Every year on 30 March, Palestinians in Palestine, Israel and in the diaspora commemorate Land Day, a day to reclaim their inalienable and collective right to self-determination and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. On this day in 1976, Palestinians in the then occupied Galilee organized a general strike to protest Israel’s expropriation of some twenty thousand donums of Palestinian land. In the ensuing confrontations, the Israeli police resorted to the use of lethal and other excessive force to control the crowds, killing six unarmed Palestinian protesters and inflicting injuries on one hundred others.
This year’s Land Day is marked while Israel continues, undaunted, to maintain its institutionalized regime of racial domination and fragmentation over the Palestinian people, amounting to the crime of apartheid under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel’s apartheid regime—rooted in the unlawful annexation and colonization of Palestinian land, punitive house demolitions, forced evictions and displacements, movement restrictions, the construction of the wall in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the deliberate control and exploitation of natural resources in the whole oPt—erodes the full spectrum of Palestinians’ rights on a daily basis.
In this context, for over thirteen years Israel has maintained a comprehensive land, sea, and air blockade and closure over the Gaza Strip, considered an unlawful collective punishment of the more than two million Palestinian residents. Further compounded by Israel’s de-development policies and repeated military attacks against civilian populations and properties, the closure has led to the collapse of essential services, and profound levels of poverty, food insecurity, unemployment, and aid-dependency. Since 2007, thousands of Palestinian residents of Gaza have been killed and many tens of thousands have been wounded, displaced and had their properties destroyed.
The resulting humanitarian catastrophe and fast deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the Gaza Strip led to the start of the Great March of Return demonstrations on 30 March 2018, Land Day. Every Friday for nearly two years thousands of Palestinians joined the demonstrations near the separation fence demanding an end to Israel’s illegal closure and the right to return of Palestinian refugees as enshrined in UN General Assembly Resolution 194. Al Mezan’s documentation shows that despite the demonstrations remaining largely peaceful and non-violent, Israel used lethal and excessive force to police them, directly targeting protesters, the media and medical personnel. This unlawful conduct resulted in the death of 217 Palestinian protesters—including 48 children and two women—and the injury of 19,237, including 4,967 children and 871 women. Medical personnel and journalists were also repeatedly attacked despite being clearly recognized as such; 225 paramedics sustained injuries—of whom 44 were injured more than once. Also, two journalists were killed and 173 were injured—of whom 43 were injured more than once—during 249 documented attacks.
The Israeli forces also carry out repeated attacks against Palestinian farmers and fishers in the access restricted areas, a type of buffer zone unilaterally imposed by Israel over Gaza’s agricultural lands and territorial waters. Over the years, Israel’s systematic violation of international human rights and humanitarian law in the access restricted areas included unlawful killings, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, stringent movement restrictions, and destruction of means of subsistence. For instance, Israeli forces routinely conduct aerial spraying of toxic herbicides over Palestinian farmlands adjacent to the fence, destroying crops and causing huge material losses. Al Mezan also documented several incidents of sudden flooding of these lands, reportedly caused by Israel’s opening of rainwater dams into the Gaza Strip.
“The continuation of Israel’s violations, particularly the blockade and closure of the Gaza Strip and regime of racial discrimination and domination, have created an increasingly insufferable reality for Palestinians,” noted Mr. Samir Zaqout, Al Mezan’s Deputy Director. He added that “these discriminatory policies amount to collective punishment and blatantly violate international standards.”
On this year’s Land Day, Al Mezan reiterates its calls on the international community to uphold its moral and legal obligations towards the occupied Palestinian people by taking prompt action to activate the relevant protection mechanisms for Palestinian civilians and to guarantee the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
Al Mezan also calls on the ICC to ensure a prompt and thorough investigation into the apparent crimes committed on Palestinian territory since 2014 that fall within the jurisdiction of the Court, including the Israeli settlement regime, the closure and persecution of Palestinians in Gaza, the crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza bombardment, the killing and wounding of demonstrators during the Great March of Return and the overarching apartheid framework. Bearing in mind the obligation to ensure accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the oPt, Al Mezan urges the international community, in particular the States Parties to the Rome Statute, to support the ICC’s investigation into suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Palestine.
 See Al Mezan’s news brief: Annual report on access to economic, social, and cultural rights in Gaza shows decline due to COVID-19 pandemic and continued unlawful restrictions by occupying power; available at: http://mezan.org/en/post/23940
 See Al Mezan’s press release: Palestinian and regional human rights organizations submit joint urgent appeal to UN Special Procedures on the escalating water and sanitation crisis in the Gaza Strip, oPt; available at: http://mezan.org/en/post/23848