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Anti-Christian graffiti sprayed on church in destroyed Galilee village of Bir'em

The internally displaced community of Bir’em found abusive graffiti, stars of David and the word ‘revenge’ sprayed on its church, graveyard and other buildings. Yet the act of vandalism is but one of the community’s problems, as it continues its struggle for return.

Signs telling the Palestinian history of Bir'em were removed by authorities (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Signs telling the Palestinian history of Bir’em were removed by authorities (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Last week, several days after they celebrated Christmas, the former residents of Bir’em discovered the graffiti, as well as flammable liquid that had been poured at the entrance of the Church of Our Lady in the village, which has been mostly demolished. As reported in Haaretz, the Committee for the Uprooted of Kafar Bir’em filed an official complaint to police, but no suspects have been identified.

"Revenge" sprayed near the Church door (Photo: The Committee for the Uprooted of Kafar Birem)

“Revenge” sprayed near the Church door (Photo: The Committee for the Uprooted of Kafar Birem)

“This is the second time in the last month that something like this has happened,” says Deeb Maroun, a member of the committee. “Just three weeks ago, someone sprayed ‘revenge’ on the floor of the former school, and put racist stickers on the walls. This has never happened in all the 64 years since we were uprooted from the village, although we have seen cases of gravestone desecration in previous years. While of course you can’t be certain as to the identity of these vandals, it appears to be part of an ugly plague that has been sweeping the entire country, through Jerusalem churches, the Latrun Monastery and more.”

Church of Our Lady in Bir'em. Believers removed grafiti from its walls (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Church of Our Lady in Bir’em. Worshipper removed the grafiti from its walls (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

On Saturday, the entire community gathered from all neighboring villages for the weekly prayer. Worshippers had cleaned the church of the graffiti ahead of time, but other offensive slogans have remained in its vicinity, as the villagers are not allowed to touch anything in the “national park” that was once their home, which now serves as picnic grounds for vacationing families.

In 1948, after the war ended, IDF forces entered the villages of Bir’em (also spelled Bir’im) and Iqrit, and ordered the Palestinian residents (by then citizens in the newly founded State of Israel) to leave their homes for a period of two weeks, fearing their closeness to the Lebanese border would endanger the region’s security. The two weeks soon became a month, then a year, and soon enough, Bir’em was populated by newly arrived Jewish immigrants. When the villagers’ petition to the High Court led to a ruling that they must be allowed to return, the houses were demolished and the land confiscated.

Parts of the ruined Bir'em. Villagers are not allowed to return in spite of court rulings (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Parts of the ruined Bir’em. Villagers are not allowed to return in spite of court rulings (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Repeated court victories for both villages have not led to the villagers’ return to this day, largely because of the fear of successive governments that abiding with the court’s ruling would open the gates for much larger claims of return on the part of 1948 refugees and internally displaced people within Israel. Residents of the two villages are still determined to realize their rights, and maintain the link to their lands by visiting the surviving churches and cemeteries on a regular basis, and holding yearly summer camps for youth to teach them their history.

All this, however, is hidden from visitors to the national park established around Bir’em, dubbed “Bar’am Ruins.” Official notices tell the story that this is the ancient site of the Jewish village of Bar’am (dated between the 2nd and 6th centuries AD), bearing no witness to the lives of Israeli citizens who used to live here and who still frequent their partly demolished homes. The trails in the park take visitors from the parking lot to the Old Synagogue (which once bore the slogan, “May there be peace in this place and all places of Israel”), with nothing but grass and picnic tables along the way. Only those who tread off the path will find the impressive ruins of the Palestinian village that the internally displaced wish to return to.

Ruins of Bir'em, off the official park pathway (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Ruins of Bir’em, off the official park trail (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

“We tried to put a sign near the church once, just so that people coming here for a picnic would know our story, but the Nature and Parks Authority took it down,” says Kassan Makhoul, a young man whose parents were just children when soldiers ordered them out of their houses and sent them to sleep in surrounding fields and caves. “I don’t understand how Israel expects to see us sharing the burden (of military/national service, H.M.) without giving us equal rights. How can you simply steal a citizen’s land and still expect anything of him? Even if you had the world’s smallest and ugliest of houses, still you wouldn’t want to be uprooted, because it is yours.”

Israeli families at a picnic near the ruins of Bir'em (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Israeli families at a picnic near the ruins of Bir’em (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

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    1. al-Maroun

      Hagai: The residents of Jish, most of whom are Maronite and Greek Catholic would strongly object to being called “Palestinian” or, for that matter, “Arab”. They see themselves as “Aramaic” or “Phoenecian”, and for the most part do not identify with the Palestinian cause or nationality. Please see their community’s own website for more:

      Reply to Comment
      • Maybe if the Israelis knew that these people considered themselves to be “Aramaic” or “Phonecians” they would let these non -Arabs return?

        What say you Al-Maroun, what is it you’re trying to say apart from missing the entire point of the article.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Jogortha

      Al-Maroun, that’s a good point. The only problem is that in the eyes of the State of Israel that won’t get them any extra privileges. Point in case, they got dispossessed like the other Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    3. That the State would demolish the very property that the highest court in the land ordered returned to its rightful owners is repulsive; that over 50 years later no lasting, significant compensation has been had leaves justice dead. A High Court that will not slap the State down for such an act is no court at all. Either its Justices are cowards or ideologues willing to erase the clear intent of its Declaration of Independence for the good of race; in either case, in outcome, the promise that was Israel within the Declaration is gutted.

