Dozens of Israel Land Authority inspectors accompanied by a substantial force of policemen descended on the ruins of the Upper Galilee village of Biram Wednesday and cut unauthorized electrical and water connections.
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Doors and windows that according to the ILA had been illegally installed on various structures were also removed, and equipment stored at the site was confiscated. The ILA stressed in a statement that the local church, which is still used for prayers and ceremonies, was not touched during the raid.
Riyad Rantous, a Haifa resident whose parents were living in the village when it was evacuated and who was present during Wednesday’s raid, called it “barbaric behavior that embarrasses the state.”
He said that on Tuesday the residents had promised there would be no physical resistance to the planned raid and that there was no need for the police presence, which he said included dozens of policemen from the Safed police station, including officers with anti-riot gear.
“I’ve never seen anything like it ... it was a frightening amount of policemen,” said Rantous. “We stood on the side and laughed at the scope of the force and their aggressiveness. All we had done was close some of the openings in the school building and priest’s home during the snow in the winter. A state that conducts its affairs this way should be ashamed.”
The police responded by saying the force comprised only 20 officers and its size “was determined in accordance with an assessment conducted in the Northern District, and was aimed at providing the optimal operational response to any scenario.”
Residents of both Biram and the nearby village of Ikrit were forced to evacuate their villages in 1948 during the War of Independence, but were promised by the Israeli authorities that they’d be able to return after quiet was restored to the Lebanese border area. That promise was never kept, although in 1995 a government committee determined that the villagers and their descendents should be allowed to return. The evacuees and their families of both villages are allowed to conduct religious ceremonies in the local churches and their dead are buried in the village cemeteries.
Since last August, several descendents of Biram evacuees have been living in the church courtyard on a rotating basis. Since this outpost was established, there have been activities conducted at the site, mostly on weekends and school vacations, that include performances, films, day camps and educational activities. Outpost residents have been declared trespassers by the authorities and are in the midst of a legal battle over an evacuation order against them.
The operation in Biram took place only two days after police and ILA inspectors had evacuated several young men and confiscated equipment at Ikrit. Three youths were arrested on suspicion of interfering with police activity. Two were questioned in Nahariya and released, a third had his remand extended for two days, and all three were ordered to remain away from Ikrit for 60 days. But the youths’ lawyers appealed and the Haifa District Court ordered the jailed youth released and cancelled the restraining order, rejecting the state’s claim that Ikrit was public property owned by the state.
Shadia Sbeit, who is from an Ikrit evacuee family and advocates on the evacuees’ behalf, told Haaretz that it was time the Israeli government corrected the historic injustice, after all the country’s leaders, the High Court of Justice and a ministerial committee had recognized the evacuees’ right to return.
“The community prays in the Ikrit church, baptizes their children there, holds weddings and buries their dead in the village cemetery, but absurdly enough we are barred from living there,” she said. “The state displays arrogance by sending our children draft notices from the army that expelled their grandparents from their land at Ikrit, and on the other hand sends civil servants and policemen who attack us brutally and prevent us from being in the area of the church.”
Meanwhile, in the unauthorized Bedouin village of Al-Arakib in the Negev, residents are preparing for the evacuation of their cemetery compound that until now the state has left alone. Since the village was demolished the first time in July 2010, residents have been battling against the state’s repeated demolition of structures at the site. Because of the demolitions residents had moved into the gated cemetery compound, where eviction notices were posted on May 21, giving them three weeks to start evacuating the area. The evacuation is thus meant to begin this morning.
Residents, represented by attorney Kais Nasser, appealed to the Bailiff’s Office in Ramle, noting that these were the same eviction notices that had been issued in 2010 and did not include the cemetery. On June 5, the registrar of the Ramle Bailiff’s Office agreed that the eviction orders posted had already been implemented and do not include the cemetery. The registrar gave the state 72 hours to respond.
In recent days, however, police representatives, in both phone calls and at a protest against the eviction at the Lehavim junction on Sunday, told residents that they planned to evacuate them in any case.
Sayyah A-Turi, the sheikh of Al-Arakib, said the villagers would continue to battle for their land, adding, “We expect the State of Israel to not even think of sending forces into the village cemetery.”