JERUSALEM (Jul. 14)
Foreign Minister Yigal Allon proposed to the Cabinet yesterday that the former residents of Ikrit and Biram be allowed to return to their native villages near the Lebanese border which they were forced to leave during Israel’s war for independence 27 years ago. “It is time that we fulfill the promise we gave those villagers a generation ago. I believe that it may be done without creating a precedent,” Allon stated in his proposal submitted to the Cabinet in writing.
The Cabinet is expected to act on the proposal within the next few weeks. It is certain to be backed by the “doveish” members of the coalition and, if adopted, would lead to the first return of the Arab villagers to their original homes since 1948. A favorable decision would also represent a break with the policies of the former government of Premier Golda Meir which adamantly refused to permit the villagers to return to their border villages on security grounds.
The issue was raised repeatedly over the years. The Arabs, Maronite Christians, were resettled in the nearby village of Gush Halav but they have persistently petitioned the Israeli authorities for permission to return to their old homes.
RABIN PROMISED TO DEAL WITH MATTER
Before the Yom Kippur War, the matter became a subject of national debate and peaceful demonstrations were staged in which many Israelis supported the displaced villagers. But the Meir government contended that the security problems that originally required the evacuation of Ikrit and Biram still applied, Moreover, the two Upper Galilee villages were razed and the only structure still standing is the church in Biram which is still visited by the original congregants.
“Hawkish” members of the Meir Cabinet privately expressed fear that if the Arabs were allowed to return to Ikrit and Biram there would be a flood of similar demands from other displaced Arabs “which would end in Jewish homes in Jaffa.”
When the Rabin government replaced the Meir coalition, the villagers renewed their petition, A delegation visited Allon several weeks ago and was promised that he would deal with the matter. The Foreign Minister’s motives have a political angle as well as a humanitarian basis. A display of generosity toward Christian Arabs in Israel could have a positive effect for Israel at a time of bloody clashes between Christians and Moslems in neigh-boring Lebanon where the Moslem community largely supports the Palestinian terrorists.