New York, NY, March 29, 2008 – Today’s Land Day protest at the Madison Avenue jewelry store of Israeli billionaire and settlement mogul Lev Leviev highlights the 60 year Israeli campaign to displace Palestinians from their land, and Palestinian defiance and resistance – from the Nakbah, or Catastrophe, in 1948, when around 800,000 Palestinians were driven from their villages by Israeli forces to become refugees; to the original Land Day protests in 1976; to present day settlement construction by Israeli settlement builders like Lev Leviev in Bil’in, Jayyous, Jabel Abu Ghneim and Maale Adumim.
The first Land Day protests were held on March 30, 1976. Israel’s Ministry of Finance confiscated 5000 acres of Palestinian land between the Palestinian villages of Sakhnin and Arraba in the Galilee in northern Israel. Construction of eight Jewish industrial villages was planned on the seized land. On March 30, 1976, Palestinian towns from the Negev to the Galilee launched a day of nonviolent protests and strikes in solidarity with Sakhnin and Arraba. Six Palestinian civilians were killed and over 100 Palestinians injured by the Israeli military and police as they violently repressed the protests. Palestinians have held Land Day protests every year since 1976, on and around March 30th.
Lev Leviev’s company Africa-Israel, which he purchased in 1996, has been directly involved in the long history of Jewish settlement and displacement of the indigenous Palestinian people. A 2004 Africa-Israel report notes that the company was established in 1934 as Africa Palestine Investments Ltd. "by a group of Jewish investors from South Africa, with the purpose of engaging in acquisition and development of real estate for Jewish settlement in Israel." Its name was changed to Africa-Israel in 1967, the year that Israel took control of and occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
60 years after the Nakbah, and 32 years after the original Land Day, Israeli land seizure and repression continue in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and inside Israel, as does Palestinian resistance. The testimonies below - from refugees from the Nakbah in 1948, from Land Day protests in 1976 and from present day Bil’in and Jayyous where Leviev’s companies are building settlements - demonstrate the continuity of both Israeli repression and Palestinian steadfastness and resistance that Palestinian communities in Israel, in the Occupied Territories and living in exile as refugees around the world are commemorating at protests this Land Day.
Hafiza Abdullah: The people of my village were only simple farmers and did not have any weapons when we were driven out during the wheat and watermelon picking season of 1948.
Abdul Qader Al-Ha: Our village had fertile land and we had a field next to it; The Mediterranean Sea was just eight kilometres away.
Abu Khader Hamdan: I lived and worked in my home village, Salameh, which was less than six kilometers from Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is a relatively new city, it was built on Palestinian land called Tel Al-Rabe, and it was part of Yaffa city.
Om Issa Abu Sereyyeh: We owned a 100-dunum farm, which we planted with wheat and other cereals and vegetables, but we were forced to leave it without harvesting our crops.
Abu Khader Hamdan: It was during the orange season and we had managed to harvest our oranges for a month before we were deported.
Om Issa Abu Sereyyeh: For a time the Palestinians and Jews were like one people. There was a sizeable Jewish minority but we lived together in peace, as these were not the same as the Jews who came from the West.
Abdul Qader Al-Ha: The British gave the Jews their national home in our homeland.
Om Issa Abu Sereyyeh: Those who came from abroad were militants and racists. They formed the Hagana and Stern militia gangs in Palestine, which started killing us and forced us to leave our homes.
Abdul Qader Al-Ha: They wanted our village in particular because it was in an important location strategically. We tried not to flee, but in the end they brought armed militia with tanks and launched a sustained attack on our village; they wanted to clear all the people from our village.
Mohammad Ahmad Abu Eisha: They had killed every one who they believed was able to carry a gun.
Abu Khader Hamdan: We went first to the town of Sarafand, which was on the border. But then the Jews occupied Sarafand too, even though it was supposed to lie outside the border of their state. So we went to Lydda city, where the Jews committed an atrocity in July 1948.
Hafiza Abdullah: We did not leave of our own accord: we were forced to flee from the terror and the murders; we were afraid because of what we had heard about the massacres.
Hafiza Abdullah: Our village lands were taken and I can still remember the sizes: Alkhuwar, 30 dunum; Nareyeh, 27 dunum, and Aljereh, 15 dunum. Our trees were uprooted, we lost our home; we had no more wheat, no more corn and no more farm. Even today, the image of what the wheat fields looked like is as fresh in my mind as if I had seen it yesterday. They damaged them and left nothing for us
Mohammad Ahmad Abu Eisha: My village had suffered the same fate as every other village that had resisted and been destroyed.
Abu Khader Hamdan: My friends who did visit it told me Salameh is not there any more--it has been removed from the map.
Abdul Qader Al-Ha: We saw the Jewish militia that became the Israeli army occupy the rest of Palestine.
Om Issa Abu Sereyyeh: If I had known I would become a refugee and unable to return home, I would have stayed in my village, regardless of what might have happened to me.
Land Day: 1976
Saleh Taha: On the morning of March 30, 1976 the whole village, including farmers, workers, youth, students and others, began a strike to express solidarity in defending their land.
