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Debate is About to Be Renewed on the Issue of Birim and Ikrit

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The long debated issue of the Arab villages of Ikrit and Birim in northern Israel is about to be revived, MK Yossi Sarid of the Labor Alignment said he would ask the Alignment’s Central Committee to support the return of villagers to those sites from which they were evacuated 28 years ago. The Birim villagers are Maronite Christians and those from Ikrit are of the Greek Orthodox faith.

They were relocated after Israel’s war for independence in 1948 on grounds of security and promised they could return to their homes once the situation on the northern borders stabilized. But three years later the army declared the village sites a security zone and razed all of the buildings.

The matter has long been a sore spot in Israel’s relations with its Arab population, particularly as the Birim and Ikrit villagers are friendly to the Jewish State. A court order directed their return but the government decided otherwise in 1972 despite peaceful protests by Arabs and Jewish supporters.

The political climate has changed since then. For one thing, Israel has opened its borders to Maronite Christians from southern Lebanon and their co-religionists in Israel feel they should be allowed the same freedom of movement. For another, Golda Meir, who was adamantly opposed to return is no longer in office. The Labor Alignment, no longer under Mrs. Meir’s influence, may change its position on the issue and this could lead to a change in the government’s position, sources here said.

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