Background

Iqrit;

The village, The community

 

Iqrit

 

The village, The community & The displacement tragedy

 

The Village & The Community

 

The village of Iqrit lies in the heights of Upper Galilee, some 15 miles northeast of Acre. In 1948, its population numbered 490 people who lived in 70 houses. All of the inhabitants were Greek Catholic Arabs. 

Iqrit land area covered 24,591 dunams , of which 16,012 were privately owned and 8,000 were under ownership dispute with the neighboring villages of Fassouta and Me’ilia. Iqrit’s inhabitants made their living by raising crops and herding sheep, goats and cattle. They cultivated close to 4,500 dunams of seasonal crops, including mainly tobacco, legumes, olive groves, figs, pomegranates, and grapes and the remainder of their land was devoted to grazing. 

The village had one elementary school, two olive presses, two granaries, two springs and dozens of rainwater storage wells dug in courtyards and orchards around the village.

 

The Displacement Tragedy

 

Iqrit’s tragedy began on October 31, 1948, when Battalion 92 of the Israeli Army arrived in the area as part of Operation Hiram, which was aimed at completing the Israeli occupation of Upper Galilee and deploying  forces along Israel’s northern border.

The army entered the village without any resistance from the inhabitants and in full coordination with the village representatives, the military command and Jewish neighbors of Kibbutz Ayalon, who accompanied the armed forces as they entered the village. All the inhabitants remained in their houses when the army officers and troops entered the village, and continued to lead their normal life, fearing no violence or injury. 

About a week later, a commander contacted village representatives to ask that the inhabitants vacate their homes for a period of two weeks, since it was the army’s intention, as he put it, to carry out training and other military activities that might threaten the villagers’ lives in the area. The commander promised the village priest and other representatives that the evacuation would be only for two weeks, and suggested that the villagers leave their belongings at in their houses and take only food and water with them. 

On November 8, the inhabitants of Iqrit were taken by army trucks and cars to the village of Rame, about 25 minutes ride from Iqrit. Fifty men and the priest were left behind to watch over the houses and belongings. 

When two weeks had passed and following their understanding of the military authorities, the villagers contacted Rame’s Military Governor and asked for his permission to return home. (In those days, the Galilee was under martial law and any travel by Arab civilians was subject to the local commander’s approval). To their astonishment, the Military Governor refused their request and did so repeatedly on several later occasions. In time it was made evident that the original request to evacuate Iqrit for only 14 days was actually designed to mask a deliberate scheme to expel the villagers from their homes. Nine months after the event, Iqrit’s lands were declared “restricted military area”, the army evacuated the villagers who had stayed behind and denied civilian access to the area.

 

The Struggle for Return

 

When it finally became absolutely clear that the foot-dragging was deliberate and that there was no intention of letting the villagers return to Iqrit, they organized and took the brave step of appealing to the Israel High Court of Justice to order the Minister of Defense and the Government of Israel to let the villagers return home. Their appeal was accepted, and on July 31, 1951, the court made a landmark ruling, ordering the minister to allow the villagers of Iqrit to return! This ruling is yet to be implemented. 

In order to prevent any possibility of return, the Israeli army committed the crime of blowing up and destroying the village houses on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1951 !

All the houses were demolished, except for the church building and cemetery.

In 1953, the State of Israel seized Iqrit’s lands under the Expropriation for Public Purposes Law 

which allowed such land takeovers for defense or agricultural development purposes. Under this law, Iqrit’s lands were now owned by the state and, from 1960 onwards, by the State Land Administration. 

Over the next several years, under the shadow of the martial law in the Galilee area, Iqrit’s inhabitants found it difficult to rally public support for their struggle, not to mention pressuring Israeli governments into concessions. The displaced villagers’ campaign was hardly more than contacting this or that official, so as to receive promises that were never kept. This went on until the Military Administration of Palestinian villages was abolished in 1966, and then the elders of Iqrit came to the village and announced a sit-down strike pending full return. At the same time, while the sit-down was in progress, the church building was renovated and the villagers resumed their prayers there. The cemetery was also renovated and became the only burial spot for all Iqrit families, an arrangement formally approved by Israeli authorities and  which is in force to this day. 

Significant public pressure began in the early 1970’s and was led by Bishop Joseph Raya, who managed to rally a broad-based public support by both Arabs and Jews. This phase of the struggle culminated in the massive demonstration in front of the Israeli Government buildings in Jerusalem, and the hunger strike in front of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. 

