Israel must not use violence to quash Land Day demonstrations on Sunday

There are fears that Israeli forces could launch a violent crackdown on planned Palestinian protests in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) to mark “Land Day” this weekend, said Amnesty International. 

The organization is calling on the Israeli authorities to refrain from using unnecessary force on Sunday 30 March, when Palestinians will hold rallies, first held on the same date in 1976, to protest against land confiscations, discrimination in housing rights, and forced evictions. Amnesty International has a team on the ground to monitor events on Sunday.

“Amid news of plans for forced evictions of Bedouin in the Negev/Naqab, demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and the often lethal enforcement of a no-go zone in Gaza, ‘Land Day’ demonstrations will protest ongoing policies as well as commemorate historical events. Israeli forces must not resort to unnecessary or excessive force as they so often have done in the past,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. 

“Israel’s authorities have failed to respect the right of Palestinians to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Amnesty International’s researchers will be monitoring events on Sunday closely to examine whether the rights of demonstrators are respected.” 

Amnesty International has documented a pattern of increasingly lethal use of unlawful force by Israeli forces in recent years. In a report published last month, Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank, the organization revealed that Israeli forces routinely resort to unnecessary, arbitrary and excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators in the occupied West Bank protesting against unlawful settlements, the construction of the military fence/wall and other Israeli policies. Dozens of Palestinian protesters who posed no direct threat to life, including children, have been killed there in recent years with near total impunity. 

Demonstrators attending protests near the Gaza periphery have also been injured after being shot with live ammunition or hit with tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces.

Amnesty International is calling on the Israeli authorities to ensure that all forces policing demonstrations receive clear instructions that comply with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which require that the use of any force by police should be strictly limited to those situations where it is absolutely necessary and strictly proportional to the legitimate aim pursued. Security forces must ensure that their members are clearly identifiable. There have been concerns in the past about undercover plain-clothes officers being involved in incidents of use of excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators. 

“Land Day” protests are also planned in the Negev/Naqab, where violations of and discrimination in housing rights are particularly conspicuous. According to the Israeli Ministry of Public Security, 697 Bedouin-owned buildings were demolished in the area in 2013, a marked increase on 369 in 2012. At least 25 more buildings have been demolished since January 2014, according to information gathered by Amnesty International, mostly in unrecognized villages housing up to half the Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel in the Negev/Naqab. Against the backdrop of decades of exclusion from regional developmental plans, the Israeli government has proposed a new law that paves the way for the potential forced evictions of some 30,000 Bedouin.

“People in the Negev/Naqab are angry. The consultations that the authorities claim to have held with the residents over their eviction have been wholly inadequate, failing to meet Israel’s international obligations on housing rights. Their homes have been demolished countless times. Now they are facing the prospect of forced evictions, and when they protest against this, they are met with arbitrary and abusive force,” said Philip Luther. 

“There is a deep suspicion that the Israeli authorities are aiming to push the Bedouin in the Negev/Naqab into controlled and restricted areas which are not adequate and appropriate for their way of life – economically, socially or culturally. The government should drop the proposed ‘Law for Regularizing Bedouin Habitation in the Negev’ now. ‘Land Day’ continues to be poignantly relevant in this context.”

Israel should grant official status to villages in these areas and provide them with the essential services they need. If some evictions are found to be necessary after exhausting all feasible options, genuine consultations must be conducted with those communities, taking into consideration alternative proposals and the impact they will have on their lives and livelihoods.