Israeli land authorities on Wednesday demolished several tents and other structures while evicting residents from Kufr Birim, a destroyed Palestinian village where approximately a dozen youth activists – all of them descendants of refugees from that village – have been camping for the last ten months.
Situated on the border of Lebanon and present-day Israel, Kufr Birim was home to Christian and Muslim Palestinians. Yet in November 1948, during the Nakba – the 1948 establishment of Israel and ethnic cleansing of Palestine – the newly-formed Israeli military expelled the village’s residents.
Most of the refugees remained in present-day Israel, where they took citizenship and became part of the minority of Palestinian citizens that today numbers an estimated 1.7 million people. They face dozens of discriminatory laws that limit their political expression and access to land and state resources.
Adopting the tactic of youth activists in Iqrit, another destroyed Palestinian village in the Galilee region of present-day Israel, descendants of refugees from Kufr Birim returned to the village in August 2013. They have since held several Palestinian political and cultural events and hosted religious ceremonies.
Yet an Israeli court in Nazareth last week rejected an appeal by Kufr Birim’s youth against an eviction order delivered by the Israel Lands Administration, as reported in Arabic by the Arabs48 website.
“And this comes days after the Israel Lands Administration raided the village of Iqrit, where they razed tents and structures and confiscated belongings of youth who returned to Iqrit,” the Arabs48 adds.
Punched and kicked
Around 10am on Sunday morning, Israel land authorities reportedly arrived in Iqrit alongside several police officers. Without announcing their arrival or explaining the purpose of their visit, as is required by Israeli law, land authorities and officers began confiscating the campers’ belongings and uprooting their garden.
Three young men – Wlaa Sbeit, Jerias Khayyat and Nidal Khoury – were present at the time. When they tried to prevent the confiscation of personal items, they were punched and kicked by the ILA officers.
All three were subsequently arrested and taken to a nearby police station for interrogation. After a court hearing on Monday morning, Sbeit and Khayyat were put on house arrest for a week and banned from entering Iqrit for sixty days.
Nidal Khoury’s detention was extended, according to Orami Mahameed, a lawyer at the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
During the years following the 1948 expulsion of the residents of Kufr Birim and Iqrit, the two villages faced similar fates.
In 1951, Israel’s high court ruled that Iqrit’s refugees could return to their land. Yet on Christmas day that year the military demolished all of the homes and buildings with dynamite and rendered them permanently exiled.
Similarly, Kufr Birim was bombed and destroyed by Israel’s air force in 1953.
Descendants of refugees from both Iqrit and Kufr Birim decided not to wait for Israel’s permission to return to their lands, where they recently set up camp and roughed difficult conditions for extended periods of time.
In both villages the campers have faced constant harassment by Israeli authorities, including frequent visits by the Israel Lands Administration and police as well as monitoring by drones.
In an op-ed for The Electronic Intifada last September, Palestinian activist Nadim Nashif noted that “the combined activities of these villages during the summer of 2013 represent the most significant movement in the struggle for [the right of return for Palestinian refugees] since the years following the Nakba.”
“Far from forgetting their roots and historical injustices, the latest generation of Palestinians inside Israel are showing their dedication to their right of return,” he added.