Funerals begin for Palestinians killed by Israel army on Land Day

The Palestinian Authority has declared a national day of mourning to honour those killed [Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu]

Funerals have begun for the 17 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces as thousands marched near Gaza’s border with Israel to mark the 42nd anniversary of Land Day. 

Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip held the funeral for 30-year-old Sari Abu Odeh late on Friday.

He was shot dead earlier in the day after Israeli forces fired live ammunition at protesters and used tear gas to push them back from a heavily fortified fence as they began a planned six-week demonstration demanding the right of return for refugees.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than 1,400 others were wounded at the demonstration which commemorated Land Day, which stems from March 30, 1976, when six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli forces during protests against the Israeli government’s decision to expropriate massive tracts of Palestinian-owned land.

Mohammed Najjar, 25, was shot in the stomach in a clash east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, while Mahmoud Muammar, 38, and Mohammed Abu Omar, 22, were both shot dead in Rafah.

Among the other victims were Ahmed Odeh, 19, Jihad Freneh, 33, Mahmoud Saadi Rahmi, 33, Abdelfattah Abdelnabi, 22, Ibrahim Abu Shaar, 20, Abdelqader al-Hawajiri, Sari Abu Odeh, Hamdan Abu Amsheh, Jihad Abu Jamous, Bader al-Sabbagh and Naji Abu Hjair, whose ages remain unknown.

{articleGUID}

Earlier on Friday, Omar Waheed Abu Samour, a farmer from Gaza, was also killed by Israeli artillery fire while standing in his land near Khan Younis, just hours before the demonstrations.

Funerals for the rest of those killed are set to take place throughout the day on Saturday. 

In honour of those killed, the Palestinian Authority declared Saturday a day of “national mourning”.

“Schools, universities as well as all government institutions across the country will be off on Saturday, as per President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to declare a day of national mourning for the souls of the martyrs,” a statement issued on Friday said. 

Adalah, a legal centre for Palestinian rights in Israel, condemned the Israeli army’s use of force, calling it a “brutal violation” of international law.

“Live gunfire on unarmed civilians constitutes a brutal violation of the international legal obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants,” the group said in a statement.

It also said that it would launch an investigation to “demand that those found responsible for the killings be brought to justice”.

WATCH: Land Day – Palestinians protesting the expropriation of their land (2:40)

Yara Mahamid, a student from Gaza told Al Jazeera, that Israeli aggression wouldn’t deter Palestinians from protesting.

“We came to commemorate Land Day because we have to confront the [Israeli] state.

“We came out to remember our martyrs and to reclaim ownership of our land. We will resist until our last breath. We shouldn’t negotiate anymore. We shouldn’t give up our rights,” she said.

This year’s Land Day comes on the heels of months of anger over US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem.

It is widely expected the US will be transferring its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the run-up to the Nakba, “day of catastrophe”, on May 15, when Israel was officially declared a state and more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes.

International reaction

At Kuwait’s request, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting late on Friday, but failed to agree on a joint statement.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an “independent and transparent investigation” and reaffirmed “the readiness” of the world body to revitalise peace efforts.

{articleGUID}

However, Mansour Al-Otaibi, Kuwait’s Ambassador to the UN, issued a statement criticising the Security Council’s for failing to take action against Israel.

“People in occupied Palestine are disappointed that the Security Council met, but did not take action yet to stop this massacre and to hold those responsible to account.”

The Jordanian government also issued a statement laying responsibility on Israel for the deaths of the Palestinian protesters.

Mohammad al-Momani, spokesperson for the Jordanian government, said: “As an occupying power, Israel bears responsibility for what happened in Gaza today, as a result of the Israeli violation of the Palestinian right to protest peacefully and the use of excessive force against them”.

The Turkish and Qatari governments released similar statements, condemning Israel’s use of force.

Phyllis Bennis, a fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies and author of the book – Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, told Al Jazeera that there needed to be more than just condemnation of Israel’s actions.

“Friday was only the first day of what is anticipated to be a six-week non-violent protest. Camps and tents had been set-up, playing fields for children had been erected, but days earlier the Israelis decided to send 100 snipers there and who were prepared to use force against anyone who approaches the fence.

“Given the size of the Gaza Strip, and that the fence encircles all of it, the notion of approaching it, just means living inside Gaza,” she said.

“So asking for a strong statement from the US and others isn’t enough. And issuing strong statements simply doesn’t go far enough.”