Youm al-Ard / Palestine Land Day: indigenous unity and Zionist replacement

Land Day (File)

Jeanine Hourani

The New Arab  /  March 30, 2022

Palestinians will commemorate the 46th anniversary of Land Day. Whilst this is against a backdrop of further theft and destruction of land by Israel, strength must be drawn from the resistance that has not ceased since 1976.

One of the most vivid memories I have growing up is the image of my Jiddo Ali in the garden. He would spend hours gardening, only coming back into the house covered in sweat and soil because Teta had shouted out of the window that lunch was ready. The first time I visited the Galilee, where Jiddo Ali is from, I understood why he loved to garden so much. The Galilee is the greenest place I have ever been to – gardening allowed him to return to Palestine, even if only for a few hours each day. For Jiddo Ali, it has always been about the land.

For me, Land Day is about the two most central aspects of our struggle: unification and land. Land Day provides me with an opportunity to reflect on the historical significance of the day, and what it means for Palestinian liberation in a contemporary context.

The protests of 1976 were a result of mass mobilizing and organizing across historic Palestine and are often considered the first time since 1948 that Palestinians were unified in their organizing efforts. Land Day commemorates Palestinian protest against land expropriation across the Galilee and Palestine 48 during which six Palestinians were murdered and 70 others injured.

”As Palestinians, the land is central to our liberation, and we know that there is no such thing as environmental justice without a recognition of our inalienable connection to the land and our sovereignty over it.”

For me, this year’s Land Day is particularly significant because it’s the first one since the Unity Intifada erupted in May 2021.

As was the case in 1976, the protests that were catalyzed by the forced ethnic displacements in Sheikh Jarrah were more than just about land theft; we took Palestinian unification efforts to a new level. We saw uprisings against Israel’s settler colonial project being led by Palestinians across the globe – showing the world that while Palestine may be fragmented, Palestinians are not. We saw a change in narrative on Palestine to one that acknowledged the ongoing nature of the Nakba and reaffirmed that while its impact are intergenerational, our resistance is also. 

Land Day acts as a reminder of the significance of land in Indigenous connection to country. In fact, the state of Israel deliberately and strategically tries to undermine Palestinian connection to land to legitimise their settler colonial project. Unsurprisingly, what this results in is a confused colonial narrative that perplexingly oscillates between ‘a land without people for a people without land’ and a call to replace ‘incompetent’ Palestinian fellahin (farmers) – like my family – with ‘real farmers’ aka Jewish settlers.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the World Zionist Organization are institutional instruments employed by the zionist settler colonial project to acquire as much Palestinian land as possible. As far back as 1901, the JNF acquired farmland in Palestine, dispossessing Palestinian farmers to make way for Jewish settlers. In 1948, destroyed Palestinian villages, like Jiddo Ali’s village – Hittin – were covered with forests planted by the JNF to erase evidence of Palestinian presence on the land. When I returned to Hittin for the first time in 2018, it was hard to even imagine that a village once existed there; grass had been planted over our homes and bones.

Historically, the state of Israel has adopted ‘legal’ means to steal Palestinian land. The Absentees’ Property Law and the Land Acquisition Law were the main legal instruments employed by the state of Israel to take possession of land belonging to Palestinian refugees who were, and continue to be, internally and externally displaced. Israeli land theft continues to be enabled through government bodies such as the Israeli Land Authority and the Jerusalem Development Authority. In this year already, we have seen homes being demolished and forced ethnic displacement in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and the Naqab. Most recently, on 22 March, Al-Araqeeb village in the Naqab was demolished for the 199th time

As long as Zionism has existed, agriculture and the environment have also been co-opted to legitimize the Zionist project – the most well-known example is the notion that their colonial project is ‘making the desert bloom’. One of the principal means used to expand Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in 1967 was the designation of Israeli military areas as ‘green spaces’ that were no-go areas for Palestinians. More recently, in October 2021, footage went viral of a Palestinian mother being ripped from her son’s gravestone at Jerusalem’s Al-Yusufiya cemetery to make way for ‘The City of David National Park’; erasing our lives and our deaths in the name of the environment.

At the same time as claiming to care about the environment, the state of Israel continues to pollute Palestinian land, air and water. The Israeli settler-colonial project plants invasive species that are not native to the land while destroying Palestinian agriculture. Since 1967, Israel has destroyed over 1 million olive trees. Both these phenomena are harmful to our farming ecosystems and agricultural practices.

The Israeli military regularly pollutes the air we breathe with white phosphorus; environmental destruction that’s merely collateral damage in attempts at Palestinian destruction.

The Israeli government presents theft of Palestinian water as a solution to water scarcity. Since 1967, Palestinian water has been under the control of the Israel Water Authority, meaning Palestinians can only consume as much water as the Israeli government allows. Palestinians are required to buy back water from their own backyards at outrageous prices and within a discriminatory pricing system. In Gaza, 97% of the water is unsafe to drink or use for irrigation.

Indigenous people everywhere know that you cannot separate the land from its people, or its people from each other. As Palestinians, the land is central to our liberation, and we know that there is no such thing as environmental justice without a recognition of our inalienable connection to the land and our sovereignty over it. On Land Day, and every day, we reaffirm our commitment to the land and each other – until return and liberation and beyond.

Jeanine Hourani is a Palestinian organizer, writer, and researcher currently based in London