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Vandals have smashed gravestones at a Maronite Christian cemetery in the Holy Land

Vandals have smashed gravestones at a Maronite Christian cemetery in a village near Israel's northern border with Lebanon, Israeli police said on Wednesday.

Police opened an investigation after receiving a report about damage to a number of graves at a Christian cemetery in the village of Kufr Bir'im, spokeswoman Luba Samri said, indicating that the tombstones were "broken and displaced".

Kufr Bir'im is derelict Palestinian Arab village whose inhabitants were evicted by the Israeli army in 1948, six months after Israel was established, and never allowed to return. The village was almost totally razed by the Israeli army in 1953.

Last year, Lebanese patriarch of the Maronite church Beshara Rai paid a historic trip to the Holy Land during which he visited Kufr Bir'im, pledging to help the displaced villagers return. There are some 11,400 Maronite Catholics living in Israel.

The police did not say who was behind the attack but in recent years there have been a spate of hate crimes targeting Christian churches and cemeteries, with the perpetrators believed to be Jewish extremists.

On Tuesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin met with church leaders in Jerusalem's Old City, pledging to crack down on religiously inspired hate crime.

Kafar Bir’em was a small village located in the North Central Upper Galilee, four kilometers south of the Lebanese-Israeli borders. Its Arab Christian population cultivated the fields, tilled the land and subsisted from its bounties. For four-hundred years during the Ottoman rule and for twenty-nine years of the British Mandate the villagers lived in peace and harmony with their neighbors.

When the Israeli forces occupied the village on 29 October 1948, the inhabitants decided to stay in their homes and continue with their normal life. However, one week later, on 7 November 1948, two officers from the Israeli Ministry of MinorityAffairs arrived to the village and conducted a census of the village’s population. Every single person in the village who was present that day had been registered as a citizen of the new State.

Three weeks after the occupation of the village, i.e. two weeks after the census,the villagers were given orders to leave the village temporarily in the presence of the Minister of Minority Affairs while officially ensuring their return in two weeks. The inhabitants departed from their village to the neighboring Gishvillage.

In spite of the repeated promises made by the Israeli government and officials including the first Israeli Prime Minister, the Minister of Police and Minority Affairs, and Christian Affairs Advisor, the uprooted inhabitants of Kefar Bir’em could not return to the village. As months passed, it became evident that the Israeli government had no intention to allow Kefar Bir’em inhabitants to return to their village and that the promises made by government officials would never hit the bull’s eye.

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