Palestinians commemorate Land Day [March 24 - March 30]
Today, Palestinians will commemorate Land Day. On March 30, 1976, six Palestinians from the Galilee were killed trying to defend their land from Israeli confiscation. Each year Palestinians remember the day with protests and tree-planting. Unfortunately, Israeli troops and settlers counter Palestinian efforts by cracking down on these activities.
On March 28, Israeli from the settlers from the Nevi Daniel settlement uprooted hundreds of olive trees and saplings in Al Khader south of Bethlehem.
According to Ahmad Salah, coordinator for the popular committee against settlements and the wall in Khader, the settlers uprooted about 200 olive trees planted a year ago by the local YMCA. They also sprayed graffiti saying “Stone uprising”. Several trees were planted in the Ramallah/Al Bireh area as well on March 28, each bearing the name of the Land Day martyrs.
Israel has beefed up its forces this week, which also marks the Jewish Passover holiday. The West Bank was closed off for two days at the start of the holiday with only ‘humanitarian cases’ allowed into Jerusalem and Israel. Furthermore, Israeli authorities imposed strict restrictions on Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers at Al Aqsa on March 29, allowing only men over 50 with Jerusalem ID cards to enter.
Six Palestinians were injured after Israeli forces prevented worshipers from praying at the mosque. Thousands of Palestinians performed prayers in the streets outside the Aqsa on the streets outside the Old City.
Jamal Kabaja, 54, and his son Muhammad, 18, were assaulted by Israeli soldiers as they made their way to Al Aqsa. Kabaja sustained bruises to his head and lower body while Muhammad suffered contusions to his hands and feet. Clashes also broke out in Hebron on Friday in commemoration of Land Day.
The mood was especially tense in Jerusalem and at Al Aqsa after ultra-orthodox Jewish worshipers entered the compound on March 28 to perform Passover prayers. A day earlier, dozens of Jews entered the Aqsa courtyard under heavy Israeli army protection; Palestinian worshipers were prevented from accessing the mosque during their ‘visit’. The break-ins come after right-wing Knesset member Moshe Feiglin called on Jews to enter the compound for Passover. Israeli police denied Feiglin entry for fear of ‘unrest.’ Still, scores of other settlers were allowed entry. According to Sheikh Azzam Al Khatib, 112 settlers entered the courtyards of via the Moroccan Gate.
Settlers also wreaked havoc in the West Bank. Other than uprooting trees, a group of settlers attacked an 80-year-old man tending his land in Tulkarem on March 29. Hasan Barhoush was in a private field in Kafr al-Labad near the settlement of Enav, when settlers attacked him. Barhoush was moderately wounded in the assault.
In a different kind of assault, Israel announced plans to allow a group of settlers to visit Solomon's Pools near Bethlehem on Sunday. The PA rejected the announcement, saying it would prevent them from entering the area. Deputy governor of Bethlehem, Mohammad Taha, said the decision was a "flagrant violation" of the Oslo Accords given that the pools are in Area A under Palestinian Authority control.
According to the Israeli media, the group planning the trip is from a school in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. "Thanks to the cooperation with the army we will return to a land of ancestors that was given to the Palestinians after the Oslo accords," the school's principal Yaron Rosenthal said.
On March 27, Israeli forces announced they would confiscate 3,000 square meters of Palestinian-owned land near the Jalama checkpoint north of Jenin. Israeli authorities informed the owner that the land would be confiscated to enlarge the checkpoint and install a security gate at the main entrance.
Meanwhile, the PA said on March 29 that it would welcome Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he decides to come to Palestine. In a statement, the Palestinian embassy in Ankara said the Palestinian community “on every level” welcomed Erdogan and that any Palestinian city would be honored to host him.
The Palestinian statement comes after Erdogan said he may visit Gaza following Israel’s apology to Turkey for killing nine Turkish citizens on an activist ship in 2010.
On March 26 the one-day Arab summit in Doha concluded with two significant recommendations on Palestine. The first was a Qatari declaration to establish the Jerusalem Fund with a budget of $1 billion; Qatar has already pledged to pay the first $250 million. The other recommendation called for a ‘mini-summit’ to push forward Palestinian reconciliation, something which both Hamas and Fatah have welcomed. No date has yet been set for the summit, which will be held in Cairo.
President Mahmoud Abbas pardoned journalist Mamdouh Hamamreh on March 28 after he was handed down a year-long sentence by a Palestinian court for “insulting the president” on Facebook.
Hamamreh, a correspondent for Al Quds satellite channel was charged over a photo juxtaposing Abbas beside a similar-looking man who plays the part of a collaborator with French colonial forces in an old Syrian television drama. "They resemble each other in everything," a caption read.
Journalists and media groups claim Hamamreh was only "tagged" in the photo and did not post or disseminate it.
Finally, Palestinian officials have criticized Israel over the scarce number of permits allowed to Palestinian Christians this Easter. According to the PLO on March 24, parishes in Bethlehem and Ramallah only received 30 to 40 percent of requested permits to visit Jerusalem.