On March 30th 1976, as the latest Israeli mass-appropriation of Palestinian-owned land was underway, Palestinian citizens of Israel staged mass protests from the Galilee to the Naqab. The state’s response was violent, leading to the killing of 6 unarmed protesters and more than 100 injured in the Galilee. Many people believe this event was pivotal in developing the Palestinian body politic as an early example of mass collective action implemented by Palestinian citizens of Israel within the context of the national Palestinian struggle.
Every year since these events took place, March 30th has been marked across all areas of historic Palestine and by Palestinians around the world as ‘Land Day’. It is a day when the martyrs are commemorated, but also a day of collective action in defense of Palestinian land. This year, demonstrations have been held in many locations across historic Palestine as well as days of collective working on and with the land. In Nablus villages and in Jerusalem, relatively small demonstrations were met with a violent response from the occupation with several people injured. Other events stretched from Gaza and the Naqab to the Galilee as the resurgence of Palestinian grassroots activism continues despite a clear lack of national leadership.
Amongst Bethlehem’s Land Day events, local community-based organisations organised a collective solidarity action in support of Riyad Abed Allatef – a farmer in Al-Khader village whose land is under threat from Israel’s settler-colonial expansionism. Since the establishment of the Efrat settlement in 1979 and later Newe Daniel in 1983, both as part of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc which stretches from Hebron to Bethlehem, land confiscation under various guises has continued to usurp Palestinian land from several villages in the area. Allatef’s land has been declared a ‘military zone’ by the occupation authorities and is surrounded by various settlement extensions including military bases, settler houses and settler caravans which usually preclude the construction of houses.
At the Land Day event, refugee youth took olive tree saplings and worked with Allatef and his family to replant a small patch of his land which is within the area that has been declared an Israeli military zone. Olive trees have deep significance as a national symbol of ‘sumoud’ (steadfastness) as well as providing oil and fruit to families which are both staples of Palestinian cuisine. An olive tree can potentially live for thousands of years and thus they are passed down through generations if not uprooted and destroyed as has become common practice for settlers and the occupation forces as land is colonised. In the nearby village of al-Walaja, an olive tree that is known locally as ‘Al Badawi’ (the big one) has been scientifically examined by experts from Europe and China who dated it as between 4,000-5,000 years old, making it is the oldest known olive tree in the world.
MEMO Photographer: Rich Wiles