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:
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail