Land Day protests pass off peacefully in Israel

10:27, March 31, 2011      

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by Susana Mendoza, Dave Bender

The unrest and demonstrations sweeping across the Middle East, did not play a significant role in a yearly protest held by Israeli Arabs that commemorates the death of six youths in March of 1976, during clashes with authorities over land confiscation.

Israeli Arabs traditionally mark Land Day as a sign of dissent against demolitions of Arab homes deemed illegal by municipalities, and of prolonged court battles against the Israeli government over land ownership rights through the subsequent decades.

On Tuesday evening, Land Day supporters in the city of Lod, southeast of Tel Aviv, held a protest organized by local branches of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, a group that looks out for their political interests. They were joined by an estimated 1, 500 supporters from the nearby mixed Jewish-Arab cities of Ramle, Jaffa, and the village of Dahmash, according to the Yediot Aharonoth Hebrew daily.

Both Lod and nearby Ramle have significant Arab populations who remained after Israel's victory in the 1948 War of Independence, and organizers said the first main rally was held there because of numerous house demolitions by municipal authorities.

In Tuesday's demonstration, protestors shouted slogans against what they called Israel's "ethnic cleansing." Some of the protesters burned pictures of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, calling him a "racist" and exhorting him to "stay away" from Arab areas, the Ha'aretz daily reported.

Land Day in Israel is commemorated by Israeli Arabs with general strikes and public demonstrations held in Arab towns and villages throughout the country.

Many Arab businesses remained closed on Wednesday and children did not attend school, to mark the day.

This year, rallies also took place in the northern Galilee village of Arraba and the Bedouin village of Al Araqeeb in the Negev. On Friday, protesters plan to conclude Land Day with a demonstration in Jaffa.

The Israeli police had prepped for several scenarios possible disturbances on Tuesday.

Israel Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told Xinhua that this year's protests, expected to last until Friday, were "quiet for now." He also told local media that "nothing out of the ordinary" happened during the course of Wednesday's protests, in contrast to bloody clashes between protesters and their leaders in neighboring Syria, and in Libya.

Most of the annual demonstrations over the three decades that Israeli Arabs have commemorated Land Day within Israel have been peaceful. However, in some years protesters have clashed with the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza.

Source: Xinhua
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