Israeli Arabs, Bedouins protest discrimination

Bedouin women hold a Palestinian flag in the destroyed bedouin village of Al-Arakib during a "Land Day" demonstration

AL-ARAQIB, Israel — Arab Israelis and Bedouins marked “Land Day” on Wednesday, saying the Jewish state still maintains a discriminatory policy of trying to force its minorities off their land.

Rallies were held in Israel and the Palestinian territories in an annual commemoration of a 1976 shooting in which Israeli troops killed six people during protests against land confiscations.

“The title of Israeli policy is the Judaisation of the Negev and the Galilee that wants to drive out the Arabs and Bedouins and bring in Jewish citizens,” said Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli Arab lawmaker attending protests in Al-Araqib.

Several hundred people gathered in the dusty, wind-swept Bedouin village in the Negev Desert that has been levelled several times by the Israeli police over the past eight months.

They danced to music, waved Palestinian flags, planted olive trees and rebuilt several of the tent-like structures that Israeli forces had taken down.

“The people are resisting,” Tibi told AFP. “They will rebuild.”

Israel has never recognised Bedouin claims of land ownership in the Negev and wants the population to relocate into seven government-planned townships.

Several thousand people also gathered in the northern Galilee town of Arrabeh for a protest attended by Arab Israeli MPs and leaders of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee.

Many Arab Israeli schools were closed for the day, and Arab human rights groups said shops and businesses in the town of Sakhnin were observing a one-day strike to mark the anniversary.

“This day inspires us in our struggle,” said Mohammed Zidan, head of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee.

“Our message to the Israeli institution is that no matter how many racist laws you pass it will not change our position,” he said.

Israel’s Arab minority leads Land Day demonstrations every year to protest against discrimination and assert its solidarity with the Palestinians.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank also held protests, and in Gaza they were marred by clashes with Hamas police.

In Gaza City, hundreds of students began a protest march at Al-Azhar University but were stopped by Hamas police, who arrested a number of them, witnesses said, without saying how many.

And around 300 university students marched to the Square of the Unknown Soldier where their rally to mark Land Day and to call for an end to the division within the Palestinian national movement, was forcibly broken up by Hamas police, an AFP correspondent said.

A large number of police converged on the square and were seen beating several demonstrators and arresting others. There were no immediate details on injuries.

Protesters were also gathering in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Loudspeakers called on young people to join a peaceful protest against the Israeli army’s years-long closure of the road from Ramallah to Beit El, a key artery serving the northern West Bank.

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