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Palestinians celebrate anniversary of return to destroyed village

The displaced members of the village of Iqrit marked one year since their groundbreaking direct action: the return of the village youth to the village, the revival of its traditions and the strengthening of their hold on the land. Although they are now celebrating with friends and supporters, they fear a potential response from authorities.

The two summer camps outside the Iqrit church at sunset (Haggai Matar)

The two summer camps outside the Iqrit church at sunset (Haggai Matar)

Every year for the past 18 years, the displaced Palestinian community of Iqrit has organized a summer camp on the expropriated lands of their village so that the younger generations, born in cities and towns elsewhere in Israel, will remember their heritage and continue the longstanding struggle for return. Yet this year’s event, which continues until Sunday, is particularly joyful, and more festive than ever, as a group of third-generation Iqritians have been able to resettle on their lands and maintain a sort of settler-style outpost for exactly one year. Six months ago, photographer Oren Ziv and I visited them for a Haaretz story (Hebrew) and a shorter +972 version – it was now about time to go back and see how they were doing.

Iqrit children Debka dancing (Haggai Matar)

Iqrit children Debka dancing (Haggai Matar)

About 100 children and teens, age 8-18, are spending this week on their ancestors’ lands. A group of students who are slightly older serve as guides, the parents help out in the kitchen and workshops, and the older folks come to tell tales of the days before the IDF drove them out in 1948, and before their homes were blown to bits on Christmas Day in 1951, despite a court order mandating the villagers’ return. Over the course of one week, the entire village is revived, with  tents erected around the still-standing Catholic church and between the rubble of what was once the school, the mill and people’s homes. The children learn their family histories, recite the meaningful turning points in their struggle for return, dance and play. This year, they also saw a new hope flourishing on the Iqrit hilltop: village relics have been unearthed, vegetables and herbs of sorts are starting to paint the church surroundings green and the children’s guides and older siblings can tell them firsthand how it feels to be living on their own land.

Joint jam session for Iqrit and Alternative Summer Camp (Haggai Matar)

Joint jam session for Iqrit and Alternative Summer Camp (Haggai Matar)

Many supporters have come to visit this summer. On Wednesday, the visitors were a group of Jewish teenagers who had just concluded the week-long Alternative Youth Summer Camp on Friday (an initiative which I co-founded eight years ago and am still very much involved with, and which offers young Israelis a chance to discuss politics, economy, gender, ecology, the military draft and more in a safe, supportive and fun environment. The camp is sponsored and supported greatly by New Profile). The meeting between the youth from the two camps was fascinating to watch.

At first, after getting to know each other, they discussed the Nakba, how much either group knows about it, how they learned about it (as both Jewish and Arab schools are forbidden from discussing it) and how everybody feels about it. A 14-year-old girl from the Tel Aviv area told of a teacher who was fired for presenting the Palestinian narrative of the 1948 war alongside the Israeli one, and a youth from Iqrit who now lives in Haifa told of his own teacher, also originally from Iqrit, who hides his family’s history from his students out of fear of the Ministry of Education. They went on talking about the experience of being a minority: either as leftists in Israeli society, as Palestinians in Israel, or Christians in a mostly Muslim society, and then turned to ways of coping with such challenges and keeping struggles for equality and democracy going.

Planting trees that may well soon be uprooted (Haggai Matar)

Planting trees that may well soon be uprooted (Haggai Matar)

After the discussions, everybody split into mixed workshops. Some went to garden, others improvised a jam session while others painted shirts with Iqrit-related slogans. The visiting youth of the Alternative Camp were shocked to hear that the small garden and the tree they planted together will likely be uprooted by authorities and that a threat has already been issued by regional inspectors of the Israel Land Administration to destroy the soccer field local activists set up, should it not be taken down willingly at the end of camp. These continued threats against the village are backed with military patrols which frequently arrive at this civilian summer camp. (One appeared during our visit.) The returning people of Iqrit, however, are determined to keep on planting, playing soccer, unearthing relics and rebuilding small structures – until the return to their village is complete.

Working together on colorful Iqrit T-shirts (Haggai Matar)

Working together on colorful Iqrit T-shirts (Haggai Matar)

For more on the history of Iqrit and its project of return:
Displaced Palestinians return to village after 64 years

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    1. In the case of Japanese American removal and internment during WW II, the US Supreme Court went along with the policy. In the case presented here, your High Court balked in this one instance, yet was ignored. The issue extends beyond these descendants of removal to the rule of law as such as revealed by judicial power.

      Here is a 1 min video on YouTube showing President Reagan signing a compensation law, more than 30 years later. Only half of those interned were by then still alive. Once prior residents are all gone, the issue fades. But the harm to your Court remains. In my view, there is no difference between the integrity of Israeli law and return of this village.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      So when do they get to kick out the interlopers and move back in?

      Reply to Comment
      • Marcos

        For their sake, I hope never. This perceptual victimhood is not good for anyone. If you cared for these individuals, this would be your view as well.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Joel

      Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

      These Christian kids dance, while Copts in Egypt are being assaulted and murdered.

      It’s easier to live in the past than face today’s harsh reality.

      Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        Just a question: Does an Egyptian have to be Christian for you to give a damn? Because a lot of Egyptians get killed by the reigning political order regardless of religion.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          Sunnis murdered 10 Christians at a checkpoint in Syria today.

          Israel is an oasis for Christian Arabs. A few young Arab Christians recognize this fact and have volunteered into the IDF.

          Quite honestly,I don’t give a damn that 600 Muslim Brothers were slaughtered by their Army.

          Do you?

          Reply to Comment
          • Yes, I do care. And I care as well of the burning Israeli buses, the young Russian immigrants killed at a dance club. Sorrow is not zero sum, notwithstanding the effort of so many to make it so.
            The issue at hand is whether the High Court’s order from the early 1950’s should now be honored. This has no bearing on the Christians killed and otherwise harmed in present Egypt. This false summation of behavior across categories is much of the problem.

            Reply to Comment
      • Haggai Matar

        Joel – Surely there are always Christian (and non-Christian) kids dancing somewhere on earth, while other Christian (and non-Chrisitian) kids are dying from war, famine, desease and other horrible things. Why pick on the kids from Iqrit?

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          Haggai–If the debka is a dance of resistance, than I don’t begrudge Muslims from dancing it as an expression of their opposition to Zionism. I do find it a little cheeky when Arab Christian kids dance debka as a sign of resistance.

          Reply to Comment
          • Haggai Matar

            First of all – who said that it’s simply about resistance? And anyway what’s the difference? Both Muslims and Christians are Palestinians, both can equally reject Zionism, demand return, etc.

            Reply to Comment
    4. rsgengland

      The Alternative Youth Summer Camp is ‘sponsored and supported greatly’ by New Profile.
      I have been trying to find the source of New Profiles funding.
      I assume it receives its funding by NGOs’, that in turn receive their funding from other NGOs’ or foreign governments.
      Would I be wrong in assuming that most of their funding is ultimately received from foreign governments that harbor animus to Israel, the only Jewish State in the world [out of over 190]?
      New Profiles project is to stop ‘compulsory service’ in the Israeli army.
      Israel lives in an environment where most of its neighbors practice the draft, and most of these countries are sworn officially, and unofficially, to Israels destruction.
      Is this what ‘New Profile’ and the ‘Alternative Youth Summer Camp’ want, and desire? A Question!

      Reply to Comment
      • Haggai Matar

        New Profile is actually not funded by any government, but by private or church based NGOs, mostly in the EU and US.
        As to NP’s goals – the movement aims to demiliterize the Israeli society and promote and end to occupation and peace in the region.

        Reply to Comment
    5. rsgengland

      The money , as you point out, may not be governmental, but is still from foreign sources.
      Many of those foreign donors display great animosity toward Israel, either wishing it great harm and/or its destruction.
      The coalition government was democratically elected by proportional vote, winning well over half the votes cast in the recent election.
      Thus the Israeli Government represents the views of many, possibly most, of the electorate.
      Foreign money is being used to try and influence and affect the policy of the government, despite its mandate from the electorate.
      Although I am in the UK, I am an Israeli citizen who has children who have and are serving in the army, so I am not a dispassionate observer.
      Israel exists in a tough area, with neighbors who have no qualms about their intentions; the destruction of Israel.
      No Israeli army means no Israeli state.
      Anyone pretending otherwise is in a state of denial.
      And it is the only Jewish state for the Jewish people in the whole wide world!!!!!
      If Israel had existed earlier, the Holocaust would probably never have happened, among the many other catastrophes suffered by the Jews over the centuries [in almost every country].
      So calling for the end of the draft will not create peace; just the destruction of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • The problem with excluding thought (and its market funding) based on what you think Israel should be is that there are others with a different best Israel.

        A governing parliamentary coalition is not majoritarian in any direct sense. Those voting for one party of the coalition may be quite opposed to another part. Only a party having an absolute majority of the (ephemeral) electorate may make a claim of such support. Put yourself outside of the governing coalition and ask if you would be making the same argument.

        Rights allow new coalitions to form, given latent majorities change with socio-economic conditions. When you interfere with the equal protection of rights, you invite increasing social stress which can erupt in difficult ways. In a bald sense, this is what the 51% victory of Morsi did, as well as the greater percentage victories in parliament. Upshot, those drafting the constitution thought they could do without the losers; but a constitution is meant to outlast all victors by allowing reentry of losers. I am not saying a more pluralistic constitution would have solved Egypt; but its absence left only military intervention as option.

        Reply to Comment
    6. rsgengland

      I was and am referring to the job of an elected government on one hand.
      The point I was making though is that New Profile is to all intents and purposes, a foreign funded organization/NGO, that is trying to influence the operation of Israel.
      Its aim is not to spread ideas.
      It is dedicated to attempting to encourage draft resistors to avoid military service.
      Israel without a strong army would cease to exist.
      All her neighbors are explicitly or implicitly of the mind to destroy Israel.
      Anyone calling for the end of Israels army/conscription is calling for Israels demise/destruction.
      If any organization supporting that is receiving foreign funding, they are interfering in Israels internal affairs, and at worst, could be considered agents of the enemy.
      This applies to all countries/states.
      The Palestinians kill/execute people for lesser actions.

      Reply to Comment