written in collaboration with Leil Zahra Mortada
“A group of youth” as they call themselves, a group of Palestinian young men and women from the Iqrith village(also spelled Iqrit), decided on the fifth of August, 2012, to put their inherent Right of Return into action. They returned to their village! They, as they express it, “are refugees no longer, we have returned!”
In their public statement they wrote: “From this day, 5/8/2012, we are on our land! We are guarding, protecting, repairing, planting and living on the land of Iqrith. A step towards the complete recuperation of the soil of our homeland. Iqrith will become the first Palestinian village that achieved, against all odds, the Right of Return.”
Iqrith is located in the North of Palestine, almost on the borders with Lebanon. In 1948, the villagers of Iqrith complied, at gunpoint, with the armed Zionist Haganah´s orders to evacuate the village. They were told, 63 years ago, that they would be returned in two weeks’ time when the military operations are over. Some went to Lebanon (to become refugees and later live another kind of Apartheid) and the rest became internally displaced Palestinians holding the Israeli passport (a.k.a. third-class citizens). Today the people of this village are back home, but in the eyes of the Israeli authorities, they are “trespassing confiscated land”.
The villagers fought for their Right of Return from the very early beginning. In 1951, the people of Iqrith took their case to Israel’s Supreme Court and they got a rule in favor of their Right of Return. Yet the Military Government prevented them from returning. A subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court lead to the scheduling of a hearing in February of the following year, 1952. But, on Christmas Day of 1951, the Israeli occupation forces completely destroyed the village in front of the shock-widened eyes of the eager-to-return inhabitants. Those who witnessed the destruction had arrived after having received promises that they would return on that day. Reports say that the Israeli Haganah soldiers forced the head of the village of Iqrith to watch from the top of a nearby hill as Israeli troops blew up every house in Iqrith. In a third verdict (Feb. 1952), the court blamed the villagers for depending on promises from the military ruler of Galilee, instead of benefiting from the legal remedy which was given to them by the court in its first verdict!
Iqrith was not the only village leading this struggle, Kafr Bir’im was also there. Kafr Bir’im was also captured by the armed Haganah on October 31, 1948 during Operation Hiram. In November 1948 most of the inhabitants were expelled “until the military operation was complete”, or so they were told. The military operation turned out to be over six decades of occupation. In 1953, the residents of Kafr Bir’im appealed to Israel´s Supreme Court to return to their village. The court ruled that the authorities must answer to why they were not allowed to return. On September 16, 1953 the village was razed and the land was confiscated by the state of Israel. In the summer of 1972, the villagers of Kafr Bir’im and Iqrit went back to repair their churches and refused to leave. The police removed them by force. The government barred the return of the villagers so as not to create a precedent. The land of Kafr Bir’im remain hostage away from its people.
Everything but the cemetery and the recently renovated church was completely destroyed. Israeli settlements sprouted near or on part of the village´s lands (settlement of Shomera, 1949 on Tarbikha ruins; Even Menachem -1960; and Gornot HaGalil – 1980), while the people of Iqrith (in all generations) are allowed the Right of Return only when they die. The Israeli authorities don´t forbidden their burial in the cemetery of their destroyed village. Usually the people of Iqrith would say, when referring to a deceased member of their community, they “returned to the village.”
During over 6 decades, the people of Iqrith tried to revive the village and put its name on the map of both the local and international struggles. One of their main fights against oblivion was to maintain the flame burning, which they materialized by summer camps for the children of Iqrith held at the village itself. The church, an evidence to the steadfastness of the people, is not only used for prayers but also takes in the celebrations and gatherings of the people of Iqrith held over the past years as a way to maintain the ties between the land and its people. Today, the group of Iqrith youth puts it defyingly in their public statement: “The best thing our fathers and grandparents did, was to keep our presence on the land of Iqrith a living existence, and not dead like the enemies of humanity wanted.”
They had grown up seeing their parents repeatedly organize protests against the land-confiscation and depopulation policies of the Israeli government(s). They challenged these policies through the Israeli Supreme Court and spread information about their struggle to the silent “international community”. The issue of Palestine is to a certain extent world news, but the refugees, the Right of Return and the right to repatriation are not hot-selling topics. On the contrary, it is the item everyone shies away from. “Buf, too complicated, and almost impossible” people would say! It is the topic that puts all world governments and international bodies to shame. Palestinian refugees remain hanging in an international void and silence despite their never ending inspiring struggles.
But today, the youth of Iqrith does not only say it, but also put it into action:“Here we are, the third generation, walking the path of survival and resilience, and completing what our grandparents, fathers and mothers started. (…) One generation after the other, we continue the struggle, we continue to challenge all the impositions of the Israeli authorities to banish us from our land. We will bring life to it, through the changing seasons, we will stand steadfast in the face of injustice and occupation.”
The land of Iqrith has been enjoying its long-awaited people for over two months now. A dream-come-true that hopefully will stream into a popular movement making the inherent Right of Return to all Palestinians a reality through popular direct action. This group of youth that could have just ignited a new tool of popular resistance, issued calls for support: “We call on every human being to join our cause, to support us and support our presence on this land which is our right of existence, of belonging, of survival and of freedom. Our path is full of challenges and sometimes occupation and discrimination seem endless. (…) We expect from our people, in Palestine and in the Diaspora, to stand by us, a stand of resilience and a cry of commitment. We welcome any support that truly believes in the Iqrith plight, Arab or foreign, religious or social, local or international, till the return of all refugees.“
Iqrith youth made history, they have parted the thorny shrubs and lead the way. They have recuperated the land of their village while dreaming of the full repatriation and Right of Return of all Palestinian refugees (and displaced).
Iqrith Youth reclaimed what is theirs. It is now the time for us to support and for others to follow till all can loudly echo “we are refugees no longer, we have returned”
For more info about the Iqrith group and their activities, please check (and like) their Facebook page (so far only in Arabic).