March 30th marks Palestinian Land Day, commemorating the day on March 30, 1976, when Palestinians inside Israel protested against the Israeli government announcement of the seizure of 21,000 dunams (5,189 acres) of Palestinian land. The Israeli police violently suppressed the demonstrations, killing 6 young Palestinians, and injuring and arresting many others.
But 2020, for the first year since 1976, Palestinians will not be holding a Land Day commemorative march, due to the fear of further spreading the coronavirus COVID-19 in the crowded Palestinian Occupied Territories.
Every year, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and abroad, commemorate Land Day with marches and remembrance. Land Day 2020 coincides with the two year anniversary of the launch of the weekly Great March of Return demonstrations in Gaza.
Through these demonstrations, Palestinians have been demanding their right to return to the land that is now known as Israel, as well as an end to the 13 year blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt.
The Palestinian refugees in Gaza hoped through the weekly non-violent protests to regain access to land, now in Israel, from which their ancestors were forced to flee during the country’s creation in 1948.
Instead, the protesters were shot with live ammunition, killing hundreds and maiming tens of thousands. This went on weekly for nearly two years, with no repercussions for the Israeli soldiers who repeatedly shot non-violent Palestinian demonstrators.
According to Gaza medical officials, 215 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers firing from the other side of the border during the protests, with another 8,000 suffering gunshot wounds. In the past few months, the weekly protests have been smaller.
In 2019 U.N. Human Rights Council investigators said Israeli forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, with children and paramedics among the fatalities.
The total area of historical Palestine is 27, 000 square kilometres, 85% of which is under Israeli military control. Therefore only 15% of the ancestral land is available for indigenous Palestinians to cultivate their land.
“We call upon our people not to go to the Return encampments on March 30 and to stay home in order to maintain the safety of our people in the face of this lethal pandemic,” said Khaled al-Batsh, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad militant group.
Instead, Batsh called upon Gazans to mark the day by raising Palestinian flags on their rooftops and burning Israeli ones.
So far, nine out of the 97 coronavirus cases confirmed in the Palestinian territories have been confirmed in the Gaza Strip.
Gaza’s hospitals, which were overwhelmed during the protests by gunshot wounds and amputations, are now gearing up for the challenge of containing the coronavirus in the coastal enclave of two million Palestinians, many living in refugee camps.