Bishop Raya Invites Israelis to Join His Protest March Today for Baram-ikrit Villagers

Greek Catholic Archbishop Joseph Raya of Galilee asked Israelis today to “come walk with us” on his scheduled march tomorrow through Jerusalem to protest the government’s decision to bar the return of former residents to Baram and Ikrit near the Lebanese border for security reasons.

Archbishop Raya issued a last-minute appeal in a front-page advertisement in the Jerusalem Post–a newspaper, ironically, that reflects Labor Party views. But the prelate bowed to appeals and agreed to carry an Israeli flag instead of a cross. “Many of my Jewish friends have asked me not to go through with (carrying a cross),” he explained. “Out of respect and consideration for the feelings of my brothers, who will take offense at this personal religious gesture, I am renouncing this form of prayer.” Archbishop Raya said he would carry an Israeli flag “as a sign of solidarity, common purpose and unity” in his fight to reverse the government’s decision.

The Greek Catholic leader–who continues to threaten to take his protest campaign to the United States and Europe if the government does not relent and to carry a cross on those journeys–has been coming under increasing pressure from Arab political leaders in Israel to moderate his campaign. Some have asked him to cancel his proposed march and tour. Four Arab members of the Knesset–all associated with the ruling Labor Alignment–met with him over the weekend and urged moderation.

There were reports that the Jewish Defense League, which has its international headquarters here, planned to stage a counter-demonstration against Archbishop Raya if he marched tomorrow. The march is scheduled to start at the Jaffa Gate late in the afternoon, continue to the Knesset and end at Premier Golda Meir’s office, a distance of about a mile.

The government has staunchly refused to back down, and last Thursday night Premier Meir assailed Mapam leaders for bucking coalition policy on the matter. Furthermore, the Raya crusade has led the opposition Gahal Party to decide not to publicize at this time its disagreement with the government on the issue. Gahal favors permitting former residents of Baram to return there, although it bars the return of former Ikrit residents on grounds that the villagers there were hostile to Israel in 1948, when the evacuations took place. But after a long meeting last Friday with Premier Meir, Gahal leaders Menachem Beigin of Herut and Dr. Elimelech S, Rimalt of the Liberals agreed that the government should have a quiet post-demonstration interim to reconsider the situation.

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