Ahmed Tibi: For Israel’s Arabs, Land Day is our narrative and our justice

By Ahmed Tibi, Haaretz – 1 April 2010
www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1160446.html

Ahmad Tibi

Ahmed Tibi

I remember the events of Land Day 1976 in particular detail. I was taking part in the demonstration in the center of Taibeh, just opposite the taxi station, when police began dispersing us with clubs, then shot and killed one of the demonstrators, Rafat Zohiri, in cold blood.

As on all such days marked by the Arab population of Israel, discussions on Land Day revolve around the question of Arab citizens’ place in Israeli society and also on our insistence on commemorating Nakba Day, Land Day and the riots of October 2000 every year.

These are important symbols of our existence on this land and of our civil rights, but most Jews see in this commemoration signs of the “isolationism” and the “ungratefulness” of the Arab population.

The simple truth that most refuse to recognize is that the root of the problem is not in the commemoration of these events, but rather in Israel’s ongoing discriminatory and exclusionary policies against the Arab population.

On Land Day, we protest against the widening policies of Judaization and the harsh inequalities in land distribution and residential expansion.

The facts speak for themselves. While a majority of the land was owned by Arabs when the country was founded, most property has since been expropriated. Only 2.5 percent remains under Arab ownership – even though Arabs comprise 20 percent of the population.

As time goes on, the amount of land allocated to Arab citizens only shrinks, due to expropriation and Israel’s reticence to expand areas under Arab jurisdiction.

These gaps are evident when comparing neighboring Arab and Jewish towns.

For example, the population of heavily-Arab Nazareth is 1.5 times higher than the population of Upper Nazareth – but the Nazareth jurisdiction itself is almost three times smaller than that of Upper Nazereth.

Another example is a comparison of the towns of Omer and Tel Sheva in the south. In 2004, there were 6,000 residents in Jewish-populated Omer with a territory of 17,000 dunams, while in Arab Tel Sheva there were 10,000 residents in only 4,000 dunams – 2.8 dunams per person compared to 0.4. And this is nothing compared to the difference between Taibeh and Kochav Yair.

Since the founding of the state, more than 1,200 Jewish towns have been established, while no new Arab towns have – save those created by Bedouin in both the North and South.

In 1995, I proposed the creation of a new Arab town, to provide modern-living options and to meet the particular needs of young couples. Despite the turnover in Knesset and in the cabinet since then, the proposal has remained on the back-burner.

In such a reality, it is easy to attack Arabs in Israel with accusations of populism. The least we can do is demonstrate and remember year after year this injustice, because we have a right to this land and we will not surrender that right.

We have rights not just in this land, but also rights over this land. This is a historic axiom. Even if the generation that experienced the events of Land Day in 1976 does not get to see the desired change, our message will be passed to all future generations as they mark Land Day each year.

The rhetoric must change from the theme of perceived ungratefulness to that of justice.

On every March 30, we must ask this question: what has changed since 1976? And what advances (or regressions) has the state made toward our equality?

Our children must learn about these events and all of the others which burden the collective memory and identity of the Arab minority in Israel. This is just the little bit of justice that Israel’s education system should and can do.

But the primeval fear of Palestinian Arabs continues to guide Israel’s policies and an educational system which has been moving toward nationalism and militarism, and power over the Arab “other.”

Dr. Ahmad Tibi is the leader of the Arab nationalist party in Israel, Ta’al (the Arab Movement for Change). He currently serves as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. A Hebrew version of this opinion piece appeared on Walla.co.il

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