UPPER GALILEE, October 16 (JMCC) - Wearing a checkered shirt, dark gray dress pants and white baseball cap, Marouf Ashkar stands confidently over a miniature model of his native Palestinian village, Iqrit
“[We would go through] here, here, here,” said the 80-year-old, moving his finger along one of the streets before stopping on one of the houses, “and we lived here.”
Ashkar, an internally displaced Palestinian refugee, hasn’t forgotten an inch of his village, which spanned over 25,000 dunams and counted approximately 500 residents before the Nakba of 1948.
“During the independence war, 62 years ago, we preferred to remain here to live with the Jews,” Ashkar said, standing in the shade of Iqrit’s Church, one of only two original structures (the other being the cemetery) that remain in the Christian Palestinian village.
“But instead we found fire and transfer.”
THE NAKBA OF IQRIT
Ashkar was 18 when he was forced to leave Iqrit, located in the Upper Galilee 15 miles north of Acre
near the Lebanese border, in 1948. In October of that year, Battalion 92 of the Israeli Army invaded the village in an effort to complete its occupation of the Galilee region.
At the time, the Israeli commander in charge of the operation told Iqrit residents that they could return to their homes in two weeks, after military training and other activities had been carried out in the village.
This promise, however, was never fulfilled. And for Ashkar, his family and their neighbors, two weeks has turned into 62 years.
“They promised us two weeks and we could go back,” Ashkar said now, sighing.
To complete the ethnic cleansing of Iqrit, the Israeli army destroyed all the houses in the village on Christmas Eve 1951, and two years later, every inch of village land was seized under the Expropriation for Public Purposes Law.
According to a statement released by the Iqrit Community Association, a group founded in May 2009 to represent the villagers of Iqrit, this law “allowed such land takeovers for defense or agricultural development purposes” and ensured that the Israeli state and its Land Administration owned the lands from that point on.
Since their expulsion, all the residents of Iqrit and their descendants have remained in Israeli cities, namely Rami
and Kafr Yasif
, a village of 8,500 residents in the Upper Galilee where Ashkar himself lives today.
According to the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, as of 2008 there were 7.1 million displaced Palestinians, including 450,000 who are internally displaced. In addition, Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their descendants form the largest group of refugees, numbering close to 5.7 million.
“Israel, whose policies and practices constitute gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law that have caused massive forcible displacement of Palestinians, per definition, violates its legal obligation to protect and must offer reparations,” Badil wrote in its 2008-2009 Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Despite the use of public pressure, the Israeli courts system and interventions by various Israeli political figures – including a ministerial committee in 1992 that found that residents of Iqrit should be allowed to return and rebuild their village – none have regained access to Iqrit lands.
According to the Iqrit Community Association, the Israeli state must acknowledge the injustice perpetrated against the residents of Iqrit and allow residents and their descendants to return to their homes immediately.
“All community members, old and young, firmly believe in the justice of their struggle and will never renounce their right to return to their home village and resume their community life as equal citizens in a democratic state.”
Still, Marouf Ashkar was back in Iqrit earlier this month, leading a group of over 100 Palestinian, Israeli and international supporters through the fields and pointing out where every important structure once stood and expertly navigating the rocky terrain.
Jointly organized by the Iqrit Community Association and Zochrot, an Israeli organization working to raise awareness about the Palestinian Nakba, the tour involved erecting signs to remember the school, olive press, pressing floor and the village itself.
Indeed, a yellow sign was placed on the main road leading to the village, with the word Iqrit prominently written in bright green letters in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
“We say the ongoing Nakba because it’s not only historical but has an impact today,” said Eitan Bronstein, the Director and Founder of Zochrot. “It is our duty to remember what happened.”