Palestinian refugees of Iqrit prepare for Easter celebrations amongst the ruins of their destroyed village on Sunday April 20, 2014 | Dylan Collins
The Israel Land Authority demolished a camp on Wednesday set up by activists in the destroyed village of Kufr Bir’im, in the Galilee region of Israel. The activists are all descendants of Palestinian refugees from the village, who where expelled from the village in the 1948 war. Last August approximately 10 young Palestinians decided to set up camp in the village, to demand their right of return to the lands of their families. They have maintained a near constant presence amongst the ruins ever since.
Shortly after setting up the camp, the first eviction order was given. The group began a court case to oppose the order, but their request was denied, as was the appeal they filed afterwards. According to Ra’ed, whose family is originally from Kufr Bir’im, the appeal was denied because the government doesn’t recognize their claim to the land. “They say it’s the government’s land, not ours. We built the camp around the church, because that’s the only thing that doesn’t belong to the government. But they demolished our camp anyway.”
Ra’ed’s son Wassim, one of the activists that stayed in the camp for the past ten months, said they knew the eviction was coming. “We got the eviction order, and we lost our final appeal last month. The police came a day before the eviction, and told us it would happen.” Despite the eviction, he and his fellow activists are not planning to leave Kufr Bir’im for long. “They demolished the camp, and confiscated our personal items. They even disconnected the water and electricity supplies, which was not in the eviction order. But we went back the same day,” said Wassim.
During the past ten months, the campers experienced a series of protests from neighboring Jewish towns against their presence amongst the village’s ruins. “Two or three times Israelis came here in the very early morning. They uprooted olive trees…” Wassim recalls. With the camp destroyed and no electricity or water, it looks like the situation in the village will be more difficult from now on. Now that the eviction order is final, the police can come and clear the village at any time.
The eviction from Kufr Bir’im follows a raid by Israel’s Land Authority and police in Iqrit, another destroyed village in the northern Galilee. In Iqrit, too, young Palestinians returned to their family’s village and lands almost two years ago. During the raid last Sunday, the police confiscated personal belongings and demolished the tents in which the activists were living. Three activists were arrested, after reportedly being punched and kicked by police officers while they tried to stop them from taking personal belongings.
The Land Authority only allows the people of Kufr Bir’im and Iqrit to hold church services on the destroyed villages’ and bury the dead in the cemetery. After the evictions from both towns, it seems even less likely than before they will be allowed to return there permanently any time soon. Walaa Sbait, one of the three men arrested in Iqrit, told the Guardian, “Right now Iqrit people have the right to return only in a coffin, but we want to live here.”