Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Israel Bars Visit to a Father’s Grave


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

This article originally appeared in The National (, 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

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”