An Al Jazeera reporter was attacked at a the central rally marking Land Day in Sakhnin Saturday, apparently over his news network’s coverage of the conflict in Syria.
Thousands marched and demonstrated in Sakhnin and elsewhere to mark Land Day, which protests what Arab Israelis and Palestinians say are discriminatory Israeli land distribution policies.
In Sakhnin, demonstrators — among them Arab Israeli MKs — waved both Palestinian flags and Syrian flags as they marched through the city, and some openly demonstrated in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
At some point, pro-Assad protesters attacked an Al Jazeera reporter who was present at the scene, saying they resented the news network’s portrayal of the conflict in Syria. Other demonstrators tried to defend the reporter, and a brawl ensued, injuring three — among them an Israeli reporter. Women and children returned to their homes as MKs attempted to break up the violence.
At the end of the rally, Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghanaem called on the rival Palestinian factions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to unite and establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Also attending the central rally in Sakhnin was Balad MK Hanin Zoabi, who voiced her opposition to Israel’s land distribution policies.
“The state and the Jewish citizens must understand that we didn’t come to Israel, it is Israel — the state — that immigrated to us,” Zoabi told Channel 2. “We don’t need to prove our ownership of the land to anyone, and it is not just racist, but also impudent that those who came here by air or sea are asking me to prove ownership over [my] homeland.”
Meanwhile Saturday, a group of 150 Palestinians clashed with IDF troops during a demonstration near the Qalandiya checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, on Saturday. The Palestinians, protesting Israel’s land distribution policies as part of a series of scheduled demonstrations marking Land Day, threw rocks at the troops who responded by firing non-lethal crowd dispersal weapons.
Two Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets and another person was hit in the face by a tear gas canister, according to Palestinian media sources. Army Radio reported that two soldiers were lightly injured and treated on the spot.
Palestinian media also reported that IDF soldiers fired live ammunition and tear gas canisters toward a Land Day procession east of Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. One person was reportedly injured by the fire, though the severity of the injury was unclear.
In Bethlehem, dozens of Palestinians marched toward a checkpoint near Rachel’s Tomb. Palestinian sources said troops used riot gear to clear them from the area and prevent them from reaching their destination.
Police said that a group of 20 Palestinian activists, led by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, attempted to plant saplings in the strip of land known as E1, between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. The group was ordered to leave and the officers later pulled out the plants.
A four-year-old boy was lightly injured when the car he was traveling in was pelted by rocks on Route 60 near the settlement of Efrat. After the incident, clashes broke out between Palestinians and soldiers on the scene.
A group of 80 Israelis and Palestinians marked Land Day by holding discussions on the future of the peace process in a tent in the Arava, in the south of Israel.
On Friday, some 2,000 Arab-Israelis participated in a Land Day march in Taibe. Additional protests took place in the West Bank, in Ramallah, Hebron and Bil’in, where an 80-year-old activist was reportedly lightly injured by a rubber bullet.
The Land Day rallies are an annual event marked by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to protest what they view as discriminatory Israeli land policies. It was instituted following the killing of six Arab citizens of Israel by soldiers and policemen during protests against government land seizures in 1976.
The commemoration day’s main rally was set to take place in Sakhnin, in northern Israel, Saturday afternoon, with other demonstrations scheduled for Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Gaza.
Last year, organizers ramped up the Land Day protest with the “Global March to Jerusalem,” when tens of thousands took part in Land Day demonstrations in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Though organizers had threatened they would attempt to cross the borders into Israel, security forces on both sides kept them from getting too close.
“The trick is knowing where to put the troops on hold,” a senior IDF officer was quoted by Israeli Radio as saying at the time. “We learn how to navigate those days, based on what it looked like last year, and the year before that. The secret lies in mounting strong military presence in potential hot spots. The very existence of a military presence can suffice to stymie the rallying, and in the event it occurs, you have a head start over the other side.”
Hamas’s Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that his organization would never acknowledge the right of “the Zionist entity” to “a single grain of Palestinian land.”
“Occupiers have no future in the land of Palestine,” Haniyeh announced during a speech at the Shati refugee camp, criticizing the Ramallah-based government of the Palestinian Authority for clinging to “illusions of peace” and succumbing to American pressure.