The case of Kafar Bir’em and its uprooted population
Kafar Bir’em is an Arab Christian village situated about 4 kilometers from the Israeli-Lebanese borders in Upper Central Galilee.
On 76 November 1948 the population of Kafar Bir’em was 1050, and in 2010 inside Israel the population was 3000 scattered in the neighboring Gish village, the cities of Haifa and Acre, Al-Makr village, and the cities of Nazareth and Jerusalem. A small number of the population is living in Turaan, Maliya and Shefaram.Area of land
During the British Mandate Kafar Bir’em had the area of 12,250 dunums including 1200 dunums as endowment land belonging to the Church of Our Lady. In 1953 the government of Israel confiscated the land of Kafar Bir’em for settlement construction. The Jewish settlements erected on the land (Moshav Dovev) and the neighboring kibbutz Baram (set up on land belonging to Fara village. Kibbutz Sasa established on land belonging to the demolished Arab Sasa village) use less than 2000 dunums for construction and agriculture. The remaining 10,250 dunums were turned into arid and rugged land and are officially used as razing land for settlements cattle.
The army enters the village and the beginning of agony
The via dolorosa of Kafar Bir’em dates back to 29 October 1948 when the Israeli military forces entered the village but without opening fire. The commander of the military unit ordered all men in the village to head to the Church and give up their arms. The military commander received only very few pieces of arms mostly hunting rifles and delivered to their owners an acknowledgement of receipt in the name of the army. After that the men returned to their homes and they were told they could exercise day-to-day normal life. The commander of the unit who was a young man in his early twenties called Immanuel Sharon testified that he returned to the village three days later and found the men sitting in the coffee shop and reading the daily papers. After the commander had left Kafar Bir’em toward Al-Malikiyye village, another military unit arrived to the village and set up a temporary post in it.
On Sunday, 7 November 1948, two Israeli officials from the Israeli Ministry of Minority Affairs arrived to the city of Safad and conducted a census. All the villagers of Kafar Bir’em who happened to be in the village on that day were registered as citizens of the new State. The register was kept in the Ministry’s offices in Safad city.
On the afternoon of Saturday, 13 November 1048, an Israeli military officer arrived to Kafar Bir’em – his name and military rank are unknown to this day – and ordered the villagers, the citizens of the new State, without prior notice or clear reason, to leave their village within 48 hours to a distance of 5 km to the north behind the Lebanese borders or they would be subject to punishment by the Israeli army. At that time the villagers understood what that kind of warning meant and hoped at the same time they would be relieved from their plight. On the other hand, they did not fully obey the order; rather, they dispersed driven by hope and resistance to the military order in the vineyards and caves of their village in spite of the severe cold and heavy rainfall.
The Minister’s pledge of safe exodus from the village and a secured return to it in two weeks
On 20 November 1948, the Minister of Minority Affairs Bechor-Shalom Shitrit and his assistants visited the neighboring Gish village and met with representatives Kafar Bir’em population. The representatives raised their case and the military order issued against them before the Minister and his attendants Gad Machnes, Director of the Ministry; Alisha Soltes, Military Governor of Eastern Galilee and Marj (Interior valleys) villages; Joseph Yakobson, Ministry of Defense representative; Liaison Officer Immanuel Friedman. The Minister said there was a misunderstanding of the military order issued on 13 November 1948 concerning departure to Lebanon. He explained that Kafar Bir’em population had to evacuate their village to a distance of 5 km south within the land that has come under the control of the Israeli military forces and therefore they had to head to Jish village located 4 km southeast Kafar Bir’em for two weeks only. They were told that the Israeli forces feared an attack from Lebanon and that the orders issued to them aimed to keep them safe and secure during the expected military operations. In fact, the Minister and his military and political attendants committed themselves to allowing Kafar Bir’em inhabitants to return to their village and homes two weeks after their evacuation. Liaison Officer Imannual Friedman himself communicated this commitment to the people of Kafar Bir’em.
When the inhabitants of Kafar Bir’em were somehow compelled to accept the situation, the Israeli military authorities at that time allowed ten men to stay in the village and guard the homes and property of the inhabitants until their return to them in two weeks. The two weeks had passed followed by many weeks and the military governor and military authorities kept on delaying the return of the uprooted villagers.
