FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Israel Bars Visit to a Father’s Grave

by JONATHAN COOK

Salwa Salam Qupty clutches a fading sepia photograph of a young Palestinian man wearing a traditional white headscarf. It is the sole memento that survives of her father, killed by a Jewish militia during the 1948 war that established Israel.

“He was killed 60 years ago as he was travelling to work,” she said, struggling to hold back the tears. “My mother was four months pregnant with me at the time. This photograph is the closest I’ve ever got to him.”

Six decades on from his death, she has never been allowed to visit his grave in Galilee and lay a wreath for the father she never met.

This month, after more than 10 years of requests to the Israeli authorities, she learnt that officials are unlikely ever to grant such a visit, even though Mrs Qupty is an Israeli citizen and lives only a few miles from the cemetery.

Government sources said allowing the visit risks encouraging hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to claim a right to return to the villages from which they were expelled in 1948.

As Israel celebrated its 60th Independence Day with street parties this summer, Mrs Qupty was marking two related anniversaries: the Nakba, or catastrophe, and her father’s death in the early stages of the war.

“I am a twin of the Nakba,” she said from her home in Kafr Kana, close to Nazareth. “I was born at the very moment when most of my people lost everything: their homes, their land, their belongings, their livelihoods. In my case I lost my father, too.”

Faris Salam was killed in late March 1948, shortly before Israel’s establishment. On the day he died, Salam left his village of Malul, west of Nazareth, to catch a bus to his job on the railways in Haifa.

“Those were dangerous times,” Mrs Qupty said. “My family were even afraid to go and collect water from the village well because Jews would shoot at them from their positions up in the hills.”

When the bus drove into an ambush, Salam and the driver were shot dead and several other passengers injured. He was buried in Malul, but four months later the 800 inhabitants were forced to flee when they came under sustained attack from the Israeli army. Mrs Qupty’s mother sought sanctuary in Nazareth, where she gave birth to Salwa days later.

Soon the army declared Malul a military zone and blew up all the homes, sparing only two churches and the mosque. The Christian cemetery, where Salam is buried, was enclosed by a military base named Nahlal.

For the past 12 years, Mrs Qupty has been trying to find a way to visit the grave and say a few words to the father she never knew. “As I get older, the fact that I never met him and that I haven’t seen where he is buried gets harder to bear,” she said. “I want him to know that I exist and that I miss him. Is that too much to ask?”

Over the years she has lobbied members of the Israeli parliament, written to the defence ministry and sent countless letters to the local media – to little avail.

“The nearest I can get to him is looking through the base’s perimeter fence at a forest that hides my view of the cemetery,” she said. To the bemusement of the Israeli soldiers on guard, she sometimes throws a bouquet of flowers over the fence.

On one occasion, she said, she found the courage to approach the base’s gate and asked to be let in. An officer told her to address a formal request to the defence ministry. “But I’m not going there with a gun, only with a bunch of flowers,” she said.

This month a government spokesman finally responded, calling Mrs Qupty’s request to visit her father’s grave a “complex” matter that had been referred to the defence minister, Ehud Barak, for a final decision.

Ministry officials were reported to have decided that her visit should be blocked on the grounds that other Palestinians who seek to return to the villages from which they or their ancestors were expelled in 1948 might use it as legal precedent.

During the war, 750,000 Palestinians fled from more than 400 villages, all of which were subsequently levelled. Most of the refugees ended up in camps in neighbouring Arab states.

Unlike them, however, Mrs Qupty’s mother managed to remain inside the borders of the new Jewish state, along with about 100,000 other Palestinians, and eventually received citizenship.

Today there are 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, one fifth of the country’s population. Of those, one quarter are internal refugees, or officially classified as “present absentees”: present in Israel in terms of citizenship but absent in terms of legal redress over their forced removal from their homes.

Isabelle Humphries, a British scholar who has interviewed many families expelled from Malul, pointed out that the refugees’ Israeli citizenship conferred on them no more rights to access their former village than refugees living abroad.

“Most cannot make even short visits to the ruins of the villages, to their places of worship or their graves. Often the lands of the destroyed village have been declared military zones or are now in the private hands of Jewish communities.”

Ms Humphries said Israel had repeatedly used the excuse that making any concessions to individual refugees would open the floodgates to the return of all the refugees.

“If Israel were to admit that internal refugees have rights to the land and property confiscated in 1948, policymakers know that it would draw further attention to Israel’s continuing refusal to recognise the rights of refugees outside the state.”

Mrs Qupty, a social worker supervising children in protective custody, said her work had increased her understanding of the trauma that the events of 1948 had done to Palestinians.

“My mother was left with nothing after the war. I was born in a tiny room in Nazareth and we lived there for many years. My older brother and two sisters had to be placed in religious institutions because she did not have the means to care for them. We grew up hardly knowing each other.”

For several years after the war, her grandfather secretly returned to Malul by donkey to grow crops on his land, though he was fined when he was caught doing so.

On a few occasions Mrs Qupty accompanied him, but never saw the cemetery where her father is buried. “By the time I was old enough to understand what had happened to my father, the military base had been built over the cemetery.”

Finally convinced that Israel is unlikely ever to concede a visit, Mrs Qupty said she would turn to the courts.

But human rights lawyers regard her chances of success as slim. The Supreme Court rarely overturns government decisions taken on security grounds.

JONATHAN COOK is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

This article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious madness in Ulster
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail