Forty-four years ago today, the Israeli police shot six Palestinian citizens of Israel dead as they were protesting against the Israeli government’s expropriation of thousands of acres of Palestinian land in the Galilee. Since then, March 30 has been known as Land Day and is an important date in the Palestinian political calendar.
This year, Palestinians will be marking Land Day at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left much of the world’s populations under lockdown and curfew. Being confined to their homes or their villages and towns is not a new experience for Palestinians which is perhaps why so many have taken it in their stride.
Indeed, Palestinians in the West Bank are confined to what amounts to bantustans connected to each other only by roads controlled by the Israeli regime, while their brothers and sisters in Gaza live in an open-air prison deemed “unliveable” by the United Nations. Most Palestinians living across the “Green Line” have Israeli citizenship, they nevertheless live in urban and rural ghettos.
Palestinians are also disconnected from their Arab brothers and sisters with many of them prevented from travelling around the Arab world, either because their documents do not permit them to do so (in the case of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship) or because they are under travel bans.
As part of the COVID-19 response, the Israeli regime has imposed even more measures restricting Palestinian movement. The city of Bethlehem has been put under lockdown, while crossings into Gaza and the West Bank have been shut down. Palestinian labourers working in Israel have also been told to either stay for an unknown period of time in shoddy and unsanitary accommodation or give up work and stay in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority has imposed a curfew and set up checkpoints between villages and towns to limit the movement of people. Businesses have been shut down, except for supermarkets and pharmacies.
Meanwhile, Israel is continuing its practices of removing Palestinians from their land, even exploiting the lockdown amid the pandemic to do so. In Jerusalem, where there is a concerted effort to Judaise neighbourhoods and reduce the number of Palestinian inhabitants, the demolitions of Palestinian homes continue, despite the outbreak. The Israeli regime claims these buildings are illegal in order to justify demolishing them, yet Palestinians are consistently denied building permits.
Demolitions are also used as a method of collective punishment of the families of Palestinian political prisoners particularly in the West Bank. In the midst of this pandemic, this continuing cruel practice renders calls by Israeli authorities to “stay at home” absurd.
Similarly the construction of illegal settlements across the West Bank has not halted and there are fears that de jure annexation of many areas will be expediated under these circumstances, particularly as Benjamin Netanyahu is once again set to lead the next government.
Already, last week there were three cases in which illegal Israeli settlements razed Palestinian land and there has been an overall rise in attacks against Palestinian properties.
Earlier this month, Palestinians from Beita village near Nablus held a sit-in to try and protect land from being stolen by settlers. The Israeli security forces came out in full force to give cover to the settlers and in the process shot 15-year-old Mohammed Hammayel in the head killing him instantly.
Many in historic Palestine are worried that Israel will use the COVID-19 outbreak as an excuse to leave in place new restrictive measures even after the pandemic is over and will also prevent Palestinians from resisting its land grabs. At a time when the world is focused solely on the pandemic and the Israeli regime has the full support of the US administration to do as it pleases, Israeli aggressive expansionism seems inevitable.
Yet over the decades, Palestinians have shown incredible strength, courage and sumud (steadfastness) in the face of great adversity. While Israeli settler colonial expansionism does not rest, neither does Palestinian perseverance. As the Palestinian poet Tawfiq Ziyad wrote:
In Lidda, in Ramla, in the Galilee,
we shall remain
like a wall upon your chest,
and in your throat
like a shard of glass,
a cactus thorn,
and in your eyes