Deportation of 64 inhabitants from Kafar Bir’em
On 22 February 1949 the Israeli military authorities exiled 64 civilians from Kafar Bir’em. The people of Kafar Bir’em who lived in the neighboring Gish village asked the Police Commander in Safad (capital of the province) few days back that they were forced to return to their village and maintain their homes lest the homes would fall as a result of the heavy rainfall. They were granted permission and a few days later many of the inhabitants of Kafar Bir’em were in their homes and land when an Israeli military patrol arrived and arrested them and transferred them to the police station in Safad. In spite of the explanations provided by the inhabitants and the Police Commander, the military authorities insisted on expelling the people of Kafar Bir’em outside the borders of the country accusing them of infiltration. Thus in a rainy dark night the people of Kafar Bir’em were expelled to Zebuba village in the Palestinian city of Jenin which was then under the control of Jordanian army. From Zebuba they were transferred to Nablus by the International Red Cross and after that to Amman and then to Damascus and from there to the crossing border between Syria and Lebanon in the location known as Al-Masna’, and from there to the South Lebanon. (One of the exiled young women died and was buried there). However, most of those who were forced into exile “infiltrated” back to their homeland, and Kafar Bir’em people committee filed a complained to the competent authorities and to the Head of State. The examination conducted by the Office of the Head of State concluded that the deportees were victims of the conflict between the civil authorities (the Police and the Ministry of Minority Affairs) on the one hand and the military authorities on the other with regard to control of Arab citizens.
State leases Kafar Bir’em land and crops
In April 1949 the government leased Kafar Bir’em land and crops to a Jewish company in spite of the objection of the indigenous population. The laborers working for the Jewish company were all Arabs from the northern parts of the country! This in fact contradicted the security claim against disallowing the uprooted population of Kafar Bir’em to return to their village and land because they constituted a potential danger to the security of the State simply because they were Arabs! Such incident highlighted the racist decision of expelling Kafar Bir’em inhabitants from their village and land. As long as the Arabs were brought to the village as laborers they did not constitute a threat, but if they were the righteous owners of the land they were a danger to security!
Expulsion of Kafar Bir’em Arab guards
On 5 June 1949 the Israeli police expelled the Kafar Bir’em guards whom the army agreed to stay in order to guard the village since 20 November 1948. This incident heralded a more serious incident represented in settling a group of Jewish settlers in the village who became later the nucleus for the neighboring Baram kibbutz. The settlers lived in some of the houses of Kafar Bir’em for almost two years.
Government avowal: “The government does not intend to rob Kafar Bir’em inhabitants of their land and livelihood.”
On 13 June 1949, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion stressed in an official letter from the office his Advisor on Arab Affairs Yehoshua Palmon that “the government has no intention of robbing Kafar Bir’em inhabitants of their land and livelihood.”
Israeli minister urged Kafar Bir’em population, “Please have some patience.”
On 29 June 1949 representatives of Kafar Bir’em met with Minister Bechor Sheetrit and complained about their situation to him. They asked him to carry out the promise he had made to them, and his written answer dated 30 June 1949 was that “I would like to notify you that I have referred your case to the proper authorities and I kindly ask you to have some patience.”
Minister, “The population has the right to receive compensation for the harvest seasons they were not able to benefit from.”
On July 1951 representatives of Kafar Bir’em wrote to the Ministry of Religious Affairs asking to allow them make good use of their land and earn a decent livelihood for their families. The answer to this request was made in August 1951 and in it the minister said it was impossible to allow the population to use their land, but stressed the right of the population to receive compensation for the harvest seasons that they were not able to benefit from. To date even the promise of compensation has not been carried out.
Filing a lawsuit at the High Court of Justice
On 30 August 1951 ten people representing the population of Kafar Bir’em lodged a lawsuit at the High Court of Justice against the following defendants and representatives of the State: Prime Minister in his capacity as a Minister of Defense; Minister of Agriculture; Custodian of Absentee Property; Military Governor of Eastern Galilee. The plaintiffs asked the Court to issue a just order allowing Kafar Bir’em population to return to their homes, land and village.
The Court issues a restraining order against the government
On 8 October 1951 the Court issued a preliminary order against the defendants and required them to appear before the Court, present their case and explain why they denied Kafar Bir’em population the right of return to their homes and land, and failed to return the village to its legal owners within 15 days. The government felt extremely embarrassed and therefore asked the Court for an extension, and the Court granted extension more than once. As a matter of fact, the government manipulated the High Court of Justice and exerted pressure on it to delay the issuance of the ruling – and perhaps the Court cooperated with the government – so that the government could legalize its action. The Court issued its decision on 18 January 1951.
Issuance of Court’s decision
On 18 January 1952 the High Court of Justice issued the following decision, “In order to be able to return to their village, the plaintiffs (Kafar Bir’em population) need to have special permits from the military authority.” However, to date the military authorities have not issued such permits under the false pretext of security.
Confiscation of Kafar Bir’em land
On 14 August 1953 the Minister of Finance ordered the confiscation of Kafar Bir’em land pursuant to the Land Confiscation Law of 1953 issued by the Knesset in the same year. The Minister justified the confiscation by claiming that the land was not owned or used by its owners.
