Arab MKs push ‘right of return’ to northern Israel

Joint List MKs Ahmed Tibi and Osama Sa’adi proposed a bill giving Arabs the “right of return” to specific villages in northern Israel on Tuesday, citing “broken promises” dating as far back as 1948, Maariv reports.

“This is the return of the country’s citizens to where they lived,” the two claimed in the explanatory note.

“Residents of Gabasia were evacuated from their village in 1951, and residents of Ikrit and Bir-am were evacuated from their villages at the end of 1948, with a promise from the state authorities that they will return to their homes soon.”

The two also cited a High Court ruling which gave the residents of those villages the right to return to their land.

Ikrit and Biram: ongoing controversy

The situation of Ikrit and Biram is unique in that the residents were asked in November 1948 to temporarily leave their homes to enable a security zone to be formed along the Lebanese border. The Arab residents contend that the government promised that they would return. However, the lands to which the Arabs wish to return are now owned and worked by the Jewish farmers of five northern communities.

Back in 1951, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the former Ikrit and Biram inhabitants, whom had fled their homes as the IDF won the War of Independence in 1948.

The decision was never implemented, however, and the Golda Meir government decided that the Arabs might not return.

Later, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided in the nineties to allot 12,000 dunams (3,000 acres) to 600 families of the two villages. The Arabs rejected the offer, however, saying that the amount of land offered was not sufficient.

Still later, an Ehud Barak-appointed committee found that the Arabs should return, followed in 2001 by a separate committee ruling – headed by then-Cabinet Secretary Gidon Sa’ar (Likud) – which ruled the opposite due to security concerns.

The official stance has continued to ping-pong back and forth in the intervening 14 years, but no definitive ruling has yet been reached.

While many Arabs remained in Israel during the War of Independence many others fled, either as a direct result of the fighting or after being urged to leave by Arab states to enable them to effectively ethnically-cleanse the country of its Jewish population – a plan which boomeranged when the nascent Jewish state emerged victorious.