Amir Hetsroni

From Iqrit 1951 to Iqrit 2023 – War Crimes on Christmas Day

Church of Iqrit. Photo by: Amir Hetsroni.

For nearly three months we have been telling ourselves that we are right and they are wrong, that Hamas (mainly) and Hezbollah (also) are acting as Nazi clones, and that we have no option but eradicating them before they eradicate us. For nearly three months, we have been angrily staring at pro-Palestinian rallies in western countries, refusing to understand what motivates demonstrators and unable to come to terms with the fact that some protesters refuse to accept the “first the Palestinians get rid of us in Israel and then they get rid of you in Europe” axiom to which we overwhelmingly adhere.

We were not entirely wrong. When one examines the seventh of October 2023 as a discrete event – concluding that Hamas is solely responsible for the war and that only Hamas performed severe war crimes is inevitable. However, the seventh of October massacre did not happen in a vacuum tube. It was preceded by 75 years of different levels of occupation and various types of oppression.

The attack on St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church in Iqrit on Christmas morning serves a perfect example to prove the last point. Greek Catholics were always a sore thumb, alien to the region. Not exactly catholic but also not Orthodox; quite certainly Arabs but rarely leaning toward Palestinian nationalism. Unsurprisingly, most of this small sect (numbering 65,000 people in Israel) did not take active part in the war of independence in 1948, however, the majority of them also prefer not to volunteer to serve in the IDF.

The sad saga of Iqrit started in 31.10.1948, when the Greek Catholic village, located only five kilometers south of the Lebanese border and home to less than 500 residents, surrendered without fighting to the IDF, who took over the place and put it under marshal law. Five days later, the commander in charge ordered the villagers to leave their homes “temporarily” and promised that in two weeks – when military activity in the region is over – they would be allowed to return.  Some residents went to Lebanon for enforced vacation and are unable to even visit their birthplace to this day. Others stayed within Israel in Rameh and Haifa. Time went by. The war was over. A cease fire agreement was signed with Lebanon on 23.3.1949, but the villagers of Iqrit were never allowed to return. A Supreme Court decree from 1951 forcing the government to let them return was not respected. Instead, our military destroyed all the village buildings sans the church on Christmas of that year. That was the policy (should I say fashion?) at the time. This also explains why to this day one can still see pre-1948 mosques and churches standing out almost as out of space icons in Tel Aviv (Kfar Shalem), Yahud, Tiberias, Ashkelon and many other places, reminiscent of Palestinian communities that have been displaced. When it comes to Iqrit, one cannot even count the number of ad-hoc committees and juridical procedures that have dealt with the issue over the years. Nearly all of them concluded that the villagers, who have become refugees in their land (our country!), have the moral right to re-occupy their land, but applying this right is eventually a political decision. No government took it in order to avoid a precedent that would enable 1948 Palestinians reoccupy their land within Israel.

Does the story of Iqrit in 1948 remind you of the story of Gaza in 2023? In both cases, Israel asked the Palestinians to leave their homes “temporarily”, promised that they would soon be capable of returning, and in the meantime destroyed the place – top to bottom. The major difference is that in 2023 we no longer show mercy on places of worship. We also destroy mosques.

Undoubtedly, targeting an anti-tank missile at a village church on Christmas morning constitutes a war crime, but destroying the village and expelling its denizens is also a war crime; maybe an even more severe one.

To make a long story short – the war now is not between angels (Israel) and devils (Palestinians). It is one leg out of many in a never-ending bloody conflict between two sides that have committed plenty of brutal acts and sadly refuse to open a new peaceful page.

About the Author
Amir Hetsroni was a faculty member at Ariel University in the West Bank. He is emigrating from Israel in order to miss the next war, earn higher wages, enjoy cooler summers, and obtain a living package that is cost-effective. He has three passports and does not feel particularly worried about anti-Semitism.
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