A Day after in Palestine

The Rights of a People

Thirty-seven years ago the Israeli Housing Minister stated: “If you want to develop an area you have to confiscate some lands.  We have done this very slowly with extreme consideration and much patience.”  It is doubtful that the average Palestinian was aware of these reassuring words, reported by the Associated Press on 31 March 1976.  But after a day of deadly conflict, they woke to a very real understanding of Israeli “consideration.”

On 30 March 1976 Palestinians held a general strike to protest against the recently announced intention of the Israeli forces to further snuff out Arab viability in the Galilee region.  The Israeli government intended to expropriate 5000 acres of land in order to build Jewish-only settlements.  The government conceded that 1625 of those acres belonged to its Arab citizens and claimed that an additional 2000 were owned by the “Israeli Land Authority.”  The Palestinian people knew there was a fundamental and ethical flaw in what has continued to be known as the “Judeaization of the Galilee.”  Even the Israeli High Court would soon highlight the illegality of such political land-grabs.

The Palestinians formed a committee to address their concerns to the Israeli state which now claimed them as citizens.  Just the week before the demonstration, a spokesman for the Arab committee stated:

This is not a Palestinian issue, or an issue of Arab nationalist feeling.  I look at this as a human rights issue, as a minority living in the country.  We are not against development.  We want development.  We are the ones who need it.  If the government wants to develop the Galilee, it should include Arabs in the plans.  It should set up a committee to make plans that would serve both Jews and Arabs.

The estimated 400,000 Palestinian people who participated in the strike protest knew the time had come to take a common stand.  But the Israeli armed forces would not tolerate what they viewed as insubordination.  They turned their weapons on the protestors, killing six outright, injuring dozens and arresting hundreds who persisted in their protest.  While the Western media quickly put down the fatal day as an outbreak of rioting Arabs, the nature of Israeli “consideration” was revealed by the brute force of Zionism.

Far from being granted any semblance of democratic participation, the Arab voice was smothered.  As one journalist described,

Hundreds of Israeli troops backed by armored cars sealed off the violence-torn villages from the rest of Israel and refused to let reporters past the outskirts of Deir Hana.  Israeli troops fanned out among the olive trees ringing the hilltop village as hundreds of chanting Arabs demonstrated inside Deir Hana.  A large cloud of black smoke hung over the town.  This reporter managed to get within 200 yards of the demonstrators before being forced by Israeli troops to leave the area.  Dozens of gunshots could be heard amid the chants of the demonstrators…. At Kfar Kanna , a town between Nazareth and Tiberias, 1000 protesters demonstrated near the council building.  Police used tear gas to break up a crowd of high school students, most of them girls, who set up roadblocks.

Why such a show of force?  Because the Arabs were viewed merely as a “fifth column,” as an “ominous new element confronting the Jewish state.”  Then Defence Minister Shimon Peres stated:

We were wrong for 28 years in thinking we could ignore the ethnic difference between Arabs and Jews…. You can’t expect an Arab to be a Zionist, support Jewish immigration to Israel an sing the national anthem.

As years of conflict have ensued, ‘Palestine Land Day’ has been a yearly reminder of the intentions that were so clearly exposed in 1976.  Israel has boldly continued the policy of expanding Jewish-only land and of purging non-Jewish inhabitants.  This “creeping form of annexation” has been identified and condemned by the United Nations not only just weeks ago,  but over and over again for decades.  Nothing has changed.  Yet the Palestinian people refuse to be arbitrarily renamed “Israeli Arabs,” to be branded as terrorists and stomped into submission until they fade into a half-remembered history.   Perhaps when they woke up after that day of deadly conflict, they realised that those who reduced them to dispensable pawns did not destroy the humanity of the Palestinian people, but forfeited their own.

Brenda Heard is the founder and director of Friends of Lebanon, London. She can be contacted at: mail@friendsoflebanon.org. Read other articles by Brenda.