It is indeed an ironical situation! The Minister of Defense in the government of Israel prevented in the name of security Kafar Bir’em population from entering their village and land, and from exercising their natural right as owners, while his colleague in the same government the Minister of Finance ordered the confiscation of the land because they could not exercise their natural right.
The crime of village demolition
On 16-17 September 1953, only five years after the creation of the State of Israel, and in the name of security and upon the knowledge and blessing of a higher security authority, the government of Israel demolished the houses in Kafr Bir’em. To complete the crime, the Israeli forces bombarded the village from land and air. In so doing the Israeli government intended to kill the hope for return in the hearts of the population. But the stones fell and the hope remained.
Situation of Kafr Bir’em population in host villages and unwavering demand for return
Between the years 1954 and 1967 the Israeli authorities continued to track down Kafr Bir’em population in all places. In addition, the military governor denied them employment and permits for free movement simply because they said when applying for a permit that they were from Kafr Bir’em. In fact, the track down of Kaft Bir’em population was intended to break their will and weaken their just demands for return to the land of their forefathers. Nevertheless, the uprooted population did not give up and they constantly demanded return to Kafr Bir’em. They addressed the successive Prime Ministers of the State and Knesset members from all factions and political parties. Moreover, they contacted representatives of foreign countries in Israel and their case was discussed hundreds of times in government institutions and the Knesset. But all was of no avail. Rather shortly after the demolition of Kafr Bir’em houses in 1953 and until this day the Israeli government has proposed dozens of projects as solutions to settle Kafr Bir’em uprooted population some in Arab countries that have been deserted by their indigenous inhabitants in 1948 and others in the neighboring Gish village or any other village. But all those projects were categorically rejected by the people of Kafr Bir’em. In addition, the government of Israel proposed to pay tempting financial compensation but the people refused, and again to transfer them to Argentina within a project known as Mendoza Project for the transfer of the Arab population which was also met with rejection. Neither compensation nor transfer has dissuaded Kafr Bir’em population from strongly adhering to their right of return to their village.
Abrogation of military law imposed on Arabs in the country
In 1966 the government of Israel declared the abrogation of the military law that was imposed on Arab citizens. One of the main features of this act was that every person who wished to leave his or her area to another area has to obtain from the military governor an exit permit in order to be able to enter the other area. Notwithstanding the abrogation of the military law, restrictions on the Arab population persisted. But the mitigation process of the military measures continued to ease until they vanished completely in 1968.
As the official military rule came to an end in 1966 and then the actual on-the-ground military control was ended in 1968, the uprooted population from Kafar Bir’em and Iqret villages decided that the time had come to escalate demand for return, noting that the military obstacles against the uprooted population had lost their weight and importance. Moreover, the results of the June 1967 Six-Day Warm in which Israel was triumphant in all its frontlines with the Arab countries, only imply one thing for the uprooted population namely that the State will not be able to use security as a main factor to prevent them from their return.
The Military rule remains imposed on Kafar Bir’em and Iqret:
Despite abolishing orders regarding closed areas, and despite the change in “security situations,” which the government used as an excuse, Kafar Bir’em and Iqret remained to be closed areas according to emergency laws of 1945. In addition he closure was based on other emergency laws – Security Areas 1949 – (Article 125), as these areas are still closed until our present day, which make them the only closed areas in the country that this system applies to. The objective of this practice is crystal clear. Since October of 1967, Kafar Bir’em’s villagers return to bury their deceased in village’s cemetery regardless of the place they died in.
In 1968, based on the continuous demands for the return to Kafar Bir’em, Shmoel Tolidano – the Vice President for Arab Citizens’ Affairs carried out a joint visit with representatives of Kafar Bir’em’s villagers to the area of "Kassaret Azar" in the southern front of Kafar Bir’em’s demolished homes. The Vice President proposed to them to live in that place or that the state would allow them to set their village on that location. What was surprising was that Kafar Bir’em representatives agreed to that proposal. That took place when the Vice President asked his companions to go back to Gish Village to discuss the issue of giving the villagers of Kafar Bir’em a piece of land to start construction on a location called Al-Aqaba in Gish village.
Escalation of demand after military rule abolition
The villagers of Kafar Bir’em and Iqret, each in their own way, escalated their demand to return to their homes and villages, but the position of the government remained the same and argued that the return of the uprooted may pose a threat to security of the northern region.
Pressure on the government augmented while members and political blocs in the Knesset increased their activity. Leader of opposition – Menahim Begin (18/6/1972), (opposition’s source was (Gahal) Party Hirout which will later on form the essential power of the Likud Party) announced his own and his party’s support to the issue of Kafar Bir’em’s uprooted people’s return. Tawfic Tobi, a Knesset member (communist party) submitted (in 12/7/1972) a proposition for the agenda, while Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan, stopped the use of the Mandate emergency law since 1945, concerning the closure of some areas within the country, but kept Kafar Bir’em and Iqret closed under another article as mentioned above.
