Thousands commemorate Palestinian Land Day in Israel, Gaza

Thousands gathered Thursday across Israel and the Palestinian territories for Land Day, commemorating a deadly 1976 crackdown on protests against Israeli plans to seize land belonging to Arab citizens.

Two people were wounded by Israeli army fire during a march in the blockaded Gaza Strip, a medical source said without elaborating on their condition.

At the main rally in Sakhnin, an Arab city in northern Israel, AFP journalists saw many people wearing the traditional keffiyeh scarf while waving Palestinian flags and chanting: “Freedom! Freedom!”

“This demonstration is taking place under a fascist government and against the backdrop of growing racism, which has become mainstream in Israel,” lawmaker Ahmed Tibi told AFP.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office in December as the head of a hard-right administration, including extremist coalition partners with a history of anti-Arab rhetoric.

Land Day commemorates protests and a strike on March 30, 1976 against the Israeli authorities’ decision to seize large tracts of land in the northern Galilee region.

Israeli police opened fire on demonstrators, killing six, and the government’s plan was later nullified.

Hayat Hammoud, 29, said she joined the Sakhnin march in “solidarity” with the families of the “martyrs” of the 1976 events.

Arab citizens, who make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population, remained there after the war that coincided with the creation of the state in 1948.

Israel calls them Arab-Israelis, and Palestinians outside Israel often refer to them as “’48 Palestinians” or “inside” Palestinians.

In Gaza, under a heavy Israeli-led blockade since 2007, hundreds marched along the heavily guarded border.

Israeli soldiers fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd from the other side of the fence, an AFP correspondent said.

A Palestinian medical source said two people were taken to hospital in Gaza City with gunshot wounds.

An Israeli army spokesman told AFP that “two fragmentation grenades” thrown from the Palestinian side landed unharmed on the other side of the fence.

“The soldiers fired tear gas and .22 caliber rounds, and some rioters were hit,” he said.

Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, said in a statement for the 47th Land Day: “The seizure of land by the occupation of Israel and the colonial expansion of settlements are doomed to fail.”

Several protests are scheduled in the West Bank on Friday to mark Land Day.

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