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Al-Birwa ( , al-Birweh) was a Palestinian Arab village, located east of Acremarker (Akka). Mentioned by Arab geographers in the 11th century, it was known to the Crusaders as Broet. Captured from the Mamluks by the Ottomans in the 16th century, al-Birwa grew to be a large village by the 19th century, with one mosque, one church, and an elementary school for boys. A school for girls was built during British Mandate rule in Palestine.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, al-Birwa was depopulated after its capture by Israeli forces. Its inhabitants became refugees, some internally displaced, while others ended up in refugee camps in Lebanonmarker. Kibbutz Yas'urmarker and Moshav Ahihudmarker were established on the lands of al-Birwa in 1949 and 1950, respectively.

History

The Persian geographer Nasir Khusraw visited al-Birwa in 1047 while it was under Fatimid rule. He describes it as lying "between Acre and Damunmarker," and reports having visited what he described as the tombs of Simeon and Esau there.

While under Crusader rule, al-Birwa was referred to by the ruling authorities as Broet. Like other villages in Palestine, by the late 12th and early 13th centuries, it was under Mamluk rule after their forces defeated those of the Crusaders in a number of battles.

Ottoman rule

Al-Birwa fell under Ottoman rule in 1517, after it was captured by Ottoman forces from the Mamluks in the Battle of Marj Dabiq. By 1596, al-Birwa was a small village in the nahiya ("subdistrict") of Akka, part of the sanjak ("district") of Safadmarker, and most of the houses were built of stone and mud. The village paid taxes to the ruling authorities on wheat, barley, fruit, beehives, and goats.

Over the course of the 19th century, al-Birwa grew to be a large village, with a well in its southern area. To the north, lay "beautiful olive-groves and fruitful wheatfields," as they were described by one Western traveller to the region in the mid-19th century. Edward Robinson, also writing at this time, lists al-Birwa as one of 18 villages in Palestine that had one Greek (Eastern Orthodox) church that was in use at the time. In 1888, the Ottomans established an elementary school for boys in the village.

British Mandate period

During the British Mandate in Palestine, al-Birwa expanded considerably and most of the houses were renovated with cement rooftops. Agriculture was the village's main source of revenues, and cultivated crops included, olives, wheat, barley, corn, sesame, and watermelons. There were also three olive presses, used to produce olive oil and as well as a village mosque and church. In 1936, the inhabitants of al-Birwa participated in the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. The commander of the revolt in the Lower Galilee region, Sheikh Yihya Hawash, was from al-Birwa. He was arrested by the British and sentenced to life imprisonment. The British also executed eight villagers from al-Birwa who had participated in the revolt.

Al-Birwa's prominent families, the Mougrabis, Adlabis and al-Zayyats, were tenant farmers that ruled the area and thus, served as mediators for nearby villages when feuds occurred. In the late 1940s, Birwa had 600 heads of cattle, 3,000 goats and 1,000 chickens. An elementary school for girls was established in the village in 1943. Al-Birwa was also the birthplace and childhood residence of the poet Mahmoud Darwish.

1948 War and aftermath

Israelimarker forces of the Carmeli Brigade first captured al-Birwa and positions overlooking it on June 11, 1948 in the wake of Operation Ben-Ami, a day before the first truce of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. During the fighting, about 45 elderly residents hid in the village church with the priest and eventually the few local defenders of the village withdrew after losing men and running out of ammunition. Afterward, all of the residents took refuge in nearby villages for about thirteen days.

Nevertheless, clashes continued during the truce. According to eyewitness accounts from local militiamen from al-Birwa, with the purpose of harvesting their crops, 96 men from the village all armed with rifles, and an equal amount of unarmed men and women assembled near the front lines of the Arab Liberation Army (ALA). They claimed the ALA did not participate since they were not ordered to by their superiors. The rifle armed local force charged first across the front lines shouting Allahu Akbar ("God is greater [than the enemy]"), then the unarmed men with axes, shovels, and sticks, followed by the women who carried water to help the wounded. They took the small Haganah force by surprise and forced them back a kilometer west of al-Birwa, and then harvested their crops. They remained in the village until June 24, when ALA commanders suggested they join their families in the nearby villages.

Israelis announced that they had battled ALA units in the area, inflicting 100 casualties on June 25. The New York Times reported there was fighting in the village for two days and United Nations observers were there investigating truce violations. It added that "a small Israeli garrison held al-Birwa prior to the [first] truce", but it fell to ALA troops based in Nazarethmarker who launched a surprise attack. Some residents camped in the outskirts of the village and occasionally managed to enter and gather personal belongings. After the end of the first truce in mid-July, al-Birwa was captured by Israel in Operation Dekel. The ALA continued to fight Israeli forces for its recapture, but by July 18, it was firmly behind Israeli lines.

On August 20, 1948, the Jewish National Fund called for building a settlement on some of the village lands, and on January 6, 1949, Yas'urmarker, a kibbutz, was established. In 1950, the moshav of Ahihudmarker was inaugurated on the western village lands. According to Walid Khalidi, one of the schools, two shrines for local sages, and three houses remained standing today. One of the shrines is made of stone and has a dome. Most of the structures stand amid cactuses, weeds, olive and fig groves, and mulberry trees. Most of al-Birwa's inhabitants fled to the nearby Arab towns and villages including Tamra, Kabulmarker and other localities. Some fled to Lebanon, and ended up in the Shatila refugee camp, Beirutmarker, where Palestinian historian Nafez Nazzal interviewed them in 1973.

After the establishment of Israelmarker, in 1950, Arab Knesset member Tawfik Toubi raised the issue of the internally displaced refugees of al-Birwa in the Israeli Knessetmarker, demanding that they be allowed to the return to their homes. David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minister of Israel, replied in the negative, stating, "The IDF and the government dealt generously with them [the villagers] and permitted them to stay in villages near Birweh and to be residents of Israel."

Geography

Al-Birwa stood on a rocky hill, with an average elevation of 60 meters above sea level, overlooking the Acre plain. It was situated at the intersection of two highways — one leading to Acre and one towards Haifamarker. Located 10.5 kilometers east of Acre, other nearby localities include the destroyed village of Damunmarker to the south, the surviving Arab towns of Jadeida to the northwest, Julis to the north, Sha'abmarker to the east, and Majd al-Kurum to the northeast.

It consisted of a total of 13,542 dunams, of which 59 dunams were built-up areas. Cultivable land accounted for 77% of the total land area. Orchards were planted on 1,548 dunams of which 1,500 were used for olive groves, while 8,457 were allotted to grains. The residents of the town sold 536 dunams to Jews, and most of the rest was Arab-owned.

Demographics

According to Ottoman authorities, in 1596, al-Birwa had 121 residents and Van Guerin recorded approximately 900 inhabitants in the 1880s. The British counted 807 people in 1922, rising to 996 in 1931. In Sami Hadawi's 1945 land and population survey, al-Birwa grew substantially to 1,460. Meron Benvenisti claimed there were 240 families living in the village, most of them Muslims, however, there were 100 Arab Christians. Of the families, 140 worked for the tenant farmers. At that time there were approximately 300 houses in al-Birwa. The main clans of the village were al-Moughrabi, al-Zayyat and Adlabi.

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