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al-Bassa' ( , also known as Betzet in ) was a Palestinian Arab village in British Mandate of Palestine's District of Acre. It was situated close to Lebanon's border, north of the district capital, Akkomarker (Acre), and above sea level.

Name

The village was known in the Talmud period as Bezet or Bazet. It was called Bezeth during the Roman period, it's Arabic name is al-Basah. In the period of Crusader rule in Palestine, it was known as Le Bace or LeBassa. Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani (d. 1201), an chronicler and advisor of Saladin, referred to the village as Ayn al-Bassa.

History

The site shows signs of habitation in prehistory and the Middle Bronze Age. It was a Jewish settlement between 70 and 425 AD. Blown glass pitchers uncovered in a tomb in al-Bassa were dated to circa 396 AD. An ancient Christian burial place and 18 other archaeological sites were located in the village.

The village was inhabited in the Early Arab period. The Survey of Western Palestine, sponsored by the Palestine Exploration Fund, identified al-Bassa as, "probably a Crusading village"; however, archaeological excavations uncovered evidence of an ecclesiastical farm in operation there between the 5th to 8th centuries, and pottery sherds indicate continuous inhabitation throughout the Middle Ages.

The site was used in 1189 C.E. as a Crusader encampment during a military campaign, and a document dated October 1200 recorded the sale of the village by King Amalric II of Jerusalem to the Teutonic Order. No Crusader era buildings have been found in al-Bassa, and a cross once dated to the Crusader period was later re-dated to the Byzantine era.

In 1596, Al-Bassa was part of the Ottoman Empire, a village in the nahiya (subdistrict) of Tibninmarker under the liwa' (district) of Safadmarker., with a population of 76 Muslim families and 28 Muslim bachelors. It paid taxes on a number of crops, including wheat olives, barley, cotton and fruits, as well as on goats, beehives and pasture land.

In the 18th century Al-Bassa became a zone of contention between Dhaher al-Omar and the chiefs of Jabal Amil, while under his successor, Jezzar Pasha, Al-Bassa was made the administrative center of the nahiya in around 1770.

The European traveller Van de Velde visited "el-Bussa" in 1851, and stayed with the sheik, Aisel Yusuf, writing that "The clean house of Sheck Yusuf is a welcome sight, and the verdant meadows around the village are truly refreshing to the eye". He further noted that "The inhabitants of Bussah are almost all members of the Greek Church. A few Musselmans live among them, and a few fellahs of a Bedouin tribe which wanders about in the neighborhood are frequently seen in the street."

In 1863 the village was visited by Henry Baker Tristram who described it as a Christian village, where "olive oil, goats¬īhair, and tobacco, seemed to be principal produce of the district; the latter being exported in some quantities, by way of Acre, to Egypt. Bee-keeping, also, is not an unimportant item of industry, and every house possesses a pile of bee-hives in its yard."

In the late nineteenth century, the village of Al-Bassa was described as being built of stone, situated on the edge of a plain, surrounded by large groves of olives and gardens of pomegranate, figs and apples. The village had about 1,050 residents.

The village had a public elementary school for boys (built by the Ottomans in 1882), a private secondary school, and a public elementary school for girls. In 1922, the people of al-Bassa founded a local council which was responsible for managing its local affairs. In 1925, when the boundaries of Lebanon and Palestine were drawn by the British, Al-Bassa, previously considered part of Lebanon, was allotted to the British Mandate in Palestine. By 1927 the village had a mixed population of Protestant, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox, as well as a Metawali Shi'ite minority. Its main economic activity was olive picking. According to its former residents, the town was about 60% Christian and 40% Muslim.

The 1938 camp of Jewish labourers and Notrim (police) for construction of Tegart's wall was located adjacent to the village, and it ultimately became the site of a Tegart fort. By 1945 the village had grown to 3,100 and was home to a regional college.

Important public structures at the time of its existence included two mosques, two churches, three schools and 18 other shrines both holy to Muslims and Christians. Al-Bassa was the only Palestinian village in the Galilee with a Christian high school. Some of Bassa's former public structures have been preserved and are found today within the Israeli localities of Shlomimarker and Betzetmarker.

The 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine and the 1938 Massacre

Beginning in April 1936, the villagers participated in a general strike, to be intensified by non-cooperation with the [British] Government and a boycott of the Jews. For many months organized gangster warfare was waged on Palestinian Jewry, with armed attacks against colonies, highway ambushes in the country and bomb outrages in the towns, and wholesale murder even of Arabs of more moderate opinions. Notwithstanding the overwhelming temptation to reciprocate violence for violence, the Jewish leaders managed to impress on their followers with rare exceptions, a policy of non-reprisal.

