Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli troops during a protest in the northern West Bank on Thursday afternoon in commemoration of Land Day, an annual event marking 1976 riots against a government decision to confiscate Arab Israeli land.
The Red Crescent ambulance service reported that 45 Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets during the protest between the Palestinian village of Madama and the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the demonstrators threw rocks at the security forces on the scene.
An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed that the non-lethal rounds, along with tear gas, were used to disperse the “violent demonstration,” but would not comment on number of people injured.
Residents of Yitzhar, one of the more hard-line Israeli settlements, were also present at the clash, the army said.
Ahmad Jibril, the ambulance director for the Red Crescent in Nablus, said the number of Palestinians reported injured by rubber bullets was “higher than usual,” but he did not know what accounted for it.
No Israeli soldiers were reported injured.
Photographs from the scene showed scuffles between masked settlers from Yitzhar with IDF troops. An army spokesperson said they were not serious and occurred while the soldiers were trying to separate the settlers from the Palestinians.
Also on Thursday afternoon, in Beit Jala, outside the central West Bank city of Bethlehem, dozens of Palestinians protesters marched toward a segment of the security barrier.
They lit a tire on fire and struck the fence with a piece of metal, before Israeli police officers dispersed the crowd with tear gas.
Each year on March 30, Arab Israelis, as well as Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza, commemorate Land Day. In years past, the protests have been marked by sometimes violent demonstrations.
In March 1976, the Israeli government decided to expropriate 20,000 dunams (4,940 acres) of land in the Galilee, a third of which was owned by Arab Israelis, to build Jewish towns.
On March 30 of that year, Arab Israelis held strikes and demonstrated against the decision. During the riots that followed, six protesters were killed by Israeli troops.
Housing becomes central issue on Land Day in Israel
A statement by MK (Joint List) Yusuf Jabareen said thousands participated in a Land Day rally in Deir Hanna, an Arab town in the northern Galilee.
Head of the Joint (Arab) List, MK Ayman Odeh, said at the rally, “Land Day is the most important day in the history of the struggle for equality among the Arab public in the country.”
“This year,” he added, “in the shadow of the government’s wild incitement against us, and in the shadow of the housing demolitions and the enactment of laws whose sole goal is to harm and incite against the Arab public, this day and this struggle is more important than ever. We stand united against the bulldozers and the incitement of the prime minister and the ministers.”
The past year saw an increase in housing demolitions in Arab-Israeli towns, which sparked protests and public outcry. The increase in demolitions was largely seen in the Arab community as a measure by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appease his right-wing coalition members.
Israeli officials say they only demolish homes that do not have the necessary permits, but Arab representatives say these are almost impossible to obtain.
Jabareen shared Odeh’s sentiment that the core issue of this year’s Land Day rally was Arab housing.
“The issue of land and housing continues to be the main issue at the top of the Arab public’s mind, as the younger generation feels that it will have no place to live in the absence of land allocation and the absence of development and housing programs that meet its needs. In fact, we are suffocating in crowded, poor and resource-lacking communities.”
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) proposed a bill in January calling for a 10-year freeze on demolitions in Arab towns and villages, in exchange for more rigorous enforcement of planning rules by Arab officials.
Odeh has previously requested the state freeze demolitions for two years, and in return Arabs would stop building homes without permits while planning rules were worked out.
A poll published in January found that half of Arab Israelis believe demolitions of illegal Arab construction are motivated by racism on the part of the government.