Thursday, March 29, 2007

This Land is Theirs


eileen fleming


This March 30th marks the 31st year Palestinians throughout the world remember Land Day or 'Youm al-Ard' in Arabic. On March 30, 1976, in the Galilee, during a peaceful protest, six unarmed Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army and police, who also injured 96 others and arrested over 300.


The demonstration was prompted after Israeli authorities announced the confiscation of a total of 5,500 acres of land from Palestinian villages in the Galilee , and classified them as "closed military zones."

On March 25, 2006 , while in Jerusalem, this reporter connected just after dawn with a wide awake group of Israeli Jews to travel north to the lower Galilee municipality of Sakhnin, an Arab village whose land continues to be grabbed and colonized by Israel .

Ronnie, a Canadian moved to Israel with the desire to help build a civil society. She is a co-founder of Women in Black and active with Machsom Watch/women at the checkpoints who watch for and report on human rights abuse.

We both laughed when she told me, "A friend told me that I am so Left that if I ever gets to heaven I will probably argue with God that those in hell just didn't get a fair deal…Religion is used as a cover, but it's all about the land! It's convenient to claim one is doing something for God but the laws are made to take the land. We don't have settlers in Israel -the common name for illegal colonists in the West Bank-we just take it! First it is claimed to be for military reasons then it'll become a park or agricultural land that the state has confiscated.

"The Palestinians who did not leave in '48 but remained here still have lost their land. They can't get permits to build... I am opposed to the occupation and as an Israeli Jew I want to see justice for all...and I refuse to be enemies with anyone."

We traveled three hours from Jerusalem to be in solidarity with over 100 progressive Israeli's, Arab Christians, Muslims, atheists and communists who attended a tour of the area and conference coordinated by Batshalom's and The Women's Coalition for Peace and Justice.

This reporter was informed that not only had Israel confiscated acres of the most fertile of Palestinian land they had also placed land mines on the land. Many farmers and other innocent ones had lost their lives or legs, so people had quit caring for their groves and the Israeli government declared the village of Sakhnin a military zone.

A few years prior, the President of Israel had declared that the people of Sakhnin, a municipality deserved to have their land back. But the Israeli county of Misgav, abetted by the Israeli Land Authority continues to collect taxes from them but still have not returned any land nor have they issued any permits for Palestinians to build.

Israeli peace activist's commented, "In 2000 during Land Day, hundred's of nonviolent protesters were arrested and we were hit with tear gas and rubber bullets. Name it and we have had it!"

"I am an Israeli Jew and I am responsible to change something about this situation. We all need to do this together."

The speakers all spoke in Arabic or Hebrew, and my interpreter was Aliyah [Hebrew for "Go Up"], who was born in St. Louis, grew up in Cleveland and moved to Israel in 1948.

"My Father was born in Jerusalem and I was a Zionist, but now I am not so sure. I still want the Jewish people to have a state but it must be honest and moral, I don't want a piranha state! Before 1967 I was euphoric! My husband and I began to learn that there were Israelis who you could call prophets, who said we must return the land and make peace. Then a fundamentalist Jewish group, The Gush Emunim began erecting the settlements in the newly possessed land.

"When Israel went into Lebanon I was infuriated! I demonstrated against the massacres at Shatila and Shabra. Eighteen years of Israel in Lebanon is what built up the Hezbollah! The Israelis supported the group at first because they hoped the Hezbollah would be against the Palestinian refugees in South Lebanon."

I inquired, "Isn't that what Israel did with Hamas? Didn't they originally support Hamas to be a wedge against the PLO?"

Aliyah replied, "Yes, stupidity repeats itself!"

In the Northern part of Israel 53% of the population are Jews who control 80% of the land. Palestinians are 47% of the population with only 20% of the land.

Sakhnin has 25,000 people and less than 10,000 dunums of land but they only control half of that. In 1948 they owned and controlled 170,000 dunums.

A Defense Industry and Army base complex a few miles from where we stood has a most mysterious warehouse. Aliyah remarked, "No one knows what is going on inside, but it may be a nuclear reactor. The municipality asked the army to develop in another direction for there is a school over there too. The Israelis are allowed to expand anywhere, but the people of Sakhnin are not allowed permits to builds on their own land.

"I really became aware of what was going on in the '80's. I had been invited to a meeting of The Bridge for Peace and Coexistence, which is a group of Arab and Jewish activists. A man asked me where I was living and when I answered Bneitz-ion. He calmly and politely told me "That is my Uncle's land."

Since 1967 Israel has confiscated more than 750,000 acres of land from the 1.5 million acres comprising the West Bank and Gaza. Most of the land has been confiscated to make space for illegal settlement expansions, and bypass roads that are for the exclusive use of the Israeli colonists. Since 1948, Israel has confiscated nearly 85 percent of the territory within the Green Line from Palestinians. Most of this land was taken from the 800,000 Palestinian refugees, who were evicted or fled for fear of massacres during the 1948 war.

Israel's illegal settlement expansion and land confiscation has continued unabated and the ongoing construction of the Israeli separation wall, which has been described by a UN report as a "creeping annexation", involves the confiscation of the most fertile of Palestinian land and water sources.

The Israeli Knesset (Israeli parliament) has passed dozens of laws in defiance of U.N. Resolutions and International Law, such as the The Absentee Property law and the Development Authority (Transfer of Property) Law.

This law, which in Arabic is called 'Qanoon Elhader/Gayeb', was adopted in March 1950, and classified anyone who was a citizen or resident of one of the Arab states or a Palestinian citizen on November 29, 1947, but had left his place of residence, even to take refuge within Palestine , as an 'absentee'. Absentee property was vested in the Custodian of Absentee Property who then 'sold' it to the Development Authority. This effectively authorized the theft of the property of a million Arabs, seized by Israel in 1948.

Adopted in July 1950, this law was devised as a legal ploy to shield the Israeli government from the accusation that it had confiscated abandoned property. The Development Authority is an independent body empowered to sell, buy, lease, exchange, repair, build, develop and cultivate Palestinian property. None of these transactions could take place except with a Jew or a Jewish entity!

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 clearly asserts that the "occupying power cannot move segments of its own population to parts of the land it occupies," or make any demographic or territorial changes that are not in the interest of the occupied. Furthermore, provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention have unquestionably condemned Israel's settlement activities and demanded the ceasing of "all" settlement expansion by Israel.

UN Security Council Resolution 681 (1990) confirmed that the Forth Geneva Convention is applicable to the Occupied Territories and thus Israel's compliance is mandatory.

Yet, since 1992, settlement activity has increased 50% while the U.S.A. government has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the cries for justice from the occupied and oppressed people of the Holy Land.

Hope lies in the international communities resolve to seek justice and compel Israel to abide by UN Security Council Resolutions and International Law, for the inalienable rights of a people have been denied for far too long, and:

"Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law... Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."- PREAMBLE to the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

On May 14, 1948 The Declaration of the establishment of Israel affirmed:

"On the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations."

Might Israel and America remember those words on Land Day 2007.



March 29, 2007 © Copyright March 28, 2007 Eileen Fleming. Permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media if this credit is attached and the title remains unchanged.

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