The Security excuse died and the argument of “the Precedent” was born
In 23/7/1972, the Israeli government, headed by Golda Meir decided (Decision Number 803), contrary to the position of a great number of ministers, and the advice of Shmoel Tolidano, Vicee President for Arab citizens Affairs, not to allow Kafar Bir’em’s and Iqret’s uprooted people to return to their villages, but the grounds on which the decision was based time was not security!! In fact “security” became a lame and unconvincing excuse The brand new excuse, which had not been tackled or raised before was that of the “Precedent”. This decision in itself constituted a recognition of the rights of the uprooted population of Kafar Bir’em and Iqret. However, the “Precedent” obsession did not allow the government to correct the mistake it committed against the uprooted people of both villages.
Renewal of the demand, and sit-in at Kafar Bir’em
The Israeli government’s decision was met by a very stormy and angry response from Kafar Bir’em’s population, and the current government is still repeating the same mistake committed by its elder sister twenty four years ago. It prevents the return of the uprooted to their homes and village in spite of the demise of all traditional barriers, which used to “prevent” their return until that time. In fact, the most important and most convincing barrier whether to the international community or to local Israelis is and was “security.” Successive Israeli governments made a golden wheel out of the “security” issue and they worshiped it. Moreover, they told people that nothing is greater than security when it comes to the survival of the state and nation. In addition, they used to say that the goal “sustainable survival” justifies the means, even if it means uprooting and displacing citizens, destroying a culture, a civilization, and a special social system characterized by special bonds among its members, as well as between the members of the society and the land that they used to live on.
Kafar Bir’em’s villagers did not hesitate to practically respond against the government’s decision and they called for an open-ended strike in the village. They gathered in Kafar Bir’em coming from Haifa, Nazareth, Jerusalem, and Almaker, using means of transport that were popular back then, in addition to using few cars. Those who came from Gish to Kafr Bir’im travelled on foot. There were hundreds of them. Kafar Bir’em’s people met on the land of their village and between the rubble of demolished homes. Some of them slept int the school, the church hall, and “Shamounah” room which was attached to the southern wall of the Church. Others slept at night on the ground and the rubbles of demolished homes covering themselves with its summer sky. Their hearts were raging like volcanoes.
The Authority was scared by the strike conducted by Kafar Bir’em’s and Iqret’s people as well as by their supporters in Kafar Bir’em and Iqret. The number of supporters increased until it reached thousands on Saturday 5/8/1972. As a result, the authority made up reasons to suppress them and prevent the strike and impede supports as well as local and international media. Moreover, Israel sought to put an end to the embarrassment the strike caused to the government of Israel in the international circle. For that purpose the government of Israel sent dozens of police officers and border guards armed with sticks and batons, and mobilize them with hatred and hostility to face the “angry unarmed” people of Kafar Bir’em, who came with their humble tears kissing the remains of their houses and trying to s[end a few hours near them. State institutions filed a complaint to the police, who were supposed to maintain order and to protect the property of individuals and institutions, implying that Kafar Bir’em’s villagers, by occupying some houses did encroach on the property of the Development Authority property who was the owner of the houses!!! As a result, policemen arrived to restore “order” and to bring back the right to its owners – the Israeli Land Authority Department and Development Authority.
Before noon on Sunday 6/8/1972, an adequate number of individuals and teams of policemen and border guards arrived to the scene and launched an attack, led by the commander of the border guards team. They went into the Church throwing the Holy Bible on the ground, pushing women and old people, messing up the “Shmouneh” room, assaulting priests and ripping their clothes. The civil police arrested the youth and the men, as they arrested more than twenty people, transferring them to Akko and Nahariya. In addition, they soon, with the intervention of his Excellency Bishop Youssef Raya, bishop of Akko, Haifa, and Nazareth, and the rest of Galilee for the Roman Catholics, managed the release a number of them, and transferred the rest of them to Safad, where they were released the day after. The campaign of “heroism of the Israeli police” against Kafar Bir’em;s people would not have stopped without the interference of media that got in touch with the highest authorities in the state. Following this attack against Kafar Bir’em’s people and their priests, in addition to arresting their men, his Excellency Bishop Youssef Raya issued his instructions to all priests not to open churches on the next Sunday 13/8/1972, though the bells would toll with sad beats. He also called for a group prayer in Iqret and then in Kafar Bir’em on the same day.
