“We as Palestinians had not been responsible for the suffering of the Jews in Europe, yet we were the ones who were chased out of our land and made to suffer so the world could soothe its conscience and pretend to repair the evil done against the Jews.” Archbishop Elias Chacour (We Belong to the Land)
Archbishop Chacour’s home village, the Christian village of Biram in the northern Galilee hills, was one of over 400 Palestinian villages which were destroyed and from which the inhabitants were driven out by Jewish soldiers in their ambition to create of a State of Israel on their lands. Archbishop Chacour’s graphic recollections of this as a child are told in his books ‘We Belong to the Land’ and ‘Blood Brothers’. The villagers and their descendants have taken their campaign for the right to return to the high court in Israel. After much effort on their part the court eventually agreed that they had the right to return, but the government still refuses to let them do so. However, although the people of Biram may not live there, they may reside there when dead, by being buried in the old churchyard.
The villagers had initially welcomed the mainly European Jewish soldiers, feeding them as honoured guests and giving them their beds while sleeping in the hay lofts themselves. They had sympathy with the suffering the Jews had endured in Europe in the second world war and wanted to make them comfortable. But afterwards the women and children were driven out to take refuge in empty houses in the nearby village of Jish. (The Jish residents had been slaughtered and their bodies buried in a shallow mass grave which was discovered by the Biram children while playing football). The men were deported in trucks to Jordan. Archbishop Chacour’s father, elder brothers and some other men managed to walk back via Syria and Lebanon arriving totally exhausted and emaciated. Some time later, when the Jewish soldiers had gone the men decided to try to go back to their homes in Biram, but the soldiers reappeared and sent them away again and the airforce was sent to bomb the village and flatten all the houses. They remain in ruins to this day.
Only the church miraculously escaped destruction and stands still, a focus of faith and hope, keeping the community of Biram strong in their resolve to return and rebuild their village.
“The Law of Return passed in 1950 gives any Jewish person in the world the gift of immediate citizenship in Israel and the right to live in the land. But the Palestinians from whom the land was taken are not given the right to return to their land and homes. This dark side of Zionism focuses on building a state not for the Jews but of the Jews, and only Jews. Other people, particularly the Palestinians, even those with Israeli citizenship, are not considered to have the same rights, especially in relation to the land” from ‘We Belong to the Land’ by Archbishop Elias Chacour.
© Ashray 2012