Arab Israeli Woman Wins Decades-long Battle to Visit Her Father's Grave on an Israeli Army Base

After 40 years of legal wrestling, Salwa Salaam Kubati says visiting the grave of her father, whom she never met, will 'be a closing of a decades-old circle'

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Salwa Salem-Qubati with her uncle, Mansour
Salwa Salem-Qubati with her uncle, MansourCredit: Gil Eliyahu

The Israel Defense Forces will allow an Arab Israeli woman to visit the cemetery where her father and other relatives are buried, which is located on an air force base in the Lower Galilee.

Salwa Salaam Kubati, 71, has been fighting for the opportunity to visit the grave of her father, whom she never met, for 40 years. The State Prosecutor’s Office informed her last week, a week before the High Court of Justice was due to discuss the petition she had filed, that she will be allowed to visit the cemetery.

According to the prosecutor’s office, the army is allowing Kubati and her aunt Subahi Mansour, 93, who joined the petition, to visit the Christian cemetery in the village of Malul in the Nazareth area, on whose ruins the base was built. Kubati and Mansour will have to request a permit to visit 30 days in advance, and it will be granted subject to security checks. They will not be allowed to bring in equipment to document or record the visit.

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As they requested in the petition, Kubati and Mansour will be able to maintain the graves during their visits. In response to the prosecution’s announcement, the petitioners, with the help of Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, replied that they agree to the proposal, but will remove their petition only after the High Court rules on the matter of paying Kubati for the costs of the trial.

Kubati received the news with mixed feelings. She noted that the government’s permission came after a four-decade battle, and noted that she is already over 70 and confined to a wheelchair after the amputation of her leg. All the same, she said, she will request a permit to visit with two companions from her family in the coming days. “I hope that in the end I’ll get to the grave of my father, whom I never saw or met,” she said. “For me it will be a closing of a decades-old circle.”

“For almost 20 years, the army refused to address Mrs. Kubati’s requests to realize her constitutional and basic right to visit the graves of her father and her brother, whom she never saw,” said attorney Sawsan Zaher, who submitted the petition on behalf of Adalah. She said that the army had no justified reason for deciding to allow visits only now, after the petition to the High Court. “Even the ruling on the legal expenses won’t restore Mrs. Kubati the years that she waited for this day, and the money can’t compensate her for the injustice done to her,” she said.

Kubati petitioned the High Court early this year, demanding that the Defense Ministry allow her to visit the cemetery. In the past she petitioned other authorities, including the Defense Ministry itself. Kubati noted that in 2015 the base commander allowed her to enter, but not to visit the cemetery. She said that during her visit she discovered excavations that desecrated the graves on one side of the cemetery, and saw exposed skeleton parts.

Kubati was born in July 1948, four months after her father’s death and burial in Malul. The family was expelled from the village and moved to Nazareth, where she grew up. After her marriage she moved to Kafr Kana, and she has four children and two grandchildren.

According to the petition, Malul was completely destroyed after its occupation with the exception of two churches, a mosque and the Christian cemetery. While access to the churches and the mosque remained open, entry to the cemetery was blocked after the construction of the base.