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Bayt 'Itab ( ) was a Palestinian village located on the western slope of the Judean mountainsmarker, also known as the Jerusalem Hills, that was depopulated after its capture by Israelmarker during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Habitation in the village dated back centuries, if not millennia. An ancient tunnel hewn in the rocky knoll upon which the village was located led to the village spring, and has been associated with biblical story of Samson. Prior to, during, and after its incorporation into Crusader fiefdoms in the 12th century, its population was Arab. Sheikhs from the Lahham family clan who were associated with the Quays faction ruled the village during Ottoman times, and in the 19th century, they controlled as many as 24 neighbouring villages in the Jerusalemmarker area.

The village houses were well-built and made of stone. Cereals were cultivated, as well as orchards of fruit-bearing trees, including olives, and some villagers were also engaged in livestock breeding. After an a military assault on Bayt 'Itab by Israeli forces in October 1948, the village was depopulated and then completely demolished. Many of the villagers ended up in refugee camps in the West Bankmarker less than from their former homes. The Israeli locality of Nes Harimmarker was built in 1950 on Bayt 'Itab's village lands, just north of where the built up portion of the village once lay.

Location

Bayt 'Itab was located south southwest of Jerusalem, on a high mountain above sea level, overlooking some lower mountains peaks below. A Roman road ran along a narrow ridge to the south of the village which also passed by Solomon's Poolsmarker. About west of Beit 'Itab is a valley known as Wady Surar that runs east and west, and opens into the plain of Philistia. A low cliff to the east of the village was known as Arâk el Jemâl ("the cliff, cavern or buttress of the camels").

Southeast of the village on the main road was the chief village spring known as 'Ain Beit 'Atâb ( ) or Ain Haud. Below this spring to the northwest, was a pool known as Birket 'Atab with its own spring, 'Ain el Birkeh. Another spring nearby was known as 'Ain el Khanzierh ("the spring of the sow"). Connecting the village to the chief spring was a rock tunnel said to be "of great antiquity," the entrance of which was known only to those well acquainted with the site. This cavern or tunnel, known in Arabic as Mgharat Bir el Hasuta, ("Cave of the Well of Hasuta") is "evidently artificial," and was hewn into the rock. Some 250 feet long, it runs in a south-south-west direction from the village emerging as a vertical shaft (6 ft x 5 ft x 10 ft deep) about 60 yards away from the spring that supplied the village with water. The average height of the tunnel is about 5 to 8 feet with a width of about 18 feet. There were two entrances to it from the village, one in the west, and the other at the center, the latter being closed at one author's time of writing in the 19th century.

Biblical associations

Henry B. Tristram (1884) writes of Bayt 'Itab that it crowned "a remarkable rocky knoll," which he states is, "probably, the Rock Etam." Noting that an ancient tunnel ran down from the village eastward through the rock to the chief spring, he speculates that this would have made a good hiding place for Samson when according to biblical tradition, he "went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam" (Book of Judges, xv. 8).

John William McGarvey (1881) writes that it was Lieutenant C. R. Conder, of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF), who first identified Bayt 'Itab as the site of Etam. Garvey quotes Conder on the linguistic evidence: "The substitution of B for M is so common (as in Tibneh for Timnahmarker) that the name Atab may very properly represent the Hebrew Etam (eagle's nest); and there are other indications as to the identity of the site."

In Conder's Survey of Western Palestine (1881), he notes that the name of the "curious cave" at Bayt 'Atab in Arabic is Bir el Has Utah. Unable to find a meaning for the word in Arabic, he finds it corresponds to the Hebrew word Hasutah, "[...] which is translated 'a place of refuge.' Thus the name seems to indicate that this place has been used from a very early time as a lurking or hiding place, as we gather it to have been in the time of Samson." Garvey also relays Conder's belief that the cavern within the rock formation was "the real hiding place" of Samson after his destruction of the Philistine's grains.

