New York, NY, March 29 – Forty New Yorkers commemorated the Palestinian national holiday Land Day Saturday with the eighth protest at the Madison Avenue jewelry store of Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.
The protest included songs, theater and testimonials from villages threatened by Leviev’s settlements. Land Day marks Palestinians’ ties to their land, in defiance of Israeli efforts to displace them.
“We targeted Leviev’s New York store on Land Day because his companies have recently built Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in at least four different locations in the Israeli-occupied West Bank,” said Issa Mikel, a spokesperson for Adalah-NY. “He has also financed the Land Redemption Fund, a settler organization accused of using fraud to secure Palestinian land for settlement construction.”
Land Day protests are being held in Palestinian towns throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories this weekend. Land Day has been commemorated annually on March 30 since 1976, marking the day when six Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in their villages in the Galilee in northern Israel during protests against the confiscation of their land for Jewish settlements.
New York protesters sang a parody version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” entitled, “This Land’s not Lev’s Land”, with lyrics including:
“On this year’s Land Day, we want Lev to pay, For all he’s stolen, to make his millions,
From Angola’s miners, to Bil’in and Jayous, We won’t stop ’til everyone is free!”
The protest featured theater depicting Israeli soldiers attempting to force peaceful Palestinian protesters off their land. The Palestinian villagers ultimately marched through the soldiers’ lines, and broke through the wall, reclaiming their land. The theater was accompanied by Palestinian testimonies from 1948 to present, emphasizing the continuity of Israeli efforts to displace Palestinians. The narratives tied the Nakbah, or Catastrophe, in 1948, when 800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their villages, to Land Day, and to the present settlements built by Leviev’s companies that are destroying Palestinian villages.
In one excerpt, Sharif Omar, from the West Bank village of Jayyous where Leviev’s company Leader is building a settlement on village farmland, explained, “Last September I was working in my olive grove near the wall, when I came across uprooted olive trees coming out of the bulldozed ground. These green young branches are soft and beautiful, deeply rooted in the ground and stronger than the wall and bulldozers. These trees refuse to die or to surrender, and send a message to all farmers and people who love the land. ‘Do not give up, and keep struggling and one day you will touch the sun.’ We have been here longer than these trees, and we will stay here longer than the stones.”
Leviev’s company Africa-Israel was established in 1934 as Africa Palestine Investments Ltd. by a group of Jewish investors from South Africa to acquire and develop real estate for Jewish settlement in Israel. Its name was changed to Africa-Israel in 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “It’s important to see current illegal land theft by Israel, of which Leviev is a profiteer and ideological supporter, as part of a historical policy stretching back decades,” explained Ethan Heitner, a spokesperson for Adalah-NY. “That’s the point we wanted to convey today.”
In Angola, Leviev works closely with the repressive Dos Santos regime to mine and sell the country’s diamonds, and he employs the private security firm K&P Mineira, which has been accused of torturing, sexually abusing and even murdering Angolans. In New York, Leviev and his former partner Shaya Boymelgreen came under fire for employing underpaid, non-union workers in hazardous conditions in their development schemes. This month, the New York City Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order at the Leviev-owned Met Life Clocktower, allegedly for building without permits.