Ever since the displacement, government officials have been promising to redress past wrongs, and acknowledging the displaced villagers right to return to Iqrit. During the electoral campaign that was to raise him to power in 1977, Menachem Begin announced that his future government would let the villagers of both Iqrit and Bir’im (similarly displaced) return to their lands – another empty promise as it turned out. 

In the early 1980’s, Iqrit captured the headlines once again, with the general Israeli public showing empathy and support for the displaced villagers’ right to return to their homes. Many intellectuals, celebrities and artists led a public movement to promote their cause. 

When the Labor Party returned to power in 1992, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin appointed Justice Minister David Libay to head a ministerial committee to look into the matter of the villagers displaced from Iqrit and Bir’im and submit its conclusions and recommendations to the government. Following 18 months deliberations and meetings with government officials, representatives of neighboring (Jewish) settlements and other relevant parties, the Libay Committee presented its findings, as follows:

 

 There is no reason to prevent the displaced villagers of Iqrit and Bir’im from returning

 The Israeli government should recognize the right of these villagers to return and rebuild their villages

 It is the government’s duty to assist them in doing so

 It is the government’s duty to compensate the displaced persons and their descendants for having demolished their houses and expropriated their lands

Village representatives welcomed these recommendations as a significant breakthrough and a reasonable basis for righting the age-old wrongs. Some specific conclusions were unacceptable to them, though, and they submitted their reservations, which were then negotiated between the parties. The Libay Committee recommendations, however, were never submitted for the government ratification, nor given the power of a government resolution as customary in Israel.

 

Since the committee`s recommendations were never discussed by the government, foot dragging was resumed. Hence, given the lack of any actual progress, the village representatives decided to appeal once more to the High Court of Justice, to order the Government of Israel to formally accept and implement the Libay Committee recommendations, as well as the reservations later submitted on behalf of the displaced villagers. 

The appeal was made while negotiations with government officials continued. After Rabin’s murder and the elections that brought Benjamin Netanyahu to power for the first time in 1996, Justice Minister Yitzhak Hanegbi was appointed as the government’s representative for the negotiations with the displaced villagers. When Ehud Barak of the Labor Party was elected Prime Minister in 1999, Justice Minister Joseph Beilin was appointed as his replacement. Both governments declared through both Justice ministers that the Libay Committee’s findings were acceptable to them and that they wished to reach a settlement based thereon. Perhaps unsurprisingly, once again, it all came to nothing. 

In 2002, the Government of Ariel Sharon decided to reject the Libay Committee recommendations. Following that resolution, the High Court of Justice rejected the villagers’ appeal, but suggested that the government should reconsider the matter favorably, when political circumstances allowed (sic). 

The government resolutions and the rulings of the High Court of Justice, together with public and media apathy, and the shock and disappointment of the village community, pushed the Iqrit representatives to resume their struggle for their just causes.

 

Our Right

 

All villagers displaced from Iqrit and their descendants live in Israel, mostly in Rame, Haifa and Kafr Yasif. 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. All community members have individual as well as collective rights to Iqrit lands and assets. Based on these inalienable rights, the former inhabitants of Iqrit demand:

 

 Recognition by the Government of Israel of its moral and legal responsibility for the injustice suffered by the displaced persons of Iqrit

 Return of all community members to their home village

 Rebuilding Iqrit on its lands

 Compensating the villagers for the demolition of their houses and the loss of their crops over the years

 Revoking the administrative expropriation and closure orders

Our Demands

Our Right

 

All villagers displaced from Iqrit and their descendants live in Israel, mostly in Rame, Haifa and Kafr Yasif. 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. All community members have individual as well as collective rights to Iqrit lands and assets. Based on these inalienable rights, the former inhabitants of Iqrit demand:

 

Recognition by the Government of Israel of its moral and legal responsibility for the injustice suffered by the displaced persons of Iqrit

Return of all community members to their home village

Rebuilding Iqrit on its lands

Compensating the villagers for the demolition of their houses and the loss of their crops over the years

Revoking the administrative expropriation and closure orders

Iqrit and the Law

High Court of Justice Decisions

Decision Number Date
First 64/51 JUL 31, 1951
Second 238/51 NOV 26, 1951
Third 239/51 FRB 25, 1952
Forth 141/81 DEC 23, 1981
Fifth 840/97 JUN 26, 2003

Chronicle

Chronology of Main Events

 

 

OCT 31, 1948 

IDF Battalion 92 enters Iqrit with no resistance by locals

 

NOV 8, 1948 

The IDF evacuates Iqrit’s inhabitants and transfers them to the village of Rame in Galilee. Fifty men, including the village priest, stay behind to guard the villagers’ property.

