SAKHNIN, Israel: Thousands rallied Thursday across Israel and the Palestinian territories for Land Day, commemorating a deadly crackdown in 1976 on protests against Israeli plans to seize land owned by Arab citizens.
Two people were wounded by Israeli army fire during a march in the blockaded Gaza Strip, a medical source said without elaborating on their condition.
At the main rally in Sakhnin, an Arab city in northern Israel, AFP journalists saw many people wearing the traditional keffiyeh scarf as they waved Palestinian flags and chanted: “Freedom! Freedom!”
“This demonstration is happening under a fascist government and against the backdrop of growing racism, which has become mainstream is Israel,” lawmaker Ahmed Tibi told AFP.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office in December at the head of a hard-right administration, including extremist coalition partners with a history of anti-Arab rhetoric.
Land Day commemorates protests and a strike on March 30, 1976 against a decision by the Israeli authorities to seize large sections of land in the northern Galilee region.
Israeli police fired at demonstrators, killing six people, and the government plan was subsequently annulled.
Hayat Hammoud, 29, said she had joined the Sakhnin march in “solidarity” with the families of the “martyrs” of the 1976 events.
Arab citizens, who constitute around 20 per cent of Israel’s population, have remained there after the war that coincided with the creation of the state in 1948.
In Gaza, under a crippling Israeli-led blockade since 2007, hundreds marched along the heavily guarded border.
Israeli soldiers fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd from the other side of the fence, an AFP correspondent said.
A Palestinian medical source said two people had been taken to hospital in Gaza City with gunshot wounds.
An Israeli army spokesman told AFP that “two fragmentation grenades” thrown from the Palestinian side landed on the other side of the fence without causing injuries.
“The soldiers shot tear gas and .22 calibre rounds, and hits were identified on a number of rioters,” he added.
Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, said in a statement for the 47th Land Day: “The seizure of land by the Israeli occupation and the colonial expansion of settlements are doomed to fail.”
Several protests are scheduled in the West Bank on Friday to mark Land Day.