Israel bars Palestinian grandmother from visiting slain father’s grave for 70 years

Israel/Palestine
on 14 Comments

Salwa Salem-Copty hopes to someday return to live in her family’s village in the north of Israel, but at 70 years old, she thinks it is unlikely. Instead she has one request — she would like to be allowed to visit the grave of her father, who was killed when a bus full of workers traveling to Haifa was attacked in April 1948.

Salwa’s mother was pregnant with her at the time, living as an internally displaced person in nearby Nazareth with three young children. She had prepared Easter dinner for her family, as they waited on her husband to return. Instead Salwa’s uncle showed up with the news — Salwa’s father was not coming home.

While the residents of Ma’alul had been kicked out of their village several months previously, when Israeli forces took over the area, demolishing every Palestinian home in the village, residents were still able to bury their dead in the village’s cemeteries.

A year later, in 1949, even that changed. Israel built a military base in the empty village, fencing off a good chunk of the land, and while the Muslim cemetery is still accessible to visitors, the Christian cemetery lies within the fenced-off military base.

Salwa was never able to visit her father’s grave. Today, now a grandmother, she is still fighting for that right.

“I have tried everything I possible could,” Salwa told Mondoweiss. “I even went to the Knesset, I met with both Mohammed Barakeh and Ayman Odeh from the Arab Joint List and begged them to help me visit my father’s grave — It’s the only thing in the world I want.”

Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, got involved in the issue, sending a letter in September to senior Israeli political and military officials demanding that Salwa and other internally-displaced Palestinian residents and their descendants be allowed to visit the graves of family members in Ma’alul.

“Preventing Ms. Salem-Copty and other displaced residents from maintaining the cemetery and from visiting the graves of relatives – including those of grandfathers and grandmothers, parents, uncles, aunts – constitutes a gross violation of the right to dignity of the deceased,” Adalah Attorney Muna Haddad wrote in the letter.

Salwa told Mondoweiss that it is her dream to visit her father’s grave site, where she feels she will for the first time in her life have a connection to the man she never got to meet.

“I understood at a very young age that something wasn’t right, I understood that I had a father but he was taken from me. Life was very hard for my family and for my mother after my father was killed,” Salwa said.

She explained that as a widow who had left her village with nothing but the clothes on her back, and no relatives who were stable enough to help support her, Salwa’s mother had to give her oldest three children to an orphanage, where they were only able to visit during holidays.

Salwa grew up with her mother, but her childhood was hard and they were very poor. She dreamed of moving up in life and helping children living in situations like her own, so she became a social worker.

Throughout the years, she never forgot about Ma’alul, and never gave up the hope that one day she could return to live there and visit her father’s grave at her leisure.

A church in Ma’alul (Photo: Noga Kadman/ Palestine Remembered)

“Eight years ago things got a little better. We won the right to pray at our churches during holidays,” she explained. “Before, the two churches that are still standing were not taken care of or protected, sheep and cows were going inside the church and living there, but now we are able to take care of the churches and pray there — there are no houses, they were all destroyed — but at least we have our churches.”

Salwa said now the churches are meeting places for both Christians and Muslims who had lived, or are the descendants of those who lived in Ma’alul. The mosque in the village is too damaged for Muslim residents to enter, but Muslim villagers still come during the Christian celebrations to meet up and exchange stories with their family neighbors.

“We get together and celebrate together and I am filled with joy because the people at those celebrations knew my father,” she said. “He was 25 or 26 when he was killed and the people from Ma’alul tell me about who he was and what they remember of him and of our home and I cannot explain what a feeling that is.”

Arabic and Hebrew sign posted in site of former village reads​: “Ma’alul – Christian cemetery is behind fence. Access is forbidden” (Photo: Adalah)

Salwa visits the village several times a year, always bringing followers. She has never been able to lay the flowers on her father’s grave, instead she throws them over the military fence, in the general direction of where family members said her father was buried, and calls out to him.

“I tell him I miss him and I know him and I have never forgotten him. I hope my message and my fight reaches out to him in Heaven,” she said.

There is not much left of what the village of Ma’alul once was, but Salwa can picture it all in her head.

“My grandfather and grandmother told me everything,” Salwa said, emotion layering her voice. “I know every centimeter of Ma’alul, I know who each plot of land belongs to, I know where the houses once were. They taught me so that I would never forget. I have never forgiven Israel for what they did to our village and our people and our families. They widowed my mother and destroyed our family.”

If Salwa does not get the chance to visit her father in her lifetime, she has one final request.

“I have had a hard life. I am 70 years old, I’m an old woman, and I still have never been able to visit my father’s grave or return to live in my village,” she said. “Ma’alul is my love, it’s my heart, my life, it is everything. At the very very least, I hope I can be buried in Ma’alul next to my father after I die. In the end, that is all I ask.”

About Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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14 Responses

  1. Qualtrough
    November 16, 2017, 12:25 pm

    The more I read and learn about Israel the more amazed I am that every Palestinian isn’t incandescent with rage.

    • Citizen
      November 16, 2017, 10:02 pm

      I’m amazed that every American isn’t incandescent with rage too

  2. JosephA
    November 16, 2017, 8:07 pm

    This is why the racist Israelis may win some battles, but they will lose the war – because the Israelis have lost their humanity. The indigenous Palestinians have not lost their humanity.

