Kafr Bir'im

Coordinates: 33°02′37″N 35°24′51″E / 33.04361°N 35.41417°E / 33.04361; 35.41417
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Kafr Bir'im
كفر برعم
Kefr Berem
The church of Kafr Bir'im
The church of Kafr Bir'im
Etymology: The village of Bir'im[1]
1870s map
1940s map
modern map
1940s with modern overlay map
A series of historical maps of the area around Kafr Bir'im (click the buttons)
Kafr Bir'im is located in Mandatory Palestine
Kafr Bir'im
Kafr Bir'im
Location within Mandatory Palestine
Coordinates: 33°02′37″N 35°24′51″E / 33.04361°N 35.41417°E / 33.04361; 35.41417
Palestine grid189/272
Geopolitical entityMandatory Palestine
Date of depopulationearly November 1948[3]
 • Total12,250 dunams (12.25 km2 or 4.73 sq mi)
 • Total710[2]
Cause(s) of depopulationExpulsion by Yishuv forces
Current LocalitiesBar'am National Park, Bar'am[4][5] Dovev[5]

Kafr Bir'im, also Kefr Berem (Arabic: كفر برعم, Hebrew: כְּפַר בִּרְעָם), was a former village in Mandatory Palestine, located in modern-day northern Israel, 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) south of the Lebanese border and 11.5 kilometers (7.1 mi) northwest of Safed. The village was situated 750 meters (2,460 ft) above sea level.

In ancient times, it was a Jewish village known as Kfar Bar'am. It was an Arab village in the Middle Ages. In the early Ottoman era it was wholly Muslim. During the 19th and 20th centuries, it was noted as a Maronite Christian village. A church overlooking it at an elevation of 752 meters (2,467 ft) was built on the ruins of an older church destroyed in the earthquake of 1837. In 1945, 710 people lived in Kafr Bir'im, most of them Christians.

On September 16, 1953 the village was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force, in order to prevent the villagers' return and in defiance of an Israeli Supreme Court decision recognizing the villager's right to return to their homes.[6][7][8] By 1992, the only standing structure was the church and belltower.

The village of Iqrit had the same fate.



The village was originally Kfar Bar'am, a Jewish village which was established in ancient times.[9] The remains of the 3rd-century Kfar Bar'am synagogue on the outskirts of the town are still visible, as is another ruined synagogue in the center of the village.[10][11]

Middle Ages

A visitor in the thirteenth century described an Arab village containing the remains of two ancient synagogues.[12]

Ottoman period

In 1596, Kafr Bir'im appeared in Ottoman tax registers as being in the Nahiya of Jira, part of Sanjak Safad. It had a population of 114 households and 22 bachelors; all noted as Muslim. The villagers paid taxes on wheat, barley, goats and beehives, but most of the taxes were paid as a fixed sum; total revenue was 13,400 akçe.[13][14]

Kafr Bir'im was badly damaged in the Galilee earthquake of 1837. The local church and a row of columns from the ancient synagogue collapsed.[15] In 1838 it was noted as a Maronite village in the Safad region.[16]

In 1852 it was estimated that the village had a population of 160 males, all Maronites and Melkites.[17] During the 1860 civil war in Lebanon, Muslims and Druzes attacked the Christian village.[18]

In 1881, the PEF's Survey of Western Palestine described the village as being built of stone, surrounded by gardens, olive trees and vineyards, with a population of between 300 and 500.[19]

A population list from about 1887 showed Kefr Bir’im to have about 1,285 inhabitants, all Christian.[20]

British rule

In the 1922 census of Palestine, conducted by the British Mandate authorities, Kufr Berim had a population of 469; all Christians,[21] all being Maronites.[22] By the 1931 census there were 554 people in the village; 547 Christians and 7 Muslims, in a total of 132 houses.[23]

In the 1945 statistics, Kafr Bir'im had a population of 710, consisting of 10 Muslims and 700 Christians,[2] with 12,250 dunams of land, according to an official land and population survey.[24] Of this, 1,101 dunams were irrigated or used for plantations, 3,718 for cereals,[25] while 96 dunams were classified as urban land.[26] The village population in 1948 was estimated as 1,050 inhabitants.

Israeli rule

Ruins of the depopulated village

Kafr Bir'im was captured by the Haganah on October 31, 1948 during Operation Hiram. In November 1948 most of the inhabitants were expelled until the military operation was complete, and none were subsequently permitted to return.[27] Today the villagers and their descendants number about 2,000 people in Israel. In addition, there are villagers and descendants in Lebanon and in western countries.[28]

In 1949, with cross-border infiltration a frequent occurrence, Israel did not allow the villagers to return to Bir'im on the grounds that Jewish settlement at the place would deter infiltration.[29] Kibbutz Bar'am was established by demobilized soldiers on the lands of the village.

