Israeli Arab Protests Turn Violent

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Twenty people, including an Arab lawmaker who serves in the Israeli parliament, were injured during Arab demonstrations marking Land Day Thursday.

Land Day commemorates the first demonstrations held in 1976 in the Galilee against Israeli expropriation of Arab lands. Six Israeli Arabs were killed and dozens of others, including security force members, were wounded in those demonstrations.

On Thursday, hundreds of demonstrators stormed an army base under construction on expropriated land, tore down fences and started fires on the grounds, according to reports. Police used tear gas and fired rubber-coated bullets in response.

Elsewhere, in the Israeli Arab town of Taibeh, protestors burned tires and threw rocks at passing vehicles.

In the disputed West Bank, Israeli troops fired rubber-coated bullets to disperse dozens of people throwing stones in the village of Bani Naim. And outside of PA-controlled Ramallah, some 300 rioters burned tires and blocked the road to Jerusalem.

Further south in Gaza, 400 demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and blocked the entrance to the Jewish settlement of Gush Katif, carrying banners, which read "Get out of our land."

During the years of the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising (intifada), Land Day was often marked by violent protests. However, during the past few years it has become more of a "holiday" marked by picnics and peaceful rallies.

But this year, a general strike of the Israeli Arab sector was also observed.

Mohammed Zeidan, the head of the Arab Municipal Councils organization, said that strike had been called to protest continuing discrimination against Arabs who are Israeli citizens.

He said Israeli Arabs had "suffered a great deal" since 1948 and that much land had been expropriated.

"We are calling upon the government not to actualize future plans for additional land confiscations. We are unable to tolerate a continuation of this policy and we call upon the government of Israel to treat the Arab citizens in a respectful fashion," Zeidan said.

There have been signs recently that things may be changing for Israeli Arabs, who, as a minority in a Jewish state, often claim discrimination.

Israel's Supreme Court ruled recently that an Arab couple could purchase a home in a settlement that formerly had been open only to Jewish Israelis.

This week, Interior Minister Natan Sharansky decided that 150 acres of land taken from an Arab village called Kfar Kassem soon after Israel's 1948 war of independence, would be returned to the community.

Although Land Day was traditionally a day of protest for Israeli Arabs, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have become increasingly involved.

In a television broadcast on Wednesday, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat told Palestinians that Israel had "raped" their homeland and "colonized [it] by the force of occupation."

"This is a legitimate right - to reside on our own land, our own Palestine, in our independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," Arafat said.

Arafat has pledged to declare a state in the disputed West Bank this year, whether or not he reaches an agreement with Israel.

He currently has partial or full control over some 40 percent of the territory but hopes to have more than 95 percent in his hands by the September deadline for reaching a permanent agreement with Israel.