi Mohammad ‘Awad Allah (32 yrs old), from Gaza

Sa’id Abdel Rahman Mohammad Mahdi (60 yrs old), from Gaza

Omar Musa Mohammad Diab (54 yrs old), from Jericho

Ahmad Kallab (61 yrs old), from Gaza

Shahir Abu Sharar (33 yrs old), from Ramallah

Abdel Rahman Tawfiq Abdallah Is’id (58 yrs old), from Gaza

March 30th 2003

Mahmud Ali An-Najjar (18 yrs old), from Jabaliya, Gaza

Rami Jamil Mutlaq Ghanim (20 yrs old), Tulkarem

Mahmud Mohammad Rashid Al-Mashharawi (22 yrs old), from Ash-Shaja’iyyah, Gaza

Mohammad Farouq Tafish (16 yrs old), from Jabaliya, Gaza

March 30th 2004

Fatima Mohammad Shreiqi Al-Jallad (7 yrs old), from Khan Yunis, Gaza

March 30th 2005

Mu’tasim Al-Aqea’ from Qablan, Nablus

March 30th 2006

Ahmad Mahmud Ahmad Masharqa (23 years old), from Hebron

March 30th 2007

Kamil Kamal Kamil Musa (21 years old), from Al-Maghazi, Gaza

Mohamad Ballan is graduate from the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. He will be pursuing a Ph.D in History at Princeton University this coming fall. He currently offers a colloquium with Students for Justice in Palestine-De Paul, entitled “The Palestinian Struggle for Human Rights,” which seeks to provide a strong academic foundation for human rights activism by familiarizing students with the historical and legal framework of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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