The situation did not come to an end. The demonstrations continued in Jerusalem and several other places. In fact, the most important demonstration occurred in 23/8/1972 in which his Excellency Bishop Youssef Raya led a huge demonstration – the country in general and Jerusalem in particular had never experienced such a demonstration – as they roamed the streets of Jerusalem from Jaffa Gate heading to the Knesset and the Prime Minister’s office, but the Prime Minister refused to show up and meet with the demonstrators.
Despite all the demonstrations, which were conducted by the uprooted and their leaders, as well as tens of thousands of supporters, the government insisted on its position. The uprooted and their supporters headed by his Excellency Bishop Youssef Raya declared the start of a hunger strike in front of the Knesset, as of the morning of 15/7/1973. As a matter of fact, this strike had a special effect since Bishop Raya was participating in it, and because officials were afraid of an international embarrassment for the Israeli government if the hunger strike affected Bishop Raya’s health.
The strike continued during the year of 1972 and was extended to the year 1973, and its image changed from a public strike into a strike where people of Kafar Bir’em alternated their presence as one individual in the village, in addition to the presence of an essential core of elderly people and the unemployed. Thereafter, the war of 1973 and what came after it of general atmosphere in the country ended this strike.
Revival of Kafar Bir’em’s Church
Since 4/11/1972, Kafar Bir’em’s people have carried out religious rituals, such as feasting, prayers and wedding services in the Church of their home village.
A promise in exchange for calm
In 1974, the Prime Minister back then – Isaac Rabin – asked Kafar Bir’em’s people to calm down the situation and stop their demands for a return to the village for one year, and in return, after that year, he would study the issue and find a positive solution.
A promise for a return denied by a ministerial committee
In 29/7/1277, Menahim Begin declared after he had officially assumed the position of Prime Minister that he would work on getting the uprooted populatin back to Kafar Bir’em. In addition, he told the media; including the Israeli TV, that he supported the return of Kafar Bir’em’s uprooted population and that he would work on getting them back to their home village, but his declaration was met with disapproval since Menahim Begen was the leader of the Israeli right-wing bloc, After a short period, the uprooted people of Kafar Bir’em received a written version of this declaration. The Prime Minister established a ministerial committee consisting of five ministers led by Minister Arial Sharon in order to study the case. The committee submitted its recommendations to the Prime Minister which remained very confidential. At any rate it was decided not to allow the uprooted to return to their villages.
Tension in the north hinders the demand for return
1978 – 1985 several years passed where the northern area - where Kafar Bir’em is located – was a theater of Military activities on both sides of the borders, as the Israeli army entered south Lebanon – Litani Operation – in order to track down Palestinian guerillas in the south. This affected the continuation of the demand for a return in light of the security tension. The same happened also in 1982 when the Israeli army entered the southern area of Lebanon and reached the capital Beirut. These events softened the demand for the return of Kafar Bir’em’s uprooted villagers and reduced the Israeli leaders’ understanding and willingness to deal with the issue under the pretext of the tension and the current security situation along the borders.
Electing a civil commission for the first time
In 28/2/1987, for the first time in the history of Kafar Bir’em’s uprooted villagers, an election process was conducted for the civil commission of Kafar Bir’em’s people, who are scattered all over the country, in accordance with the special “system of electing and activating the civil commission of Kafar Bir’em’s people’” The commission consisted of 11 members.
Incomplete solution schemes
Between the years 1985-1987 serious attempts were made to return the uprooted back. For example, Ezer Wietzman, who was the Minister of Minority Affairs (who also became Head of State later on) in the government of national unity, which was lead by Shimon Perez presented as scheme for return. There was as well the scheme of Minister Moshe Arens, Minister of Minority Affairs in the same government led by Isaac Shamir. However, Prime Minister Shamir foiled Arens’ scheme for coalition reasons within his government.
For the first time, a summer camp for the children of Kafar Bir’em’s villagers at home
Since the summer of 1987 and every summer Kafar Bir’em’s villagers organized, under the shadows of their Church’s walls, on its earth and between its houses, a summer camp for their children and other children from all over the country.
Isaac Rabin wins the elections to become Prime Minister
In 1992, with the establishment of Isaac Rabin’s government and Meretz Party, as well as with the support of Arab Knesset members, some Parliamentary blocs from the government coalition asked for a solution to the issue of Kafar Bir’em and Iqret. Meretz Party within the coalition agreed to study the case of Kafa Bir’em. Moreover, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality submitted a draft law concerning this matter. in addition, the Arab Democratic Party submitted a firm demand to the government in this regard.
Law Commission submits a solution proposition to pressure the government
In July of 1993, members of the Law Commission in the Knesset – Members of almost all Parliament parties, headed by Knesset member Didi Tsoker from Meretz party – submitted a draft law concerning the return Kafar Bir’em and Iqret’s uprooted villagers. The draft law was voted on in a preliminary reading..
