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They fear even our dead

Palestinians denied visit to villages of ancestors

The National (UAE), Oct. 27, 2008

Kafr Qana “israel” – Salwa Salam Qupty clutches a fading sepia photograph of a young Palestinian man wearing a traditional white headscarf. It is the sole memento that survives of her father, killed by a Jewish militia during the 1948 war that established “israel”.

“He was killed 60 years ago as he was travelling to work,” she said, struggling to hold back the tears. “My mother was four months pregnant with me at the time. This photograph is the closest I’ve ever got to him.”

Six decades on from his death, she has never been allowed to visit his grave in Galilee and lay a wreath for the father she never met.

This month, after more than 10 years of requests to the “israeli” authorities, she learnt that officials are unlikely ever to grant such a visit, even though Mrs Qupty is an “israeli” citizen and lives only a few miles from the cemetery.

Government sources said allowing the visit risks encouraging hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to claim a right to return to the villages from which they were expelled in 1948.

As “israel” celebrated its 60th Independence Day with street parties this summer, Mrs Qupty was marking two related anniversaries: the Nakba, or catastrophe, and her father’s death in the early stages of the war.

“I am a twin of the Nakba,” she said from her home in Kafr Kana, close to Nazareth. “I was born at the very moment when most of my people lost everything: their homes, their land, their belongings, their livelihoods. In my case I lost my father, too.”

Faris Salam was killed in late March 1948, shortly before “israel’s” establishment. On the day he died, Salam left his village of Malul, west of Nazareth, to catch a bus to his job on the railways in Haifa.

“Those were dangerous times,” Mrs Qupty said. “My family were even afraid to go and collect water from the village well because Jews would shoot at them from their positions up in the hills.”

When the bus drove into an ambush, Salam and the driver were shot dead and several other passengers injured. He was buried in Malul, but four months later the 800 inhabitants were forced to flee when they came under sustained attack from the “israeli” army. Mrs Qupty’s mother sought sanctuary in Nazareth, where she gave birth to Salwa days later.

Soon the army declared Malul a military zone and blew up all the homes, sparing only two churches and the mosque. The Christian cemetery, where Salam is buried, was enclosed by a military base named Nahlal.

For the past 12 years, Mrs Qupty has been trying to find a way to visit the grave and say a few words to the father she never knew. “As I get older, the fact that I never met him and that I haven’t seen where he is buried gets harder to bear,” she said. “I want him to know that I exist and that I miss him. Is that too much to ask?”

Over the years she has lobbied members of the “israeli” parliament, written to the defence ministry and sent countless letters to the local media – to little avail.

“The nearest I can get to him is looking through the base’s perimeter fence at a forest that hides my view of the cemetery,” she said. To the bemusement of the “israeli” soldiers on guard, she sometimes throws a bouquet of flowers over the fence.

On one occasion, she said, she found the courage to approach the base’s gate and asked to be let in. An officer told her to address a formal request to the defence ministry. “But I’m not going there with a gun, only with a bunch of flowers,” she said.

This month a government spokesman finally responded, calling Mrs Qupty’s request to visit her father’s grave a “complex” matter that had been referred to the defence minister, Ehud Barak, for a final decision.

Ministry officials were reported to have decided that her visit should be blocked on the grounds that other Palestinians who seek to return to the villages from which they or their ancestors were expelled in 1948 might use it as legal precedent.

During the war, 750,000 Palestinians fled from more than 400 villages, all of which were subsequently levelled. Most of the refugees ended up in camps in neighbouring Arab states.

Unlike them, however, Mrs Qupty’s mother managed to remain inside the borders of the new Jewish state, along with about 100,000 other Palestinians, and eventually received citizenship.

Today there are 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of “israel”, one fifth of the country’s population. Of those, one quarter are internal refugees, or officially classified as “present absentees”: present in “israel” in terms of citizenship but absent in terms of legal redress over their forced removal from their homes.

Isabelle Humphries, a British scholar who has interviewed many families expelled from Malul, pointed out that the refugees’ “israeli” citizenship conferred on them no more rights to access their former village than refugees living abroad.

