Bir’im was a bustling village near the Lebanese border, with a population of Maronite and Melkite Christians. In 1948 the villagers had to leave, hoping that they would return, but it never happened. Many moved to the nearby village of Jish; others went into exile. Their case was taken to court, and the ruling was that they be allowed to return – except ‘for security reasons’ this has never been implemented. Though, interestingly, the people of Jish still bring their dead to be buried at the cemetery in Bir’im. (On Good Friday it is the custom for Christians to visit the graves of their loved ones, and I hear that at 6 o’clock in the morning, several hundred people had made the journey from Jish to Bir’im to continue this custom).
The area is now a national park, as there is an ancient synagogue there, but you can still see the ruins of the houses, though the stone crosses on the lintels seem to have been taken away. The Maronite church is still there, however, and services, hitherto held only once a year, will apparently be held there every Saturday. While I was there, a group of American Christians were looking at the synagogue and had spent 45 minutes there. When we mentioned about the church being just 50 metres away, their guide said it was time for lunch and quickly moved them to their bus. Perhaps the sight of the ruined village would have led to some awkward questions. Out of sight is out of mind.
Though, for the Jews, this is the time to remember, and there have been two memorial days, one for the victims of the Shoah (holocaust) and the other for soldiers who died in wars. A siren sounds over the land, and everyone and everything stops and stands to attention. Looking out my window, I could see vehicles stopped in the middle of roundabouts, with the drivers standing still beside them. This must have been broadcast widely, as I received a text message from the North-western province of Zambia, asking why it happened.