Establishing a ministerial commission “Libai Commission” to study the case of the return of Kafar Bir’em and Iqret’s uprooted villagers
In 7/11/1993, according to a promise by Prime Minister Isaac Rabin he made in 4/1/1993, the government assigned a ministerial commission to study the case of returning uprooted people from both villages. The commission consisted of Professor David Libai – Head of Commission and the Minister of Justice, with the membership of Minister of Education – Professor Amnun Rubinstein; Minister of Construction and Housing Benjamin Ben Elezer; Minister of Agriculture Yacoub Tsour; Deputy Defense Minister Mordekhai Gour. The Commission was requested to provide recommendations for the Prime Minister by 31/3/1994.
“Al Qanater” Festival in Kafar Bir’em
Since the summer of 1994 until the summer of 1997, People of Kafar Bir’em annually held a festival for one night and the following day.
Announcement of the Ministerial Committee’s Recommendations “Libai Commission”
In 24/12/1995 the Chairman of the Ministerial Commission Minister of Justice David Libai announced the Commission’s recommendations, which consisted of two parts, an Introduction and the decision:
The introduction said: “The Ministerial Commission admits the demise of all official hindrances, which were used against the return of the uprooted villagers; however, the Commission kept on the confiscated land of Kafar Bir’em since 1953, and based its practical recommendations on that.”
The Decision: The Ministerial Commission decided to present the following recommendations
1. Every person, who had a house, or whose father had a house in Kafar Bir’em, is allowed to rent a piece of land of half a dunum from the government (which are the same lands of Kafar Bir’em that were confiscated from their owners in 1953), to construct on it, along with only two of his children, a house of three floors, in exchange of a written waiver of all of his rights for his house in Kafar Bir’em. The Ministerial Commission allocated for this objective 600 dunums to set up each of the two villages, all within the historical lands that were confiscated in 1953, including public areas, and public institutions buildings’ spaces,.
2. All topsoil owners in Kafar Bir’em have the right to receive financial compensation according to the Israeli Land Department’s prices, and each uprooted villager should sort out a solution with the government on his own.
A New Government and a New Committee
With the establishment of the government led by Benjamin Natanyahu in 1996 – as a result of the elections conducted after the assassination of Prime Minister Isaac Rabin in 4/11/1995 – the new Prime Minister received a call regarding this issue, and a decision was taken, after designating the two ministers Moshe Qatsav as the Minister of Arab Affairs, and Tsahi Hennegbi as the Minister of Justice, to discuss the matter and to propose a suitable solution.
A Ministerial Committee led by Minister of Justice – Hennegbi
In 1/6/1997, Minister Henjbi met with the uprooted villagers’ representatives, and promised to submit the recommendations in four months, however, the Minister temporized submitting his recommendations. Kafar Bir’em and Iqret’s uprooted people had filed a lawsuit for the high court of justice, with the number (97/840), in (5/2/1997), demanding the court to issue a decision for the government to bring Iqret’s villagers back to their home village, as well as to continue on implementing the decision of bringing back Iqret’s uprooted people.
A New Lawsuit and an Unlimited Temporization:
In March 1998, High Court of Justice gives the government a time limit of 90 days to respond for a request submitted by the attorney Fieldmen on behalf of the committee and the villagers of Iqret.
In April 1998, Kafar Bir’em’s Church got directly connected to the National Electricity Company, which was an unprecedented event within the whole country.
In 1/7/1998, Court of Justice gives the government another time limit of 90 days to respond for a request submitted by the attorney Fieldmen on behalf of the committee and the villagers of Iqret, which the Court previously tackled in March of 1998.
A Ministerial Committee led by Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin
On 2/1/2000, a Ministerial Committee consisting of nine ministers and led by Minister Yossi Beilin, was formed to discuss the matter and come up with a solution.
On 17/2/2000, Kafar Bir’em’s Committee met with the Ministerial Committee, as Minister Belen made clear that the solution his committee would propose would be based on the recommendations made by Libai Committee in 1995/6 He added that he would not go back prior to that date and open the file of Kafar Bir’em’s issue.
On 14/3/2000, the Ministerial Committee – Libai Committee – assigned to study Kafar Bir’em and Iqret’s matter, paid a visit to Kafar Bir’em, and listened to the historical sequence of the issue. In addition, the Committee addressed the possibilities available to build a modern village where villagers can live and coexist with their neighbors for everyone’s benefit (and not only a village to sleep in, with a limited population and a limited rented space, as Libai Committee’s recommendations suggested in 1995). Consequently, building the village and the return of the uprooted would benefit the whole area in general.