  3. Jackdaw
    November 17, 2017, 10:55 am

    Didn’t Ma’alul get its name from the ancient Jewish town of Nahalal? Yes.

    Didn’t the Jewish National Fund own the land on which Ma’alul was situated? Yes, until 1946.

    Weren’t the Zionists overly generous to the holdout tenant villagers of Ma’alul during the period of the British Mandate? Yes.

    Wasn’t the village of Ma’alul garrisoned by the Arab Liberation Army in 1948? Yes.

    Weren’t all the women and children of Ma’alul evacuated to Nazareth by the Arab Liberation Army? Yes.

    Did the authoress, Sheren Khalel , think to mention any of these facts in her article? No.

    • Mooser
      November 17, 2017, 4:04 pm

      Oh look, there’s so many, all grey and each carrying a trunk. It’s a herd of irrelevance!

    • Misterioso
      November 19, 2017, 8:37 pm

      @Jackdaw

      Utterly irrelevant. More drivel.

      Didn’t (as so declared by Walter Eytan, then Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry) Jewish forces and the IDF dispossess and expel about 800,000 essentially defenseless Palestinian Arabs (the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine) between late 1947 and the fall of 1948? As well documented, they accomplished this by means of armed force, several massacres, mass rape and intimidation. They also destroyed over 500 of the Palestinians’ towns and villages while seizing 78% of Palestine, i.e. 22% more than the 56% the recommendatory only Partition Plan suggested? (Nor should we forget that a further 25,000 Palestinians were driven out just before and during Israel’s 1956 invasion of Egypt as well as an additional 250,000 during and after Israel launched the June 1967 war and invaded and occupied the remaining 22% of mandated Palestine)

      Since June 1967, Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been subject to an illegal and brutal occupation in violation of the UN Charter and the Fourth Geneva Convention. (BTW, Israel is still belligerently/illegally occupying Syria’s Golan Heights and Lebanon’s Shebaa Farms and Kfarshuba hills.)

      Eminent Jewish Israeli journalist Bradley Burston aptly sums up the horrors Israel inflicts on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem:
      “Occupation is Slavery”
      EXCERPT:
      “In the name of occupation, generation after generation of Palestinians have been treated as property. They can be moved at will, shackled at will, tortured at will, have their families separated at will. They can be denied the right to vote, to own property, to meet or speak to family and friends. They can be hounded or even shot dead by their masters, who claim their position by biblical right, and also use them to build and work on the plantations the toilers cannot themselves ever hope to own. The masters dehumanize them, call them by the names of beasts.” (Haaretz, Feb. 26/13)

      As for the Gaza Strip, to this day if remains belligerently and illegally occupied by Israel.
      To wit:
      Human Rights Watch, 2005: “…Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under international law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawing and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawal’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagement] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulations, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’. International jurisprudence has clarified that the mere repositioning of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

      The International Committee of the Red Cross: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.”

      “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp for right now 1,800,000 people” – Amira Hass, 2015, correspondent for Haaretz, speaking at the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

      “‘The significance of the [then proposed] disengagement plan [implemented in 2005] is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda….’ Weisglass, who was one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz for the Friday Magazine. ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Top PM Aide: Gaza Plan Aims to Freeze the Peace Process, Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004)

      In short, Zionism is racism; Zionism is theft; Zionism is fascism.
      The good news is that it is doomed. No one understands this more than ever increasing numbers of young, enlightened Jews around the world who are abandoning Zionism and its spawn, the anachronistic entity known as “Israel.”

      • Jackdaw
        November 20, 2017, 10:04 am

        @Misterioso

        “Didn’t (as so declared by Walter Eytan, then Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry) Jewish forces and the IDF dispossess and expel about 800,000 essentially defenseless Palestinian Arabs ”

        Defenseless? The Arab Liberation Army invades from the North. Local armed bands of Palestinians fought the Zionists from their towns and villages. Jordanian Legionairres, and the armies of the invading armies of the Arab States also fought the Jews.

        Six thousand six hundred Jews were casualties of the War of Independence. That number is roughly half the number of Palestinian casualties.

        So no. Not defenseless at all.

      • Annie Robbins
        November 20, 2017, 11:02 am

        Defenseless? The Arab Liberation Army invades from the North

        invade what? nazareth and surrounding area were not part of the future jewish state. jewish forces invaded nazareth.

  4. Jasonius Maximus
    November 19, 2017, 12:08 am

    Such arbitrary malice. It seems that the very soul of Israel has rotted and all that is left is childish pettiness and hate.

    • Jackdaw
      November 20, 2017, 10:05 am

      @Jason

      Childish pettiness and hate has brought you here. And here your shall remain, swirling round and round in the vortex.

      Enjoy the rest of your life.

      • Annie Robbins
        November 20, 2017, 11:12 am

        you’ve got it wrong again jack. denying Salwa Salem-Copty, or any person, the right to visit a loved ones gravesite is what’s full of malice, childish, petty, hateful and rotten to the core. and you know it too.

        Enjoy the rest of your life

        you’re a fake. as mooser put it so well, a herd of irrelevance!

      • Mooser
        November 20, 2017, 2:54 pm

        “Childish pettiness and hate has brought you here. And here your shall remain, swirling round and round in the vortex.”

        So, “Jackdaw”, what’s your “exit by” date? Gonna be swirling around for a while yet?

      • Mooser
        November 20, 2017, 4:25 pm

        .” as mooser put it”

        It’s just basic Marxist dialogue

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