Israeli police and the army were on Thursday gearing up for a raft of demonstrations and marches expected to take place across Israel and the Palestinian territories to mark Land Day, officials said.
Land Day is held every year on March 30 to mark the deaths of six Arab Israeli protesters at the hands of Israeli police and troops during several mass demonstrations in 1976 against plans to confiscate Arab land in Galilee.
This year, the main march will take place in the northern Galilee town of Deir Hanna, with around a dozen other demonstrations planned after Friday prayers across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in annexed east Jerusalem.
In a parallel development, Palestinians and their supporters in Lebanon and Jordan have said they are planning to march towards the borders as part of a so-called “global march on Jerusalem.”
Ahead of Friday’s demonstrations, Israeli police chief Yohanan Danino raised the nationwide level of alert “in order to handle any possible scenario, expected or not.”
He also urged local Arab leaders to ensure that all events were coordinated with the police, and to “prevent extremists from causing provocations.”
Police were also expected to impose an age limit on worshippers attending the weekly Friday prayers at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said thousands of police would be deployed across the country, with an emphasis on Arab areas in the north and on Jerusalem.
Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency services issued a statement saying it was putting all of its ambulances on a heightened state of alert.
In a statement to mark Land Day, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Israel’s policy of denying access to land was “at the heart of the conflict.”
“For 44 years this policy of colonialism, which has prolonged the occupation, has been the main source of violence in the region and the single most menacing threat to the two-state solution,” he said.
Palestinians have a right to demonstrate peacefully and to demand “the fulfilment of their national and legal rights,” he said.
“The freedom defenders who will take part in the peaceful demonstrations and rallies around the world are marching for dignity towards Jerusalem,” Erakat said.
“Together with them, Palestinians will continue their certain path towards national independence.”