Qassem Sahawhneh: In the morning hours of March 30, 1976, I was in my house when I heard someone announcing a curfew on a loudspeaker. So I told my family that we needed to stay in the house.
Mu'een Khatib: At roughly 6:00 AM on March 30, 1976, I woke up to noise and screaming in our house. Soldiers took me out of my bed and ordered me to go with them outside. Someone grabbed me from my penis and dragged me to the car.
Samia Tawfiq: My son 'Arif was standing next to the road, and an army squad came and took him. When I heard them, I went outside to see what was happening to my son. I saw around five soldiers beating my son (he is 16 years old).
Abed Khalayleh: In the morning of March 30, 1976, I was drinking coffee with my son Khadr on the balcony of our house in Sakhnin, when we heard someone announcing a curfew on a loudspeaker. Suddenly we saw a group of soldiers near our house.
Qassem Sahawhneh: Around 7:30 we heard screaming outside. One of the children, Khalid, who is 9 years old, ran in the direction of the screaming. Then my wife asked our deceased daughter Khadijah to go bring her brother back into the house.
Samia Tawfiq: On the streets there were kids no more than 7 or 8 years old. The soldiers started chasing them and throwing tear gas at them.
Abed Khalayleh: Around 7:30, the teacher Amneh 'Ammar went to school. She ran into a group of soldiers. They ordered her to go back into her house, and as soon as she turned her back, they shot and wounded her.
Qassem Sahawhneh: And then my wife followed Khadijah to see what was happening when they ran into some soldiers. One of the soldiers ordered them to go back into the house, so Khadijah and my wife went back into the house. When she turned around, the soldiers shot her in the back. A bomb exploded in the street about 50 meters from the house. Khadijah was martyred when she was 23 years old.
Abed Khalayleh: After that there was a big commotion, and we heard someone saying that Amneh was killed and others saying that she was wounded. I went down to Khadr and others to help her and take her to the hospital.
Samia Tawfiq: And when I tried to save him from them, they started beating me and cursing at me. I went back into the house, and after a short while, APCs came filled with soldiers.
Abed Khalayleh: Khadr got there before me, and while he was trying to help Amneh, the soldiers shot him. Someone else was shot as well, Sayyid Khalaylah, when he was trying to help the wounded. Khadr was hit in his head and his arm and he died on the spot.
Saleh Taha: The strike organizers were working to keep the strike peaceful and not to respond to the provocations of the authorities, including the police and border patrol, who were trying to provoke the youngsters by cursing and spitting at them and insulting their religion.
Mu'een Khatib: Then they took us to a barn outside our village, while continuing to beat us. They shoved me over to a small tree and I ran away. They ran after me while shooting at me, and I heard one of them say in Hebrew, "I hit him and he is going to die like the others; leave him."
Subhi Hudhud: I was arrested Tuesday morning, March 30, 1976, inside the mosque, when they pointed a gun at me and took me to a car and began beating me with sticks.
Saleh Taha: The border patrol assaulted the women and the youngsters by hitting them with sticks and throwing tear gas at them. They attacked the village from the west and the east; they stormed the houses, broke doors and beat anyone they found inside the houses. The assaults by the authorities led to the killing of one of the villages, the martyr Muhsin Taha, and the wounding of others. It continued until 1:00 in the afternoon. It took place in the presence of an Israeli colonel and other high ranking officers.
Samia Tawfiq: They stormed our house and found my two young boys, one who is 12 years old and the other who is two years old, and began destroying the furniture in the house. They broke the closet, two windows, a stove, a radio, plates, and other things around the house. They beat my twelve year old son and threatened my little one to scare him.
Ibrahim Yassin (63 years old): The policemen and army broke into my house, and started beating us. I dashed to protect my daughter Fatima, when the policeman in my house beat me and dragged my daughter Fatima outside to the hall. They put her down, stepped on her and broke two teeth of hers. They also beat my other daughter (Miriam), then they took me to the carpentry and beat me and arrested me.
Mohammad Abu Yunis: I was in my house in Sakhnin on the morning of March 30, 1976 when I heard shooting. I went near the main road in town to get my children, who were playing next to the road. Then I felt two bullets hit my left leg.
Saleem Khalifeh: Around 8:00 in the morning on March 30, 1976, I was listening to the radio on my balcony. Suddenly, my brother Na'im Muhammad Khalifah, who was standing next to me, was wounded. The injury was in his abdomen. My brother was around 11 years old.
Mohammad Badarneh: At 10:00 in the morning, March 30, 1976, I was in my house in Sakhnin. I saw my cousin who lives next to me; he was wounded. I ran to help him and carried him toward the car to take him to the hospital. While I was carrying him, the soldiers shot at me from about 10-15 meters away and hit me in my leg. It caused a severe injury.
Ali Dgheim: Around 9:00 in the morning of March 30, 1976, I was in the electronics store in Sakhnin that belonged to my brother. The Israeli soldiers were flooding into the village and shooting heavily everywhere. I said two men, Subhi Muhammad Badarneh and Muhammad Deeb Badarneh, who were wounded next to my brother's store, so I ran to help them. While I was trying to carry one of the wounded, the soldiers shot at me from about 10-15 meters away.
