JERUSALEM (Aug. 9)
The Greek Catholic Archbishop, Joseph Raya, pursuing his effort to persuade Prenner Golda Meir’s government to permit former residents of two Maronite villages on the Lebanese border to return there for resettlement, asserted today that “no end justifies injustice,” even if that goal “appears to be the security of a state.”
The Archbishop made that charge in an open letter in the Jerusalem Post, addressed to Mrs. Meir, in which he also repeated the arguments he had used in a futile meeting with the Premier yesterday in an effort to obtain a reversal of the decision. The villages of Ikrit and Baram were evacuated in 1948 of several hundred Christian Arab residents and all of its structures leveled, except for its churches, as a security measure. Mrs. Meir told the Archbishop at their meeting that security considerations still prevailed and that the government feared a precedent under which former residents of 20 other evacuated Arab villages would seek permission to return to their homesites.
Mapam’s political committee moved into the spreading controversy with a request for the Cabinet to reopen its discussion on the question. The Cabinet ruled on July 23 to ban return of the former villagers. The two Mapam ministers–Natan Peled and Victor Shemtov–voted against that decision, along with Deputy Premier Yigal Allon and Tourism Minister Moshe Kol. The Mapam committee also called for the Labor-Mapam Alignment to meet on the issue. Arye Eliav, former Labor Party secretary general, held a press conference in Haifa at which he called on the government to reverse its decision.
In his letter, the Archbishop also asserted that “if you base ‘security’ on the denial of justice, there is no accumulation of money which will guarantee that security and not even an army as strong as that of the Romans will ensure it.” Mrs. Meir had stressed at the meeting that the government planned to compensate the residents by giving them cash, new land and new homes. Those who consider themselves residents of Baram number 1900, including since-grown children of the original residents. Those seeking to return to Ikrit reportedly number about 600. In his letter the Archbishop rejected the argument of fears of a precedent, asserting that such concerns “should not deter you, Madame Prime Minister, from following the call of justice and conscience.”
The Archbishop announced he was calling a meeting of the former villagers on Monday. Meanwhile, some 200 former residents of Baram continued a sit-in at the village church. Last night the villagers drove away a large number of members of the Matzpen, an ultra-radical group of Jewish dissidents, who came to the site to join the sit-in. The former Baram villagers explained that they felt that support from Matzpen would only harm their cause. Former Ikrit villagers have joined the Baram sit-in.