By Sara Mersha
For 37 years, March 30 has been celebrated as Palestinian Land Day, a day of action for land rights. On this date in 1976, Palestinians inside Israel mobilized to protest Israel’s plans to take 2,000 hectares of land from Palestinian communities in Galilee. Six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli forces, and hundreds more were injured and arrested. Though the repression was severe, people around world celebrate this date as an important moment in history, bringing Palestinians together in a common struggle for their rights to land wherever they live.
Grassroots International’s partners in Palestine experience the reality of the ongoing struggle for land rights on a daily basis, and continue standing together with steadfast determination and courage in the face of the Israeli occupation.
In the Jordan Valley, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) has been working together with small-scale farmers who are defending their rights to land even as Israel uses increasingly deadly force to keep them out of this important West Bank agricultural area. Ryiad Sawafta, a farmer in the Jordan Valley village of Bardala, shared the difficulties that his communities are facing:
“Early this year, the occupation authorities demolished five sheep hangars [shelters], confiscated tractors and agricultural water tanks, and left notices for house demolitions…[They are] preventing farmers from having access to their agricultural land after sunset. In addition to that, Palestinian farmers are under continuous harassment from the Israeli military occupation forces at the military checkpoints, during their transport of agricultural products.”
Mr. Sawafta went on to share that recently, Israeli forces have given him a notice to demolish the metal water tank, which he had just built to begin fish farming as part of an effort to promote food sovereignty in local communities. But Mr. Sawafta is not giving up – he and other farmers in his area are organizing together with UAWC to stay on their lands and continue the farming practices that are so critical to both food sovereignty and Palestinian self-determination.
In a related demonstration of resistance, Grassroots partner Stop the Wall Campaign recently co-organized the Land Defense Coalition, along with Grassroots ally the Palestinian Farmers Union, and other youth and environmental justice groups. This new coalition “aims to promote the spirit of cooperation, pool resources and coordinate efforts to face the challenges imposed by the occupying forces and settlers against our people. In doing so, we wish to strengthen the will and determination of the people from the villages which face expulsion and confiscation of land.”
Grassroots is proud to stand with these and other partners in Palestine. Two years ago, on March 30, 2011, we launched our involvement in “We Divest,” a campaign to push the US retirement fund TIAA-CREF to divest from corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation. Many of these corporations are directly involved with land and water grabs– such as Elbit Systems, Ltd. which is constructing the Wall in the West Bank and patrolling the buffer zone in Gaza. Together with our allies Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the American Friends Service Committee, Adalah New York, and the US Palestinian Community Network, we have gathered 24,000 signatures, filed shareholder resolutions, taken action at local offices, and done broader public education to demand that TIAA-CREF do the right thing.
A recent statement from UAWC underscores the importance of these actions:
“The Union of Agricultural Work Committees invite all farmers all over the world, to stand by Palestinian farmers in their struggle for a decent life, and calls for all local and international forces, institutions and, peace-loving and justice organizations in this world for their Solidarity with the Union and its agricultural committees to stop systematic breach of the principles of human rights perpetrated by the Israeli occupation authorities in the occupied Palestinian territories. Your solidarity with us has a big impact on our steadfastness, in addition to its impact on stopping the Israeli aggression on our farmers.”
Grassroots is committed to working toward this goal by directly sharing our support and solidarity with our Palestine partners, and by continuing our collaboration with allies in the We Divest campaign. If you have not yet done so, we invite you to sign the call to action (if you have TIAA-CREF) or the petition (if you do not have TIAA-CREF). Thanks to all the Grassroots supporters who have already added their names and voices to this campaign!