Demonstrators gathered today in Al Masara, near Bethlehem, in commemoration of Land Day, marking the anniversary of mass confiscation of Palestinian land in 1976.
Palestinians, Israelis and internationals marched peacefully towards the village’s land. However, Israeli military, police and border police blocked the road with barbed wire, at which point the demonstrators stopped and began chanting resistance anthems. Speeches were given by representatives of the non-violent popular struggle committee. The soldiers then announced that the area had been declared a Closed Military Zone (CMZ), removed the barbed wire and moved on foot and in jeeps towards the protesters, throwing percussion grenades and tear gas canisters directly at them.
Two protesters were arrested after asking to see a copy of the CMZ order. One was released in Al Masara. The other is being held at Gush Etzion Prison.
Last Sunday, a number of men from the village were arrested in Bethlehem when attempting to retrace Jesus’ Palm Sunday route into Jerusalem. The Israeli and International activists arrested with them were released on the same day, but, in a clear act of racial discrimination, the Palestinians were held in prison until Thursday, when they were released on bail to reappear in court on the 18th April. The judge rebuked the police and prosecution, agreeing that it had been an entirely non-violent demonstration.
Al Masara has held a weekly demonstration since November 2006. The villagers are restricted from accessing their land, as it is the area in which the Israeli authorities are continuing to build the illegal separation barrier. When completed, it will run for a total of over 700 km, the large majority of which runs through and annexes Palestinian land.