      The Court stands neck deep in shame. If you expect equal service from non-Jews as, e.g., national military service or a substitute, first dole out equal humiliation across race, humiliation which shapes families across generations.

      Clean this up. There is no rule of law in Israel, just rule of State.

      Reply to Comment
      • directrob

        Only a bit more than 5% of the population is affected (lost houses and land) and it is an internal Israeli problem. Of course there is the problems of a few international treaties and human rights that should make the absentee laws invalid but those treaties are only valid when they are not in conflict with Israeli principles. Also the Israeli High Court in 2003 agreed that in general it is ok not to let them return. Not that that matters a lot because nobody needs to listen to the Israeli High Court. It is just there to legalize the states actions.

        Great country …

        Reply to Comment
        • The case at hand involves a prior High Court decision nullified by a State agency through the destruction of property. But the Court did nothing post 48 because it had no enforcement power–and that is the problem. Early, security needs were used to trump the Court, and now the scope of effective Court action is unclear in several fields.

          As to this case proper, one could request restitution for property over the accumulated 50 years. This will not happen, I know. My point is that this growing nullification of Court power will come to haunt many Israeli citizens. Israel has yet to evolve true judicial review.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Joel

      60,000 dead Syrians next door and all you care about is graffiti on a ruined wall.

      If the dead could speak, what would they think of you?

      Reply to Comment
      • Carl

        +972: “reporting and analysis of events in Israel and Palestine”.

        The clue Joel, is in the name.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          Contrary to Carl, 972mag has written a few articles about current events in Syria.

          Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Israelis aren’t directly responsible for the killing in Syria and there’s nothing they can do about it, no matter how much they might wish to.

        Israelis are directly responsible for the oppression of Palestinians and they could end it if they wished to. Deflecting attention to the Syrian dead is only a way to cover up the fact that they have no wish to.

        Of course, Israelis feel no responsibility for the Arab deaths that they inflict themselves, in their endless aggressive wars. Those deaths are something to cheer about.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel


          What you say is true. What you omit to mention is that Palestinians have also terrorized Israelis for quite some time.

          Reply to Comment
          • Palestinian

            When a landlord attacks a burglar you cant blame him.Violent attacks against Israelis is a normal reaction to decades of state terrorism ,land theft ,oppression and humiliation .

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinian

            attacks are*

            Reply to Comment
          • Vicky

            Firstly, this article is obviously about quite a bit more than graffiti. It is about a specific community who were forcibly displaced *as citizens* and their subsequent experiences.

            Secondly, would you throw in Syria as a handy distraction on articles about, say, anti-Semitic graffiti? Or is that a worthier topic? Use of the Syria smokescreen is very tired now and also insulting to Syrian dead, as there is no reason to suppose that you care about them for any other reason than their utility as a distraction technique.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Joel – another deflection. Look anywhere else, just don’t look at the ruined and desecrated church.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            You’re so concerned about the Syrian refugees, Joel – why not have Israel take them in?

            Reply to Comment
          • Joel

            I hike Israel and see ruined Arab villages all the time. I’ve even found some World War 1 battle sites from when the British and Turks killed each other.

            What disturbs me is the government-issue gas masks for my family that came in the mail today.

            Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            Great deflections, but what do you think about the return of these families?

            Reply to Comment
          • Joel

            There is a national park built around the ruined village. Keep the status quo, notwithstanding the injustice.
            The graffiti taggers are disgusting cowards who should be aggressively sought out and prosecuted.

            Apropos of nothing, does anyone cry for the Ottomans who were thrown off of their land a mere twenty years before the Bar’am villagers?


            Reply to Comment
          • When you say ‘the Ottomans’, who do you mean? Turkish occupiers? Or all the people who were displaced at the empire’s dissolution? Because there has been a lot of grief over that, and some moving artistic tributes. Louis de Bernieres’ ‘Birds Without Wings’ is a beautiful book. But here we have an opportunity to do more than write books. It would be so easy to give Birem’s villagers their rights. But instead of discussing that, you prefer to talk about every other human rights abuse under the sun, concluding with a feeble attempt to shift the focus onto yourself because your government has sent you a gas mask by way of an interesting pre-election freebie. There will not be an end to this mess until people are able to look at Palestinian experience without trying to deny it outright or dismiss it as inconsequential or exploit the suffering of strangers as an excuse not to engage with it. (And the Ottoman question really was apropos of nothing, because it is the Birem villagers whom you have to live with now, not anyone else.)

            Reply to Comment
    5. Ton Nuiten

      You know, for a long time, I did believe the many stories about persecution of Jews by an “intolerant, anti-Semitic Christian Church.” But I didn’t understand why; the official reason for this was always that the Jews in one way or another, were the “chosen people of God.” And this went on, untill…I began to read the Bible by myself, in stead to listen to preachers who had little to say about this subject, than that it was only an “unexplainable, mysterious form of ant-Semitism.” I read fro example one of the books of the Bible, the book of Acts. And soon, I began to understand the it was Jews who persecuted the still young Christian church at that time. And think about this: the leaders of the church just as the apostles Peter, Paul, were Jews themselves! Well, when I read about the unholy graffity on the church in Bir’em, nothing seems really changed.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Maria DAMIRCIYAN

      It looks like Ani City in the occupied Armenia

      Reply to Comment
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