In 1953, the residents of former Kafr Bir'im appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel to return to their village. The court ruled that the authorities must answer to why they were not allowed to return. In September, the court ruled that the villagers should be allowed to return to their homes, however after the court ruling, an Israeli Air Force bombing on September 16, 1953 left the village razed and 1,170 hectares of land were expropriated by the state.[6][8]

The leader of Melkite Greek Catholics in Israel, Archbishop Georgios Hakim, alerted the Vatican and other church authorities, and the Israeli government offered the villagers compensation. Archbishop Hakim accepted compensation for the land belonging to the village church.[30]

In the summer of 1972, the villagers of Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit went back to repair their churches and refused to leave. Their action was supported by archbishop Hakim's successor, Archbishop Joseph Raya. The police removed them by force. The government barred the return of the villagers so as not to create a precedent.[31] In August 1972, a large group of Israeli Jews went to Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit to show solidarity with the villagers. Several thousand turned out for a demonstration in Jerusalem.[32][better source needed] The Israeli authorities said most of the inhabitants of the village had received compensation for their losses, but the villagers said they had only been compensated for small portions of their holdings.[33] In 1972, the government rescinded all "closed regions" laws in the country, but then reinstated these laws for the two villages Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit.

This was met with criticism by the opposition parties. In the 1977 election campaign Menachem Begin, then leader of the right-wing Likud party, promised the villagers that they could return home if he was elected. This promise became a great embarrassment to him after he had won, and a decision on the issue was postponed as long as possible. It was left to his agriculture minister to reveal to the public that a special cabinet committee had decided that the villagers of Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit would not be allowed to return.[34]

The operational name of the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes in 1972 was named after this village and Iqrit.[35]

On the occasion of official visits to Israel by popes John Paul II in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009, the villagers made public appeals to the Vatican for help in their endeavour to return to Kafr Bir'im, but have so far remained unsuccessful.[36][37]

See also


  1. ^ Palmer, 1881, p. 76
  2. ^ a b Department of Statistics, 1945, p. 10
  3. ^ Morris, 2004, p. xvi, village #38. Also gives cause of depopulation.
  4. ^ Morris, 2004, p. xxii, settlement #160
  5. ^ a b Khalidi, 1992, p. 461
  6. ^ a b Sabri Jiryis: "Kouetz 307 (27. Aug. 1953): 1419"
  7. ^ Returning to Kafr Bir’im, 2006, BADIL Resource Center
  8. ^ a b Ryan, Joseph L. (1973-07-01). "Refugees Within Israel: The Case of the Villagers of Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit". Journal of Palestine Studies. University of California Press. 2 (4): 62–63. doi:10.2307/2535631. ISSN 0377-919X.
  9. ^ Judaism in late antiquity, Jacob Neusner, Bertold Spuler, Hady R Idris, BRILL, 2001, p. 155
  10. ^ Fine, 2005, pp. 13-14
  11. ^ The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament, By Ludwig Köhler, Walter Baumgartner, Johann Jakob Stamm, Mervyn Edwin John Richardson, Benedikt Hartmann, Brill, 1999, p. 1646
  12. ^ Judaism in late antiquity, Jacob Neusner, Bertold Spuler, Hady R Idris, BRILL, 2001, p. 155
  13. ^ Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, 1977, p. 175
  14. ^ Note that Rhode, 1979, p. 6 writes that the register that Hütteroth and Abdulfattah studied was not from 1595/6, but from 1548/9
  15. ^ "1837 earthquake in southern Lebanon and northern Israel N. N. Ambraseys, in Annali di Geofisica, Aug. 1997, p. 933" (PDF). Retrieved Jun 6, 2020.
  16. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1841, vol 3, 2nd appendix, p. 134
  17. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1856, pp. 68-71
  18. ^ Yazbak, 1998, p. 204
  19. ^ Conder and Kitchener, 1881, SWP I, p. 198. Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 460
  20. ^ Schumacher, 1888, p. 190
  21. ^ Barron, 1923, Table XI, p. 41
  22. ^ Barron, 1923, Table XVI, Sub-district of Safad, p. 51
  23. ^ Mills, 1932, p. 105
  24. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 70
  25. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 119
  26. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 169
  27. ^ Justice for Ikrit and Biram, Haaretz October 10, 2001
  28. ^ "Birem.org". Archived from the original on September 21, 2005. Retrieved Jun 6, 2020.
  29. ^ Morris, 1997, p. 124
  30. ^ Sabri Jiryis: Israel Government Yearbook 5725 (1964):32
  31. ^ Sabri Jiryis: Haaretz 24 July 1972, Yedioth Aharonoth, 30 June 1972
  32. ^ Sabri Jiryis and Chacours autobiography
  33. ^ Sabri Jiryis: compensation for only 91.6 out of 1,565.0 acres (6.333 km2) had been given in Ikrit, in Kafr Bir'im only "negligible" amounts
  34. ^ Jerusalem Post, 18 January 1979, ref. in Gilmour, p.103
  35. ^ Morris & Black, 1991, p. 270
  36. ^ AFP (21 May 2014). "Under pressure, Israel's Palestinian Christians reach out to pope". Maan News. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  37. ^ Alessandra Stanley (25 March 2000). "A New Sermon of Peace on the Mount". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2018.


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