Saleh Taha: When the provocations didn't stop but instead escalated, the whole village protested, young and old alike. The police responded by shooting at the student at the village Northern School and wounding one of the villagers. The shooting continued, as did the protest.
Abdel Qader Taher: The authorities began widespread arrests in the middle of the night of March 31, 1976. They raided my home . . . they destroyed things in the house, frightened my children and hit my wife. They pointed their weapons at the chests of my children
Subhi Hudhud: They took me with others to the Kfar Saba police station and they crammed a large number of us in a small room. During my interrogation, they beat me with sticks and chairs and forced me to sign a confession.
Abdel Qader Taher: In the Kfar Saba station they locked us in a room that looked like a cell and continued to beat us, while they were hysterically yelling that we should have been arrested as children so that they wouldn't have to dirty their hands with us as adults. They called us filthy communists, saboteurs and bastards.
Bil'in and Jayyous: 2003 to present
Sharif Omar: Jayyous' farmland includes some of the most fertile and water rich land in the West Bank. The Israeli government has used British mandate laws, Ottoman laws, and the absentee landlord law to confiscate Palestinians' land. If this is not enough the Israeli army confiscates our land for "security reasons."
Mohammed Khatib: The olive is a symbol of our land and of the Palestinian people. We are connected to the land. We were born in Bil'in like our fathers and grandfathers and their fathers. We belong here. Our mothers took us to harvest olives before we could speak. We remember playing under the olive trees which have since been uprooted by Israeli settlers who have come to live here.
Sharif Omar: In October, 1988 the Israeli military governor of our district, Qalqilya, gave Jayyous' mayor a military declaration saying that nearly 500 acres of Jayyous' agricultural land "state land" and Israeli settlers began to build the colony of Zufim on our land.
Sharif Omar: In 1993 Leader - a real state enterprise owned by the businessman Lev Leviev - established a quarry on some of Jayyous' land. During this period it became clear that Leader was an enemy of the people of Jayyous. Leader used bulldozers to prepare our land for houses for Israeli settlers, and TNT to detonate more than 16 acres for a quarry. They uprooted all the olive trees on that land. Many olive trees died because sewage from Zufim ran for many years many years through other plots. Other plots were annexed to Zufim.
Sharif Omar: In September, 2002 a shepherd found a paper hanging from an olive tree. It was a military order instructing us to meet an Israeli army officer to tour the "separation" wall's path. Hundreds of area Palestinians turned out. Most farmers expected the wall would be near the Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 border with the West Bank. But we learned that the wall would be built almost four miles east of the Green Line, as close as 90 feet from Jayyous' homes, separating our residential area from our farmland.
Mohammed Khatib: Bil'in is being strangled by the Wall. Though our village sits 2 1/2 miles east of the Green Line, Israel's Wall and the settlement being built by Lev Leviev will take more than 60 percent of our land. This land is also money to us; we work it. Bil'in's 1,600 residents depend on farming and harvesting our olive trees for our livelihood. The Wall will turn Bil'in into an open-air prison.
Sharif Omar: People burst into tears. Some fainted. With the wall, Israel is taking 75% of Jayyous' most fertile land, including all our irrigated farmland, seven wells and 12,000 olive trees. Jayyous' 3,000 residents depend almost entirely on agricultural income. So this means a loss of our livelihoods, dreams, hopes, future and heritage.
Mohammed Khatib: There is now a huge and growing settlement called Modi'in Illit where we played as children. Instead of seeing my children play under those trees, I will watch a child who is a stranger play there -- a child whose family just recently came to live on our land, without any right to do so, simply because of the power of the occupation.
Sharif Omar: Leader then announced that it would build 1500 new homes in a large area located 1.2 miles north of Zufim for "North Zufim" that would be cut off from Jayyous by the Wall.
Mohammed Khatib: We refuse to be strangled by the Wall in silence. In a famous Palestinian short story "Men in the Sun," Palestinian workers suffocate inside a tanker truck. Upon discovering them, the driver screams, "Why didn't you bang on the sides of the tank?" We are banging; we are screaming.
Sharif Omar: Jayyous' farmers have organized dozens of peaceful protests against the wall, supported by international solidarity movements and Israeli peace activists. Our weapons in those activities were only slogans that condemn the occupation and the wall. All of us participated, young and old, men and women. We are determined never to surrender or forget our sacred land. We faced the bulldozers destroying our fields as well as armed Israeli soldiers and guards. During one peaceful march, an Israeli military officer explained to me that Sarah, the wife of our common ancestor Abraham, was their mother but not ours, and that because Sarah went to heaven, Jews were entitled to the land. After his lecture, he used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to break up our protest.
Mohammed Khatib: For the last three years we have engaged in a nonviolent campaign of creative protests with the support of Israeli and international activists to prevent the construction of Israel's wall and the expansion of Modi'in Illit by Leviev's company on our land. The Israelis want to control the Palestinians, push us off our land and seize it for themselves.