+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

PHOTOS: On Easter, Palestinians resurrect their destroyed village

The Palestinian village of Irqit was depopulated in the 1948 war and then almost entirely razed. Now new generations of its original residents are trying to resurrect the town and realize a decades-old High Court ruling recognizing their right to return.

Text and photos by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org

A youth sits near a cross overlooking the surrounding countryside in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit in northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

A youth sits near a cross overlooking the surrounding countryside in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit in northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit’s original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. (photo: Activestills.org)

It would seem that Israeli authorities conspired to intertwine the story of Iqrit with the Christian narrative.

As the season of Advent approached in November 1948, the Israeli military forced residents of Iqrit and the neighboring village of Kufr Bir’im—all citizens of the newly created state of Israel—to leave their homes near the northern border with Lebanon because of military operations in the area. Advent is the Christian season of waiting before the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Iqrit’s residents were promised they could return to their homes in two weeks. They are still waiting.

In July 1951, the Israeli High Court ruled that the people of Iqrit and Kufr Bir’im had the right to return to their homes. The military refused to comply, and on Christmas Eve of that year blew up all houses in both villages.  Only the churches and cemeteries were left intact. Shortly thereafter, all village lands were confiscated by the state. As the family of the newborn Jesus fled to Egypt, so too were these villagers were forced into exile.

Since then, decades of demonstrations and legal appeals for the villagers’ right to return have seen a string of favorable decisions by courts and commissions that have resulted only in more broken promises and unenforced rulings.

In 1972, Prime Minister Golda Meir stated plainly why even Palestinian citizens of Israel displaced within their own state could not return to their home villages:

It is not only consideration of security [that prevents] an official decision regarding Bi’rim and Iqrit, but the desire to avoid a precedent. We cannot allow ourselves to become more and more entangled and to reach a point from which we are unable to extricate ourselves.

In the 1970s, the government had granted use of the cemetery—allowing only the dead to return to Iqrit after they lived and died in Kufr Yasif, Rameh, Haifa or other places of exile. As one villager remarks, “The cemetery is the only living part of the village, according to the law.” But the Christian gospel that Iqrit’s residents follow maintains that the grave does not have the final word.

“The community is living as a community despite the geographical separation,” says Shadia Sbait, coordinator of the Iqrit Community Association. Families gather for mass in the village church on the first Saturday of every month and hold summer camps for the children every year.

After the 2012 summer camp, youth from the third generation of Iqrit’s survivors took the initiative to begin resurrecting the village despite the village’s legal limbo. Since then, a core group of 20 or so activists make sure that the village is constantly inhabited, sleeping in tents, under the stars or in rooms attached to the church.

“They are practicing full return in Iqrit and we are really proud of them,” says Sbait. “They brought life back to the place.”

Israeli authorities frequently destroy anything new that they build or plant in the village. But over time, they’ve been able to add a few amenities, including solar panels on the church roof to power lights, satellite television and computers used for social media campaigns.

This spirit of steadfastness energized Easter Monday festivities in Iqrit this year as generations of villagers filled the  church and square with a celebration of prayer, poetry, music, art and feasting. They had to celebrate Easter on Monday because their priest is borrowed from a nearby town where he had to celebrate mass on Sunday. Iqrit’s faithful are used to waiting.

After the mass, youth told the village’s story through theater and dance. Photos on display showed the village before its destruction and its various campaigns and demonstrations over the years. The spirit of the day was both festive and defiant—a pre-emptive declaration of victory echoing the Christian belief not only in Jesus’s resurrection at Easter, but also his promise to return one day to establish a lasting reign of justice and peace.

“We do not want to return to our villages only in coffins but when we are alive,” declare the people of Iqrit and Kufr Bir’im in an Easter plea to Pope Francis, which concludes:

We implore you to intensify your sacred efforts to exert pressure on the government of Israel to end the injustices it has inflicted upon our community. We hope that your upcoming visit to Palestine and Israel will serve toward that purpose…. [O]ur prayers are focused in order to achieve our own resurrection, on earth, with justice, equality and peace.

A handmade sign points the way to the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit in northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return.

A handmade sign points the way to the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit in northern Israel. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

A youth walks among the rubble of the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit in northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

A youth walks among the overgrown rubble of the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit, whose original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

On Easter Monday in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit, youth perform an interpretive dance of the town's history. Northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

On Easter Monday in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit, youth perform an interpretive dance of the town’s history. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

On Easter Monday, a photograph of the Palestinian village of Iqrit before its destruction hangs in the church, the only building to remain. Northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

A photograph of the Palestinian village of Iqrit before its destruction hangs in the church, the only building to remain. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

Hanna Nasser stands near his family graves in the cemetery of the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit in northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

Hanna Nasser stands near his family graves in the cemetery of the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit. Only the village’s church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

Children watch as an artist paints a picture of the church in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit in northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

Children watch as an artist paints a picture of the church in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

On Easter Monday in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit, young and old dance around the town's church. Northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

On Easter Monday in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit, young and old dance around the town’s church. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

Solar panels and a satellite dish are installed on the roof of the church of the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit in northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents.

