Tareq S. Hajjaj
Mondoweiss / March 30, 2022
Attendees young and old at Gaza’s 2022 Land Day celebration tell Tareq Hajjaj what Land Day means to them.
Thousands of people responded to the invitation that had been playing from buses and mosques in Gaza in the days leading up to Land Day on March 30, 2022. People of almost all ages raised the Palestinian flag and came in waves to the Gaza seaport where the events took place.
People entered down a long road which led to the huge stage in the square where leaders of Palestinian factions in Gaza were giving speeches. They all came to mark Land Day, the day which remembers events back to 1976 when six Palestinians were killed protesting the Israeli seizing their land in the Galilee. The photos and names of those killed were hanging on the stage today in Gaza, as people remembered that day, affirmed their right to their land, and raised their voices to reject the occupation. The air filled with patriotic music as the sea wind blew the many flags throughout the crowd.
Everyone at the event had their own relationship to the day and its meaning. I walked through the crowd and asked attendees, “What does Land Day mean to you?” Their answers varied according to their ages and circumstances, but most answers included the statement: “the land means our existence.”
Jehad Homaid, 24, from Al-Shuja’iyya was walking among the crowd on two crutches. He looks like one of the many who were injured during the Great March Return, which began on Land Day three years ago. Homaid is a single man who supports his paralyzed father and three younger brothers and sisters. Still, his injuries do not prevent him from participating in every event for Palestine. “I go with all my heart to raise my voice and reject the theft of our land. From the time this accident happened long years ago until now, the theft of Palestinian lands is ongoing. When it will stop?” He sets his hands on his crutches and asks, “When will it become impossible to have land in your homeland?”
Homaid sits close to the beach and he shares with me his thoughts about the sanctity of the land. You would think that someone who has struggled as much as him would complain, and indeed, he used to be a worker up until his injury when his paycheck was replaced by 600 shekels of governmental support, “every once in a while.” But he says thankfully that this land is the most beautiful piece of earth.
“I lost the strength of my foot in defense of my land, others lost their lives, and the rest of Palestinians would not hesitate to do the same,” he says with high spirits and the eyes of a believer. “We are here to celebrate our heroism, and to renew the spirit of our struggle that will last until our land becomes completely free.”
The event was focused on memory and maintaining the connection to the land. Homaid’s connection to this land is clear because he was born here, but what about people who were forced to leave their land and became refugees in their own home?
Najiba Mhafouth is 81 years old. She is a dynamic woman and was wearing traditional Palestinian dress. She is originally from Haifa but she fled in 1948 to Gaza and settled there. Land Day for her is about remembering her land where her father owned a large plot and a house, and where they used to sit under the trees.
“Every year at this time, my day is taken over by the memories of our land. I was a little girl when my grandfather and my father used to sit under their olive trees and everyday eat from the fruit of our land,” she remembers. “That was the land we were born in, our land and trees, the trees recognize us as well, it is a mutual understanding between the land and its owner,” she says.
“I will tell you something,” she gets closer and stabilizes herself before continuing. “Why did Israel uproot the olive trees? It is because this land of Palestine is known by its olives, they know the history of the earth.”
Her theory is that if the Israelis were the owner of this land they would never have removed its most glorious and valuable symbol by uprooting the olive trees.
“We Palestinians take care of our olives and land because we are linked to each other. If they could speak, their language would be Arabic,” the woman says.
Mhafouth believes the day will come that her grandchildren will return to their home and get back their land. She tells them, “The door is large and made of red metal and there is a huge fig tree to the left of the door. When you reach our land you recognize it.”
She has over 25 grandchildren from all of her married sons and daughters, and she keeps telling them about the history of the land and how they came to Gaza. She thinks that by sharing these stories she maintains the identity of the land, which is Palestinian.
Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of Palestinian Writers Union