Baptism in ruins of Arab village ends in 'racist' altercation

12:00 Apr 27 2014 al=Bassa

Baptism in ruins of Arab village ends in 'racist' altercation
The church at al-Bassa, as pictured in 2008. Photo via Wikipedia commons.

Ceremony held in ruins of al-Bassa was disturbed by several residents of Shlomi, the Jewish town that was built on what used to be its land.

By Jack Khoury for Haaretz

A baptism ceremony held in the ruins of the uprooted Arab village of al-Bassa on Sunday was disturbed by several residents of Shlomi, the Jewish town that was built over part of the village's lands. A press photographer who was documenting the proceedings had his camera smashed in the ensuing altercation.

The ceremony was being held in al-Bassa's Greek Orthodox church, one of the villages' only buildings left standing. al-Bassa’s residents were forced out of the area during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, after the village, which is in Israel's north, was captured by the pre-State Haganah militia. They scattered to Arab communities within Israel and in Lebanon.

The town of Shlomi was built on parts of what used to be the village’s land. The church is located in what is now an industrial zone.

Former residents of Bassa visit the site regularly. In recent years a number have sought to preserve and fence off what is left of the village, including a mosque and two churches.

Nahariya lawyer Wakim Wakim, a prominent advocate for the expellees’ rights, is descended from a Bassa family. In 2002 and in 2008 he arranged baptism ceremonies for two of his children in the church, and two weeks ago a wedding was held there.

On Sunday, another family with roots in Bassa, who now live in nearby Kafr Yasif, sought to conduct a baptism at the church. Several Shlomi residents sought to disturb the proceedings by driving their vehicle toward the buildings and honking loudly.

Journalist Zuheir Mata told "Haaretz" that he had been invited by the family to photograph the event, and that his camera was smashed by a woman from the group.

“She cursed me and the others present, calling us stinking Christians and other names and curses,” said Mata. “After she broke my camera I filed a complaint with the Nahariya Police. It was embarrassing and humiliating.”

Wakim said he has as a written permit from the Orthodox Archbishop of Acre, permitting him to hold ceremonies in the church.

“It must be noted that the ceremonies we conduct at the place are exclusively religious in character, there are no political overtones, and a priest is present. You can’t take away even that right from us. Police were called to the ceremony today, and the minute they saw the permit they left. So all this conduct points to only one motive – racism.”

Shlomi Local Council Chairman Gabi Naaman said he understands the residents’ anger. “I myself have filed a complaint against attorney Wakim for trespassing and entering a dangerous, dilapidated building that endangers anyone who enters it,” he told "Haaretz." “We are not dealing with religious ceremonies, but rather with provocations that offend the local residents. I will act to close the place down, seeing as it’s dangerous, and I will block any entry to it in the future.”

When asked if he’d be willing to cooperate in an effort to preserve the site, Naaman said such a move isn't up to him, but rather involved authorities such as the Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem, which owns the site, and Israel's Antiquities Authority.
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