JERUSALEM (Jul. 27)
The Knesset acted today to settle a long-simmering issue involving Israel’s treatment of its Arab population. The government coalition, supported by a number of Labor Alignment MKs, voted to refer to committee the question of repatriating some 200 Arab Christians to the site of their former homes near the Lebanese border.
The Arabs, who belong to the Maronite and Greek Catholic communities, were removed from the villages of Ikrit and Baram by the Israeli army nearly 30 years ago for reasons of security. Although promised repatriation, successive Labor-led governments offered them compensation instead on grounds that the security situation still prevailed. The two villages were subsequently razed by the army.
Several years ago the villagers petitioned for return and demonstrated peacefully with the support of many Israeli Jews. But the government, then headed by Premier Golda Meir, was adamant. It argued that repatriation would set a precedent for other Arab villagers displaced from their homes during Israel’s War for Independence in 1948.
Today’s motion was sponsored by Akiva Nof of the Democratic Movement for Change. Objections were raised by Labor MKs who noted that Jewish settlers now cultivate some of the land that once belonged to Ikrit and Baram. But the villagers have said they would not reclaim the land now under cultivation.