From the Rubble, Palestinian Village of Kafr Birim Declares its Return

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A Palestinian from the Israeli occupied West Bank prays as he waits close to the Israeli military prison of Ofer, in the village of Betunia, for the release of Palestinian prisoners on 13 August 2013. (Photo: AFP - Ahmad Gharabli)

By: Rasha Hilwi

Published Friday, August 16, 2013

Akka – It’s 7:30 am and the morning air is still cold from the night before. In the square of Kafr Birim’s church, groups participate in the 24th annual summer camp called, “Return of the Blossoms.” The festival’s name is a play on the village’s name, which means hamlet of blossoms.

Organized by al-Awda, meaning the Return, the camp’s participants range in age from 2 to 18. They begin their day by singing the depopulated village’s national anthem, written by Kafr Birim’s son and poet Tony Andraos. “Keep your hand in mine / to protect the land / for whose sake life is sacrificed / I swear I will redeem it with my soul.”

Kafr Birim is a northern Palestinian village located four kilometers from the Lebanese border. Toward the end of October 1948, the village was occupied as part of Operation Hiram. On 13 October 1948, an Israeli officer ordered all villagers to leave their homes and head toward Lebanon. In September 1953, the Israeli air force bombed Kafr Birim, destroying all buildings except for the church and school. The villagers watched the bombing of their village from a hill two kilometers away. The hill is now called the Wailing Hill.

Riyad Ghantous, like many others, believes that al-Awda’s most important achievement is the summer camp. “We have young people who were born in 1982 and today they are the camp’s leaders,” Ghantous said.

For eight days straight, the people of the village gather on its land, in its church square near the remaining walls of destroyed homes. Those who know the story of the village recount it to those who do not, and the villagers, now scattered refugees, get to know each other better.

Al-Awda is also working on a reconstruction project in the village. So far, the church and surrounding buildings have been repaired.

This year, the camp raised the slogan “I Declare my Return” to pave the way for the people’s actual return to their village. Sana Abu Wardeh said, “This year has a special taste because the camp did not end after eight days. This step proves that we insist on regaining our right and we will never give it up.”

Saher Jereis believes that the significance of this step lies in achieving the actual return without waiting for any official government decision. “The step will serve as a historic juncture for the cause of Kafr Birim,” he said. “Whether we succeed or not, it will be an experience … and we can learn from it, just like our people did from the 1972 sit-in.”

The organizers of the current sit-in have taken into consideration lessons learned from the previous sit-in of 1972, as well as from the people of the displaced village of Iqrit who were able to return to their depopulated village a year ago, after their 2012 summer camp. This step has been greatly supported by all the people of Kafr Birim.

As for the desired outcome, Ghantous said: “Return and nothing less.”

It’s 12:30 am and all the children are asleep in their tents. The light is dim in the church square. Some of the campers are awake and sitting in the garden area of the Roman temple, talking about returning to the village.

Some sing the song “Come to Birim Come,” written by Andraos: “No matter how long the road of exile is / you will always be on my mind / until the day comes when / injustice and all its judgements will disappear.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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