Zochrot

Al-Birwa, the story of an uprooted Palestinian village

By The Refugee Committee of Al-Birwa,
04/2002

Al Birwa is an old village located 10 km east of Acre, 50 meters above sea level. On the western side of the village there are archeological remains dating from the Canaanite era. During the Roman period it was called "Biri," and the Crusaders called it "Broet." However, the Arabic name al-Birwa appeared in 1047, in the book Sifr Nameh by the famous Persian author Naser Khasro.

Population censuses throughout history show evidence of prosperity in the village.

In 1596, the village had 121 residents; by 1931, there were 996 people living in 224 houses. In 1945, the total population of the village was 1,460 -- 1,330 of who were Moslem and the remainder Christian. All the residents lived in harmony. The relations between the two communities were based on cooperation, mutual respect and trust.

The villages depended on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood, cultivating 10,452 dunams. The total area of the village before 1948 was 13,542 dunams (approximately 3,400 acres). As there were many olive groves, the village owned three olive presses.

The children learned in two schools, one for boys, which was established in 1882, and a second for girls, established in 1942. The village had, in addition, one mosque, a church, and two shrines.

As a result of their ongoing resistance to the British occupation, residents were subjected to collective punishment. In one instance following the July 19, 1938 killing of twelve British soldiers by a landmine near the village, soldiers took all the men in the village to a cactus grove and forced them to sit on the cactus.

According to the UN Partition Plan of Palestine in 1947, the village was to be included in the Arab state. On June 11, 1948, the Israeli army occupied the village after an intense confrontation with dozens of armed locals. That day, the priest and 40 other unarmed residents -- primarily children and the elderly -- found refuge in the village church. With the help of armed men from nearby Arab villages, the people of al Birwa regained control of their village from the Israeli soldiers on June 23, 1948. However the following day the Israeli army reoccupied the village.

Following the occupation, as with many other uprooted villages, Israeli military commanders declared al-Birwa a closed military area according to Regulation 125 of the British Mandatory Defense (Emergency) Regulations (1945). At this time, all the residents of the village became refugees. They were deprived of their right to return or even to visit the village. In 1949, al Birwa was completely bulldozed and the Yas'ur kibbutz was established on the western side of the village lands.

The uprooted from al Birwa, their children, and their grandchildren still believe that one day they will return to their original home in accordance with UN resolution 194, which upholds their right to return.

Every year, as Israel celebrates its Independence Day the residents of al Birwa and their families return to the village, where the only things that remain are some trees and cemeteries. On that day, they sit by the graves and under the trees and tell the story of their village so it will be remembered. 

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