My crying heart... Yom el-Ard

My father was born in Palestine in 1930. In 1952, he left his country, which had since become Israel, and traveled to the United States to study. About five years ago, eager to get back to his roots, he returned to his homeland.

Once back, he discovered his hidden talent – painting. Most of his paintings show the Palestine of his childhood, and what his homeland became during the height of its destruction.

My father's painting.

My father is a very passionate man, hurt by the loss of what was. His memories of the past are very clear: demolished homes, the Separation Barrier, and the tears of elderly men and women hang from the walls in his home.

Although it is not new, one painting in particular catches my eye – that of an old man, his head leaning on his cane. The sadness takes one to the heart of the plight of the Palestinian people.

The sadness...

Where is all this leading, you may ask. Well, yesterday, 30 March, was Land Day. On this day in 1976, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed, approximately 100 were wounded, and hundreds more were arrested by Israeli Defense Forces.

These people were taking part in a peaceful demonstration which was in response to Israel’s announcement that 5,500 acres of Arab land in the Galilee would be confiscated. Israel’s reasons for the confiscation: security and new Jewish settlements. It was a means to reaching the government goal of creating a Jewish majority in the Galilee, or Judaisation of the Galilee.

This year marks the 35th Land Day, or Yom el-Ard.

Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the government has created various laws in order to legalize the confiscation of Arab land. There was the 1950 Law of Return which gave those of Jewish ancestry the right to live in Israel and automatically gain Israeli citizenship. But where would these people live? The Absentee Property Law of 1950 seemed to go hand in hand with the Law of Return. It legalized confiscation of lands of Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their lands in 1948. Although many remained in Israel due to this law, they were not permitted to return to their land. They are called internally displaced Palestinians or present-absentees.

An Arab house in Sheikh Jarrah where Israeli settlers are now living.

The 1976 demonstration was the first time since 1948 that the Arabs in Israel developed a form of unity against the policies of the Israeli government.

Land Day has become more than just an issue of land confiscation. It has become a demand for rights – the same rights that the Jews have.

However, unfortunately, not much has changed since those days, and Palestinians, whether in the West Bank or in Israel, are affected on a daily basis and in different ways by the discriminatory policies of the government.

I remember Mostafa Abu Hilal, a Palestinan citizen of Israel, whom I met last year. He was fighting to keep his tiny village of 10 homes and 120 people from being demolished. His village was created before the establishment of Israel, but the government decided it was illegal (and unrecognized, meaning it has no municipal services even though the residents pay taxes) because it sits on what they consider a ‘nature reserve’. In effect, the government plans are to expand a nearby Jewish settlement, and therefore take village land along with it.

A house demolished in the unrecognized village of Dar el-Hanun, which Mostafa Abu Hilal was fighting to save.

And I remember visiting a lady whose home had been demolished. At 2:30 in the morning, Israeli soldiers and police on horses surrounded her home, and she watched as her family’s life savings crumbled into dust. She sat under an olive tree that rainy morning, surrounded by friends, family and a few belongings. Her family’s crime was a lack of a permit to add onto the house. A court date had already been scheduled, but still the house was turned into rubble. It sounds crazy to build without a permit, but the government issues very few permits to those from the Arab sector so people are, in effect, forced to build without them.

The house demolished at 2:30 in the morning.

What's left of the family's belongings.

The December demolitions of seven homes of the extended Abu Eid family in the mixed Jewish Arab city of Lod left 70 people homeless. I can still see a Sheikh Jarrah home owner standing across the street from his house, now occupied by Israelis settlers and covered with Israeli flags. Silwan, in addition, continuously faces violence and home evictions.

And the Bedouin village of al-Araquib, which has been demolished 15 times so that the government can plant a forest on the desert land. The residents stubbornly rebuild each time, refusing to give up their land.

The view of Silwan, where some houses have been demolished.

Just a few numbers: approximately 427,000 Palestinians are internally displaced, in addition to the millions scattered around the world.

According to the Badil Agency for Palestinian and Refugee Rights, between 1948 and 2001, 275, 028 acres of Arab land in Israel have been confiscated (76 per cent of the land). Since 1967, 730,000 acres of West Bank land have been confiscated for settlements (500,000 Jewish settlers), bypass roads for Israelis, and military zones. Additionally, the Wall has taken 45 per cent of Palestinian territory, with 86 per cent of it constructed inside the West Bank.

The list of discriminatory practices goes on and on…

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