Amidst the revolt, the village was the scene of a massacre committed by British soldiers. On September 6, 1938, four soldiers of the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) were killed when their armoured car ran over a land mine near the village. In retaliation, British forces burnt the village down. After that, perhaps a few days later, about 50 Arabs from the village were collected by the RUR and some attached Royal Engineers. Some who tried to run away were shot. Then, according to British testimony, the remainder were put onto a bus which was forced to drive over a land mine laid by the soldiers, destroying the bus and killing and many of the occupants. The villages were then forced to dig a pit and throw all the bodies into it. Arab accounts added torture and other brutality. The total death toll was about 20.

1948, and aftermath

Al-Bassa was one of the largest, most developed villages in the north of the country, covering a land area of some 20,000 dunams of hills and plains, 2,000 of which were irrigated. A regional commercial center, it contained over sixty shops and eleven coffeehouses, a few of which sat along the Haifamarker-Beirutmarker highway. The active village council had paved roads, installed a system of running water, and oversaw the convening of a wholesale produce market there every Sunday. An agricultural cooperative in the village counted over 150 members that promoted agricultural development, while also providing loans to local farmers. The population of about 4,000 was divided almost evenly between Muslims and Christians. Among the village institutions were a government run elementary school, a "National High School", a Greek Orthodox church, a Catholic church, and a mosque.

The village was situated in the territory allotted to the Arab state under the 1947 UN Partition Plan. It was captured by Yishuv¬īs Haganah forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, in Operation Ben-Ami, on May 14, 1948. Al-Bassa's defenders were local militia men. Folllowing its capture, the Haganah's Palmach forces concentrated the villagers in the local church where they shot and killed a number of youths before chasing the villagers out. One witness to the expulsion said that it was preceded by soldiers shooting and killing five villagers inside the church, while another said seven villagers were shot and killed by soldiers outside the church.

Al-Bassa was completely destroyed by the Israelis with the exception of a few houses, a church, and a Muslim shrine, still standing today. Some of the villagers of Al-Bassa (approx. 5%) were internally displaced ending up in places like Nazarethmarker where they became Israeli citizens, but lived under martial law until 1966 and required permits to leave their place of residence. The only day on which Palestinians did not require a permit to travel during that period was Israel's Independence Day. On this day, which Palestinians call Nakba Day, internally displaced Palestinians would visit their former villages. Wakim Wakim, an attorney from Al-Bassa and a leading member of the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced explains: "The day when Israel celebrates is the day we mourn." (emphasis in original)

Most of the former villagers of al-Bassa (approx. 95%) were pushed north towards Lebanonmarker, concentrating in the Dbayeh refugee camp near Jouniehmarker east of Beirutmarker. Prior to and during the Lebanese civil war, this camp suffered severe damage in the fighting and was largely destroyed, though it still has a population of some 4,233 people who are mostly Palestinian Christian refugees. Other former residents of Al-Bassa and the refugee camp in Lebanon ended up in Lansing, Michiganmarker where they established an international village club and hold annual gatherings attended by over 300 people.

The village was inspected in 1992, when it was found that although most of the houses of Al-Bassa had been destroyed, a number of historic buildings survived, including two churches, a mosque, and a maqam.

Mosque

According to Petersen, the mosque appears to be a relatively modern construct, probably built in the early 1900s. It consists of a tall square room with with a flat roof supported by iron girders. There is a cylindrical minaret at the north-east corner. There are tall pointed windows on all four sides, and a mihrab in the middle of the south wall. At the time of the inspection, 1992, the building was used as a sheep pen.

Maqam

The Maqam is located about 20 meters east of the mosque. It consists of two parts: a walled courtyard, and a domed prayer room. In the courtyard there is a mihrab in the south wall, and a doorway in the east wall leads into the main prayer room. Pendentives springing from four thick piers support wide arches and the dome. In the middle of the south wall there is a mihrab, next to a simple minbar, made of four stone steps.

Culture

Henry Baker Tristram during his 1863 visit to the village made a detailed description of the women's Palestinian costumes.

Weir, after quoting what Tristram wrote about the head-dresses in Al-Bussah, notes that coin headdresses went out of use for daily wear in Galilee at the beginning of the 20th century, but continued to be worn by brides for their weddings.

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