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Meanwhile, Israel forced residents of Kafr Bir’im and Iqrit, two nearby Arab-Christian villages that had maintained friendly relations with their Jewish neighbors, to relocate, eventually, to the now-abandoned Jish. Initially the army asked the residents of Bir’im to leave for just two weeks until the end of the military operation and assured them they could then return. But after the war ended, the villagers were barred from doing so.
In 1953, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the inhabitants of Bir’m were entitled to get back their property. Instead, the Israeli army that year bulldozed the village and expropriated the village’s lands. While running for prime minister in 1977, Likud leader Menachem Begin personally vouched to the villagers that if he were elected, they would be able to return to their lands, to rebuild their homes. But after his election, and after much delay, his government disavowed that promise.
Fear of establishing a precedent of Arab return to their villages was said to have dominated the government’s decision.
The Aramaic enthusiasts of Jish say they seek justice on both issues — the recognition of Maronites as a separate national group, and the restoration of their land rights.
“Israel should help its friends, those who historically supported it and assisted its people,” said Khalluol “We are addressing this issue as Israelis, and I believe that it’s also an interest of the state to help good people to restore their rights.”
Israel Hasson, a Knesset member for Kadima, fully supports this point. “We are talking about self-determination here, not independence or departure from the State of Israel. It’s their cultural and religious heritage, which is so important to preserve. Indeed, we should do more for this community, and I intend to do everything possible to build a bridge between them and the State of Israel.”
Contact Ksenia Svetlova at firstname.lastname@example.org