“Most cannot make even short visits to the ruins of the villages, to their places of worship or their graves. Often the lands of the destroyed village have been declared military zones or are now in the private hands of Jewish communities.”

Ms Humphries said “israel” had repeatedly used the excuse that making any concessions to individual refugees would open the floodgates to the return of all the refugees.

“If “israel” were to admit that internal refugees have rights to the land and property confiscated in 1948, policymakers know that it would draw further attention to “israel’s” continuing refusal to recognise the rights of refugees outside the state.”

Mrs Qupty, a social worker supervising children in protective custody, said her work had increased her understanding of the trauma that the events of 1948 had done to Palestinians.

“My mother was left with nothing after the war. I was born in a tiny room in Nazareth and we lived there for many years. My older brother and two sisters had to be placed in religious institutions because she did not have the means to care for them. We grew up hardly knowing each other.”

For several years after the war, her grandfather secretly returned to Malul by donkey to grow crops on his land, though he was fined when he was caught doing so.

On a few occasions Mrs Qupty accompanied him, but never saw the cemetery where her father is buried. “By the time I was old enough to understand what had happened to my father, the military base had been built over the cemetery.”

Finally convinced that “israel” is unlikely ever to concede a visit, Mrs Qupty said she would turn to the courts.

But human rights lawyers regard her chances of success as slim. The Supreme Court rarely overturns government decisions taken on security grounds.

http://www.thenational.ae/article/20081027/FOREIGN/323045339/1002/rss

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‘Israel’: “Their happiness humiliates us”

Sources have confirmed that the exchange of prisoners and repatriation of Martyrs will take place very, very, very soon. The agreement is said to include not only Samir Quntar and the four Hezbollah fighters, but also the remains of Martyr Yehia Skaff and Martyr Dalal al-Maghribi, a female Palestinian liberation fighter who killed 39 zionist terrorists in a heroic operation in Tel Aviv in 1978 before being Martyred. The operation was called Operation Kamal `Adwan, after the Fatah leader who was killed in a terrorist raid in the Verdun area of Beirut in 1973, in which Barak had taken part disguised as a woman. The prisoners and Martyrs will likely be returned through the Naqoura crossing. Hajj Wafiq Safa will be the one in charge of handing over the two zionist terrorists and the remains of the other zionist terrorists killed inside Lebanon in the July 2006 war while on a mission to kill Lebanese women and children. The release of Quntar will not be according to the previously proposed equation whereby he would be released in return for a report on Ron Arad. Instead, the report on Ron Arad will be handed over in return for a detailed report on the fate of the four Iranian diplomats kidnapped in Beirut. In addition to the aforementioned prisoners and the two Martyrs, the remains of more than 200 Martyrs — Lebanese and Palestinian, but mostly Lebanese — including the remains of 9 Hezbollah fighters who were Martyred in July 2006, will be returned in trucks. The remains of each Martyr will be in a separate box, which will also contain detailed information on the identity of the Martyr, as well as date and place of Martyrdom. Where such information is not available, DNA testing will be conducted to know the identities of the Martyrs. But the biggest blow to the zionist terrorist entity will be the full and irreversible closure of the graveyard where the bodies of freedom fighters were routinely dumped (without proper burial arrangement) for more than 4 decades (in most cases they were carted off from Lebanon all the way to occupied Palestine to be kept as bargaining chips), after the return of the remains of all the Lebanese, Palestinian, and other Arab Martyrs buried there to the care of Hezbollah. In addition, a large number of Palestinian prisoners will also be released in the second ’round’; if ‘Israel’ does not renege on the terms of the agreement it put its signature on (like it did the last time), this will take place within the span of two weeks following the first round. Hezbollah has no obligations in this second round. Should ‘Israel’ refuse to abide by the agreement, it will give us the green light to capture more terrorists in order to secure the implementation of the unimplemented articles of the exchange deal, just as we did in July 2006. The prisoners will return. The ball is in ‘Israel’s’ court; it can do it the easy way by taking our more than generous offer, or it can take the hard way and put more of its terrorists in our custody (and we can only oblige).

In closing, a telling remark by Olmert: “their happiness humiliates us.” Indeed. Much more humiliation, and much more than humiliation, await you. You just wait.