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Kufr Birim: The right of return to Palestine

Palestinian refugees in Israel are part of the Palestinian national struggle.

Last updated: 12 Aug 2014 17:21
Waad Ghantous

Waad Ghantous is a Haifa-based Palestinian activist and a member of the Al-Awda organisation.
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Palestinians demand the right to return to the destroyed Palestinian village of Kufr Birim [Tony Ayoub]

The latest attempt to intimidate the Palestinian community inside present-day Israel took place on August 11, when officers from the Israeli Land Administration (ILA) showed up in Kufr Birim, a destroyed Palestinian village where I and more than a dozen other activists have been camping in shifts since August 2013.

The ILA threatened to cut the water and electricity to the kitchen we built, as well as confiscate our camping supplies, such as blankets, mattresses and tents. They also demanded that we evacuate the area and warned that they will return soon with police forces.

The Nakba

Most of us are descendants of the Palestinians ethnically cleansed from Kufr Birim during the 1948 Nakba, when Palestine was destroyed in order to make way for Israel as an exclusively Jewish state. Internally displaced within the borders of what became Israel, today we are part of the 1.7 million Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship and suffer from more than 50 discriminatory laws that limit our access to state resources and stifle our political expression.

Persisting intimidation

This was not Israel's first attack on us. In 1953, just five years after our grandparents were expelled from their village, Israel's Supreme Court demanded that the military provide an explanation for preventing the return of Kufr Birim's refugees. When the court decided we could return, Israeli warplanes defied the ruling and bombs homes, schools and businesses. Only a historical church was left intact.  

Like most of the more than 600 Palestinian villages and towns destroyed during the Nakba, much of Kufr Birim's land was divided between new Jewish agricultural communities (Kibbutzim) and the rest was turned into a national park, where international and domestic tourists, as well as Israeli soldiers, go on retreat and are taught a brand of history that ignores the village's Palestinian history and heritage.

For decades Palestinian citizens of Israel have been tokenised by rightwing and leftwing politicians alike, dubbed "Arab Israelis" and stripped of our national identity. Meanwhile, the international community and mainstream media have stood by with folded arms, hesitant to include us in the discourse on Israel and Palestine because we are considered an "internal issue".

For decades we have tried to work for reconciliation within Israel's political system. Yet as Israel's mainstream establishment plunges further into racist rightwing frenzy, it becomes clearer each day that it is impossible to work within a system designed to exclude us.

 

Like Palestinians everywhere, we are part of the national struggle. And like the more than five million UN-registered Palestinian refugees scattered across the Middle East, internally displaced Palestinians have a right to return to and rebuild their ancestral lands.

This is why we have returned to Kufr Birim by following the lead of others who had already returned to Iqrit, another destroyed Palestinian village in the Galilee region of Israel where young activists have camped for more than two years despite frequent police harassment and harsh weather conditions.

The Palestinian village of Kufr Birim was destroyed in the 1948 Nakba [Tony Ayoub]

Al-Awda Hariket Abna' Kufr Birim Al-Taqodumeyon ("The Return of the Progressive Sons of Kufr Birim"), an organisation founded by second generation refugees from the village, including my father, was established in 1982 in response to the efforts to strip us of our Palestinian heritage.

Since its beginning, Al-Awda has worked tirelessly as a part of the Palestinian national struggle, including the campaign for the right of return for all Palestinian refugees. After the group's first action, an event for Palestinian Land Day, campaigners began in 1984 an annual youth camp stressing our desire and need to return to Kufr Birim.

As the first generation of Kufr Birim's refugees expires, our annual camp aims to teach youth about the village's history while stressing the role of all internally displaced Palestinians as part of a broader national entity. Along with Al-Awda, of which I am also a part, dozens of Kufr Birim's descendants are playing a crucial role in supporting our return.

I've been going to the annual camp each year for my entire life. Since my childhood, relatives and family friends who witnessed 1948 have told me about life before the Zionist militias expelled them, explaining that the community was based on agricultural and not part of armed resistance during the Nakba.

They told me and my cousins of how the Israeli army stuffed them in vehicles and tried to drop them off at the Lebanese border, urging them to forget where they came from. Growing up, my father told my siblings and I how his uncle was shot and killed while trying to return to his home.

At present an Israeli court is investigating whether we even have the right to stay on our land in tents, although Israeli land authorities have banned us from building anything whatsoever. But we know that Israel's legal system - designed to sustain a Jewish-only state at our expense - is incapable of delivering justice to Palestinians, whether they be in Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israeli authorities, accompanied by police, come to demolish anything we build. By threatening to cut our water and electricity, they show that they are willing to do anything to make the conditions in Kufr Birim too difficult for us to remain.

But nothing can keep us from exercising our right of return. As Palestinian refugees inside Israel, we have already been robbed of the most important thing - our land. With nothing to lose, returning to my grandfather's land is how I play an integral part in the Palestinian struggle against Israel's regime of occupation, colonisation and dispossession. 

Waad Ghantous is a Haifa-based Palestinian activist and a member of the Al-Awda organisation. 

Follow her on Twitter: @wa3dghantous

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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