Solar panels and a satellite dish have been installed on the roof of the church of the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit in northern Israel. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

On Easter Monday, a historic photograph shows the displacement of the Palestinian village of Iqrit by the Israeli military. Northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

A historic photograph shows the displacement of the Palestinian village of Iqrit by the Israeli military in 1948. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

On Easter Monday in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit, a cross displayed in the town's church bears the messages: "Christ is risen", "Where is your justice Israel" and "Ikrit". Northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

On Easter Monday in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit, a cross displayed in the town’s church bears the messages: “Christ is risen,” “Where is your justice Israel,” and “Ikrit.” (photo: Activestills.org)

 

On Easter Monday, generations of the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit celebrate mass in the town's church, the only building to remain standing. Northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

On Easter Monday 2014, generations of the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit celebrate mass in the town’s church, the only building to remain standing. (photo: Activestills.org)

 

On Easter Monday in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit, youth dance and make music in front of the town's church. Northern Israel, April 21, 2014. Iqrit's original inhabitants were forcibly evacuated in the Nakba of 1948. Though the Israeli high court granted the residents, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right to return to their homes in 1951, the military destroyed the village and has since prevented their return. Only the village's church and cemetery remained intact, and are still used by village residents while they campaign for a full return.

On Easter Monday in the displaced Palestinian village of Iqrit, youth dance and make music in front of the town’s church. (photo: Activestills.org)

For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. Rauna

      They are not allowed to return to the land which is rightly theirs but millions of jews (though their jewishness can be questioned)allowed to “return” to Israel from around the world. Juctice israeli style.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rehmat

      Comparing Easter with recovery of Palestinian exodus is a bad analogy.

      You see, Jews don’t believe in Jesus resurrection – neither Muslims, which means Palestinian Natives will never return to their ancestral homes.

      The Jews for Jesus, recently posted a video at U-Tube claiming Jesus, once again “died for Jews at Auschwitz.

      http://rehmat1.com/2014/04/19/jesus-dies-at-auschwitz-for-jews-again/

      Reply to Comment
      • Steve

        Rehmat, didn’t Jesus die for the Jews in Auschwitz as well as the Nazis and you as well?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      It wouldn’t surprise me if these people all get phone calls next week inviting them to a “chat” with their local shin bet operative.

      Regardless of their chances for success in reviving their lost village, I wish them much luck!

      Reply to Comment
    4. Joel

      Like clockwork, every six months or so 972 and the ‘activists’ resurrect Iqrit.

      That’s boring, and nothing is more contemptible than a bore.

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        Why do you insist on trying to resurrect your long-lost biblical fantasy, while discounting their immediate claim to the lands their parents were born on?

        From where I’m sitting, you zionists with your tired “Eretz Yisrael” narrative are such a bore!

        Reply to Comment
      • To right a wrong to constitutional law is a bore?

        No wonder I’m boring. For that is why I attend 972.

        Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        It’s not ‘resurrected.’ The return is ongoing. There are development plans prepared. It is just slowly slowly for fear of the Land Authority bulldozers.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Vadim

      Stop living in the past, get on with your lives.

      Demand compensation, demand acknowledgement, demand things that will actually improve your lives.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Hana

      The choice of language here is unfortunate. For if they referred to the “Israeli Arab” village rather than the “Palestinian” village things would be much clearer and probably the Israeli government would have far less of a case for development of a precedent — and this might long have been ended. Are these people unwilling to accept Israeli citizenship? Is that the issue? If so, then they wish to include the village in the Palestinian Authority — and that truly is a “No Man’s Land” of limbo right now in terms of the area’s status. If not, then why use such language? Arabs in Israel are either Israeli Arabs, Druze or Bedouin. Palestine or Palestinian is a term coined by the Romans two thousand years ago — it is not relevant to today’s geographical Israel and muddies the issue. By the way, the residents of Homesh are facing the same problems … and attempting the same solutions…. I’m just sayin’.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Huda Giddens

      I am very interested in Noga Kadman’s book “Erased From Space and Consciousnes”. How can I get it in English? And may I send a check for it? Her work intrigues me, and I want to know more about Palestinian displacement. I would so appreciate being in touch with Noga, if she would permit it. Many thanks.
      Warmly, Huda Giddens, Seattle, WA.

      Reply to Comment