 

SEP 26, 1949 

The Israeli Defense Minister declares Iqrit a “security area” in an attempt to prevent the villagers from returning without a special permit from the local Military Governor.

 

MAY 28, 1951 

Iqrit villagers appeal to the High Court of Justice, which subsequently subpoenas the Defense Minister and Military Governor to explain why they are prevented from returning.

 

JUL 31, 1951 

The court rules that “The evacuation of Iqrit’s inhabitants was an illegal act, because when the Emergency Regulations came into effect, they were still living in the village”, and states that there is no legal impediment preventing them from returning – HCJ Ruling 64/51

 

SEP 10, 1951 

The Military Governor issues an ex post facto evacuation order, instructing the villagers to leave their homes (which they actually did on November 8, 1948), even though this order is based on a law that was not yet in effect at the time (but only in September 26, 1949).

 

SEP 23, 1951 

The villagers appeal against the evacuation order to the Military Appeals Committee in Nazareth. The committee then holds a closed meeting without the presence of the villagers’ representatives, Adv. M. Hawari. The committee has not published the minutes of that meeting.

 

NOV 26, 1951 

The villagers appeal to HCJ to require the state to comply with its first ruling. A second ruling – 238/51 – is granted accordingly

 

DEC 24, 1951 

On Christmas Eve, the Israeli army demolishes the village. Prime Minister and Defense Minister David Ben Gurion denies the action. Later, on January 16, 1956, he is to claim that the IDF acted on its own initiative, without an order from him.

 

FEB 25, 1952 

The villagers appeal to the HCJ against the Military Appeals Committee resolution of September 23, 1951. HJC rules for the third time in the matter of Iqrit – 239/51 – stating that the Defense Minister and Military Government have failed to comply with its first ruling. The court also criticized the villagers for not having exercised their legal right to return and for trusting promises by Israeli authorities, prior to receiving the “irrevocable” evacuation orders on September 10, 1951.

 

AUG 25, 1953 

The Israeli Government expropriates the lands of Iqrit according to the Expropriation for the Public Interest Law, which allows it to take over any land that was not in possession of its owners on April 1, 1952, and used for or allocated to essential agricultural or military development.

 

SEP 20, 1970 

The Ministry of Religious Affairs allows locals to bury the first deceased in the village cemetery.

 

JUN 1, 1972 

After having repealed the Emergency Regulations, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan revokes all so-called “security areas”.

 

JUN 10, 1972 

The villagers start renovating the church building and cemetery with special approval by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Immediately thereafter, they declare a sit-down strike at the village, which is to continue over a period of several years.

 

JUN 26, 1972 

The people of Iqrit call upon Arabs and Jews to identify with their struggle. Together with the displaced villagers of Bir’im, they hold a massive demonstration in Jerusalem, calling on the government to comply with the HCJ rulings and let the villagers return.

 

JAN 1, 1973 

One day after the revocation of the “security areas” goes into effect, the Defense Minister declares Iqrit as a security area subject to the emergency regulations preventing its inhabitants from returning.

 

JUL 29, 1977 

Prime Minister M. Begin appoints his close associate Adv. S. Tamir to head a ministerial committee which recommends not letting the displaced villagers return, because their lands are used by Jewish settlements. It is later revealed that these recommendations were made while Mr. Tamir was abroad. since he supported the villagers’ right to return to their homes. Agriculture Minister and committee member Ariel Sharon took advantage of his absence to publish the recommendations in Mr. Tamir`s absence..

 

DEC 23, 1981 

In its fourth ruling on Iqrit, 141/81, HCJ rejects the villagers’ appeal to revoke the Minister of Finance’s Land Expropriation Order and the Military Governor’s Area Restriction Order.

 

JUL 27, 1988 

Socialist party Mapam submits a draft Iqrit and Bir’im Law in the Knesset, demanding that they be allowed to return “home”.

 

JUL 27, 1993 

MP D. Zucker of the left-wing Meretz Party and head of the Knesset Legal Affairs Committee submits a draft law to enable the displaced villagers to return. Rabin’s government thwarts his initiative.

 

DEC 24, 1995 

The ministerial committee headed by Rabin’s Justice Minister David Libay accepts the principle of return. It recommends letting one father and two sons of each family return and rebuild Iqrit over a total area of 600 dunams. Iqrit’s representatives submit their reservations.

 

OCT 24, 1997 

Iqrit representatives appeal once again to HCJ in an attempt to expedite the implementation of the Libay Committee recommendations, together with their reservations.

 

MAR 26, 2003 

HCJ makes its fifth ruling on Iqrit, 840/97, which rejects the appeal.

Additional information