In an excerpt from the poem entitled The Last Speech of the ‘Red Indian’ to the White Man, the prominent Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish draws an analogy between Palestinians and Native American nations who were forced to live in diaspora in their own land. He addresses the colonizer:
“You who come from beyond the sea, bent on war,
don’t cut down the tree of our names,
don’t gallop your flaming horses across
the open plains
Don’t bury your God
in books that back up your claim of
your land over our land …”
The attachment to the land is a common trait among people. Confiscating the land of a community can be the equivalent of the confiscation of its identity, history and future.
Between the Palestinians and First Nations in Canada and the United States, there is an intrinsic connection as both peoples were colonized and forcefully stripped of their territory and resources.
Both peoples have a deep relationship with, and responsibility to the land, and when that land is taken away, the culture is destroyed.
Historical oppression and colonization
Maureen Clare Murphy, a Chicago journalist and Palestinian solidarity activist, claims that “every two in three Palestinians in Gaza is a refugee. Israel has denied Palestinians from returning to the land from which they were expelled, a right enshrined in international law.”
This year’s commemoration of Land Day on March 30 came amid a turbulent international context, notably in light of U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an announcement that ended all hopes of a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
Trump’s announcement also reminds us how the confiscation and domination of lands are essential aspects of the Zionist settler/colonial mindset. Professor Hamid Dabashi from Columbia University asserts that “Israel, which is rooted in a racist ideology, is a European colonial settlement created by a ghastly British colonial officer and now sustained by an even more thuggish U.S. imperialism.”
Like the colonization of Indigenous lands in North America and the squeezing of Indigenous peoples into tiny spaces called “reserves,” the colonization and appropriation of Palestinian land has been unrelenting since the establishment of Israel. Today it’s accelerating at a startling speed.
Resistance and sacrifice
Palestinians inside the Occupied Territories as well as in diaspora have commemorated Land Day since 1976, when violence erupted in the wake of the Israeli government’s decision to expropriate Arab-owned land in northern Israel to build Jewish settlements.
In the confrontations with the Israeli army and police in 1976, six Palestinians were killed and about 100 wounded.
Forty-two years later, and almost the same scene played out again this year, but with even more blood and brutality.
The struggle of the Palestinian people since the peasant revolution in 1936 underscores how valuable the land is to them. It’s more than an economic importance; it is deeper, more emotional and existential. According to Salam Abu Sharar, the land for which Palestinians continue to die and sacrifice is not comprised of only buildings, dust, trees and stones, but rather “a gift to the original mother, the land that carries all meaning of life in the conscience of its children.”
The power of non-violent resistance
“Non-violent struggle is the most powerful means available to those struggling for freedom,” says Gene Sharp, the founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the study of non-violent action, in his book From Dictatorship to Democracy.
The violence of the Palestinian national movement has long been criticized by many commentators in the West. If only Palestinians employed “Ghandhian tactics of non-violent protest,” we often hear, Israel would have shown greater respect for their rights, and Palestinians would have their state by now.
During each Land Day, tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters are doing just that as they march peacefully, demanding to regain their land. These tactics of mass non-violence are Israel’s worst nightmare, because they threaten to belie Israel’s claims of victimhood.
It’s also worth noting here that non-violent Palestinian resistance is nothing new. The truth, as Yousef Munayyer writes, is that “there is a long, rich history of non-violent Palestinian resistance dating back well before 1948, when the state of Israel was established atop a depopulated Palestine. It has just never captured the world’s attention the way violent acts have.”
Using violence to fight non-violence
Israel has reacted to Palestinians’ non-violent resistance with tactics of violence and intolerance similar to those employed by the Arab dictators who were toppled during the Arab Spring. While the Arab Spring uprisings represented a stand against ruthless dictatorships, Palestinians are standing up against what is often perceived by the West as one of the “most democratic” countries in the Middle East.
But just as Arab dictators used violence and brutal repression against unarmed protesters, Israel’s security forces have shown no reluctance in using similar coercive means to repress unarmed protesters.
According to a Reuters report, 16 Palestinians were reported killed on the Gaza Strip on March 30 as Israel used force against tens of thousands of demonstrators who had gathered along the Gaza-Israel boundary.
The killings continued, and on April 6, another 491 were injured after they were shot from across the Israeli border. Well-known Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja was among the dead. He died from a gunshot wound while filming in the area.
It’s not a clash when one side is shooting and the other is getting shot. The only thing clashing are Israeli bullets into Palestinian bodies. Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist with Haaretz, writes that “the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes. There’s nothing cheaper in Israel than Palestinian blood.”
Today, Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories continue to struggle to maintain ownership of their land. Land Day will remain an annual succinct reminder for millions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and in diaspora, especially for those who still cherish the names of the hometowns they may never see again.
The words of the famous Lebanese singer Julia Boutros will keep resonating in the minds and hearts of Palestinians yearning for a return to their Indigenous lands:
“They leave and we stay, and the land will remain ours.
Today we are stronger, stronger than all the epics.
My home is here, my land is here. The sea, the plains, the river are ours.”