Canonized Pope John Paul II demands the return of the uprooted villagers
On 24/3/2000, in a meeting between Pope John Paul II and Prime Minister Ehud Barak – during His Holiness’ visit to the Holly Land – on the Mount of Beatitudes in Korazim at Lake Kinneret, His Holiness demanded a fair solution for the issue of Kafar Bir’em and Iqret, and the Prime Minister promised to do so.
On 10/10/2001, the “cabinet” – the Mini Government led by Prime Minister Sharon – took a decision presenting a response to the High Court of Justice: “The current Government adopts the decision taken by the Israeli Government in 1972, in which the government refused the return of the uprooted villagers, based on fear of previous events.”
On 25/11/2001, the High Court of Justice refused the Government’s claims (security and previous events) for not allowing the return of the uprooted, and decided that this case should take place within the civil scope and had to be dealt with accordingly. The Government was required to present to the court within 90 days a detailed outline for the solution they propose for the uprooted villagers.” That was an honorable and fair position of the Court, if the court maintained its position.
In February 2002, the government presented its outline to solve Iqret’s case, in response to the court’s demand. The outline consisted of paying financial compensations to the uprooted in exchange for their lands at their Villages, which was (560 thousand shekels for each dunum that has a building). Kafar Bir’em’s uprooted villagers rejected the solution (although they were not involved in filing the lawsuit against the Government). They refused any alternatives for their rights at their village, lands, and destroyed houses, especially that the majority of their lands in Kafar Bir’em were used to pasture cows.
On 13/5/2002, the High Court of Justice refused the government’s position that the land was used and that there was no place to give the land back to Iqret’s uprooted villagers, who filed the lawsuit against the government. The high Court of Justice gave the government a deadline to submit sufficient evidence clarifying the use of the land.
That was an honorable and fair position of the Court, if the court maintained its position.
On 26/6/2003 Judge Dorner with the support of Judge A. Brokochia and retired Judge E. Englerd, issued a decree stating:
1. There is no basis for the plaintiffs claim who are asking to stop giving their land to the Development Authority.
2. There is no reason to make the Authority allocate lands for the plaintiffs, in the area where their ancestors were uprooted from, but the support they deserve – which is suitable and equitable – is considered as compensation in money or land.
3. Therefore my conclusion is that with the obligation of the Authority to abolish closure orders, the lawsuit should be rejected.
4. This is happening nowadays, however, I think that the moral obligation the state made – as called in Libai Committee’s report – which was made as a result of repeated pledges made by the Authorities for more than one generation of uprooted villagers. The citizens of Israel are loyal to the State and will remain so. Therefore, it is adequate – if the political situation did change – to study other solution that enables the claimants to live within the same area.
Court’s Decision with the Spirit of Government’s Position
The decision of the Court was disappointing once again, despite the court’s position in refusing the government’s positions and “excuses” as presented in previous sessions. The High Court of Justice went back to adopting the government’s positions and “excuses” once again; however this time the reason of the governmental refusal was not “security”, which was the “shining star” the State used since 1948 and until 1972, and it was not the new previous “excuse” since 1972 and until 1995, neither it was the pretext of the lack of enough lands for the uprooted to live in (“remember they are sacred cow pastures!!!”), but the hindrance was the real political situation.
However, the High Court of Justice kept a window of hope open for the uprooted villagers: “If the political situation changes it will be possible to discuss finding a solution for the uprooted villagers to live in the same area.”
Until the political situation changes in the Middle East, at best let us assume that the situation has changed and everyone admitted that, then the political and judicial officials and others would be, “we apologize as it is too late and today we can’t understand what was going on in the court’s / governor’s head back when they promised you this”!!!
Thus, this “window of hope” beautified the acts of the court, or maybe rather the System which was unable to acquire people’s rights and failed to prevent oppression ….. It could not protect a citizen from the authority’s violations.
The decision that was made by the Court was disappointing since it created a general frustration for the uprooted in general, and it took them to an old new situation to restudy the situation, as they started searching for methods they had never used before. The methods used previously did not result in the desired outcomes, as Prescience Machines, since it is them who evaluate the situation Political …. Security … Economically …. Socially …..Precedents ….formats, in other words, evaluating the situation is in the hands of one in charge, who can allow and forbid, thus, any decision should be made according to his measures and consequently will serve his intentions. The Lebanese War took place in August 2006 and it confirmed that anything or everything in the Middle East in general and in Israel could change dramatically any moment, even if excuses and pretexts would always be used as a hindrance in front of the return of the uprooted.
