Thousands rallied Thursday across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza for Land Day, commemorating a deadly crackdown in 1976 on protests against Israeli plans to seize land owned by Arab citizens.
Two people were wounded by Israeli army fire during a march along the Gaza Strip border, a Palestinian medical source said without elaborating on their condition.
At the main rally in Sakhnin, an Arab city in northen Israel, AFP journalists saw many people wearing the traditional keffiyeh scarf as they waved Palestinian flags and chanted: “Freedom! Freedom!”
“This demonstration is happening under a fascist government and against the backdrop of growing racism, which has become mainstream in Israel,” Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi told AFP.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office in December at the head of a hard-right administration, including extremist coalition partners with a history of anti-Arab rhetoric.
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. The government plan was subsequently annulled.
Hayat Hammoud, 29, said she had joined the Sakhnin march in “solidarity” with the families of the “martyrs” of the 1976 events.
Arab citizens constitute around 20 percent of Israel’s population. Primarily referred to as Arab Israelis, they often refer to themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel.
In Gaza, which has been under an Israel-Egyptian blockade since the Hamas terror group seized power from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, hundreds marched along the heavily guarded border.
Israeli soldiers fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd from the other side of the fence, an AFP correspondent said.
A Palestinian medical source said two people had been taken to hospital in Gaza City with gunshot wounds.
Hamas said in a statement for the 47th Land Day: “The seizure of land by the Israeli occupation and the colonial expansion of settlements are doomed to fail.”