Arabs Expelled From Village of Ikrit in 1948 Ask Pope for Help

In letter to Pope Francis, Arabs expelled from Galilee village ask pope to pressure Israel to let them back in; Israeli authorities uproot trees.

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An Israeli soldier holding a girl at the village of Ikrit in 1948.Credit: Government Press Office

Arabs expelled from the Upper Galilee village of Ikrit sent a letter to Pope Francis this week asking him to pressure Israel to allow the former residents of Ikrit and nearby Biram to return to their villages, from which they have been displaced since 1948.

Meanwhile, Israel Lands Administration inspectors on Wednesday uprooted trees that had recently been planted in Ikrit and confiscated equipment used by activists who sleep at the site. Several people sleep in the church complex, one of the few remaining structures in Ikrit,  in shifts throughout the week.

"We implore you to intensify your sacred efforts to exert pressure on the Government of Israel to end the injustices it has inflicted upon our community," said the letter, dated Monday. "We hope that your upcoming visit to Palestine and Israel will serve towards that purpose."

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority on May 24-26.

The residents of the two Christian villages "are members of the oldest Christian communities, witnesses of the presence of Our Savior," the letter said. "All our land was confiscated and we became refugees in our own land. We are Palestinian refugees internally displaced within the State of Israel."

Nemi Ashkar, who heads the Iqrit Community Association, said the request to the pope is just one way of trying to get Israel to implement its pledge to allow residents to return.

Displaced residents, along with hundreds of young people, on Monday celebrated Mass at the church that is the last remaining building in the village, followed by performances by local musicians.

Village residents have not been allowed to return since Israeli authorities ordered them to leave their villages in 1948 and told them they would be able to return once the security situation stabilized. The villages have since been razed and, eager to avoid setting a precedent that could lead to thousands of requests by displaced Arabs to return to their homes, high-level ministers voted in 2001 to ratify a 1972 government decision to keep the displaced residents from returning to Ikrit and Biram.