An attempt to form a new committee for Kafar Bir’em’s people
On 3/3/2007, Kafar Bir’em’s Committee called for a meeting, which was held at the Church’s hall. It brought together Kafar Bir’em’s Committee, Oversight Committee, and the members of the Advisory Board, to discuss a way of forming a new committee for Kafar Bir’em to be a successor for the current one. The meeting involved, in addition to the committee and the board, some of Kafar Bir’em’s citizens who were not invited in the first place, as they studied potential methods to formulate a new committee that can successor the current one. Participants could not agree on a method or a way of how to form the committee; however, the meeting opened several doors of discussion and debate, for Kafar Bir’em’s people and it allowed them to present new ideas.
On 3/12/2008, Kafar Bir’em’s Committee issued a statement targeting all the villagers of Kafar Bir’em and calling for the establishment of a preparatory committee to prepare for conducting elections for the sake of forming the next committee. In addition, the statement called a number of Kafar Bir’em’s people to join, so that this preparatory committee would become a transition committee that will remain operating until after electing the new committee on the date that will be determined by the elections’ committee, and until the handing over of duties to the new committee.
On 1/2/2009, Kafar Bir’em’s committee disseminated the statement and sent a personal letter for every individual of the members of the Oversight Committee and the Advisory Board, informing them about the committee’s willingness to conduct new elections for the committee. In addition, the committee called for the following:
1. Forming a Preparatory Committee to prepare conducting the elections for the next committee.
2. Asking a number of Kafar Bir’em’s people to join, so that this preparatory committee would become a transition committee that will remain operating until after electing the new committee on the date that will be determined by the elections’ committee, and until the handing over of duties to the new committee. The aim of increasing the number of committee’s members was to be prepare to benefit from his holiness the Pope Benedict XVI visit to the Holy Land in May 2009.
3. On 6/4/2009, Kafar Bir’em’s Committee assigned Mr. Geries Hanna Yaacoub as chief election commissioner (for the second election committee), in order to work on formulating a committee involving a good number of Kafar Bir’em’s people, to prepare and conduct elections for the new committee. Elections Committee, before accomplishing its mission, included each of the following names: Jeries Hanna Yaacoub, Ashraf Nabil Susan, Rani Jeries Khloul, Kamil Jeries Jeries, Edwar Sami Zaknoun, Amir Jeries Makhoul, Sharif Afif Matanes, Emilie Tawfiq Zaknoun, Nidal Edwar Jeries, Saeed Antans Dkour, wisam Jeries Deeb, Sharbel Nassif Makhoul, George Reyad Ghnous, Bashir Nimer Zaknoun, Amir Jeries Khloul, Basem Maroun Makhoul, Elias Aeed Yaacoub, Amir Hekmat Makhoul, and Hala Makram Khloul.
On 23/1/2010, and after some preparation and coordination the second election committee conducted a Bire’mic wedding day, where the second Kafar Bir’em’s committee was elected in, as it consisted of 11 members.
1355 people from Kafar Bire’m (73%) actually participated in the elections from those who have the right to vote. Ballot boxes were made available among Kafar Bire’m’s Diaspora villages and cities within the country, as there were constant boxes at: AL-Gesh and Haifa, in addition to mobile boxes at: Almaker, Akko, Nazareth and Jerusalem.
It was mentioned that 29 candidates got nominated, and based on the elections’ results, Kafar Bire’m’s Committee was formed of the following names:Kamel Yaacoub, Deacon Subhi Makhoul, Nazih Yaacoub, Theeb Maroun, Nahedah Zahrah, Elias Jeries, Afif Ibrahim, Shadi Khloul, Maroun Susan, Edwar Jeries, and Malek Ayyoub. (Search for Kafar Bir’em’s Committees in another section). On 13/2/2010, with the presence of Archbishop Paul Sayyah, the Archbishop of Haifa and the holy land for Maronites, with the participation of the Election Committee, as well as will the attendance of hundreds of Kafar Bir’em’s people, who attended the ceremonial mass on the birthday of St. Maroun, which took place in 13/2/2010 at the Church Of Our Lady in Kafar Bir’em. During this mass, Kafar Bire’m’s second Committee was announced and considered operating for the first time.
A Model Parish for the rest of Parishes:
In 1/4/2010, his Excellency Bishop Paul Nabil Sayyah the Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land for Maronites, announced Kafar Bir’em as a Maronite Parish as a sister of the rest of Maronite Parishes within the Diocese, and a model Parish amongst the rest of Parishes all over the world. His Excellency Assigned Father Samer Deeb Zaknoun a Custodian of Our Lady’s Parish at the Village of Kafar Bir’em, in addition, his Excellency authorized Father Samer with all the authorities according to the rules of the parish. This decree became applicable on that same date, in addition and on the same day, the parish got its name “Parish of Our Lady – Kafar Bire’m.”
Since that date we celebrate the holy mass continuously and consistently every Saturday at twelve thirty in the afternoon in the Parish of the Church of our Lady.