History

Bayt 'Itab is identified with Enadab, a name that appears in a list of Palestiniantowns compiled by Eusebius in the fourth century CE. In the mid-12th century, Bayt 'Atab was a fief of the Church of the Holy Sepulchremarker. It was acquired by them from Johannes Gothman, a Frankish (Flemish) knight, whose wife was forced to sell his landholdings after he was taken prisoner by Muslim forces in 1157 in order to raise the money needed for his ransom. An impressive maison forte or hall house in the ancient centre of the modern village is thought to have served as Gothman's residence prior to its sale to the Church. The building had two stories, both vaulted; the ground floor entrance was protected by a slit-machicolation and had stairs leading to the basement and upper floor.

The Arabic name of the village appears in Latin transliteration as Bethaatap in a list recording the sale of the land holdings belonging to Gothman in 1161. Its affiliations with the Crusader era has led some to erroneously characterize the village as "Crusader", when in fact its habitation by Arabs predates, persisted through and extended beyond this period.

Edward Robinson visited the village in 1838, and described its stone houses, several of which had two storeys, as solidly built. In the center of the village were the ruins of a castle or tower. Robinson estimates, the village population was six to seven hundred people. He notes that Beit 'Atab, as he transcribes it, was the chief town of the 'Arkub (Arqub) district and the Nazir (warden) of the district lived there. Robinson recounts that he was "a good-looking man" from the Lahaam clan, and that when they arrived in the village, he was sitting conversing with other sheikhs on a carpet under a fig tree. Rising to greet them, he invited them to stay for the night, but as they were in a hurry to see more of the country before the setting of the sun, and so declined his offer.

In the mid-19th century, the sheikh of Bayt 'Atab was named 'Utham al-Lahham (Sheikh 'Othman al-Lahaam). He had been exiled in 1846, but had managed to escape and return. A supporter of the Qaisi (Quays) faction, Lahham was in conflict with the Yamani (Yaman) faction leaders, especially the sheikh of Abu Ghoshmarker. In the 1850s the conflict between these two families over the control of the district of Bani Hasan dominated the area. As Meron Benvenisti writes, al-Lahham waged "a bloody war against Sheik Mustafa Abu Ghosh, whose capital and fortified seat was in the village of Subamarker." In 1855, Mohammad Atallah in Bayt Nattifmarker, a cousin of 'Utham al-Lahham, contested his rule over the region. In order to win support from Abu Ghoshmarker, Mohammad Atallah changed side over to the Yamani faction. This is said to have enraged 'Utham al-Lahham. He raised a fighting force and fell on Bayt Nattifmarker on 3 January 1855. The village lost 21 dead. According to an eyewitness description by the horrified British consul, James Finn, their corpes were terribly mutilated.

The counterblow came in February 1855. The Abu Ghosh-family came to the aid of Atallah, conquered Bayt 'Itab, and imprisoned 'Utham al-Lahham in his own house. With the help of one of the younger members of the Abu Ghosh-family, James Finn was able to negotiate a cease-fire between the Atallah and Lahham -factions in Bayt 'Itab. For three years, relative peace reigned in the area; however, the Ottoman Governor of Jeusalem, Thurayya Pasha, and his policy of consolidating Ottoman control over the local districts, step by step, led to the last rebellion of the sheikhs in 1858-59. By the fall of 1859, when 'Utham al-Lahham was ninety years old, both he and Mohammad Atallah were deported to Cyprusmarker by Thurayya Pasha. The rest of the Lahham family was resettled in Ramlamarker.

In the late 19th century, Bayt 'Itab was described as a village built on stone, perched on a rocky knoll that rose 60 to 100 feet above the surrounding hilly ridge. Its population in 1875 was approximately 700, all Muslim. Olive trees were cultivated on terraces to the north of the village. A large cavern (18 feet wide and 6 feet high) ran beneath the houses.

The original layout of Bayt 'Itab was circular, but newer construction to the southwest (towards Sufla), gave the village an arc-shape. Most houses were built of stone. Agriculture was the main source of income. The village owned extensive areas on the coastal plain that were planted with grain. During the British Mandate in Palestine, some of this land was expropriated to make a large, government-owned woodland.In 1944-45, a total of 1,400 dunums of village land was used for cereals, while 665 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards, of which 116 dunums were planted with olive trees. The villagers also engaged in livestock breeding. A 1946 map of Arab villages and Jewish settlements in Palestine locates Beit 'Itab in the Jerusalem sub-district, south of the railroad.

1948, and aftermath

The village was depopulated between 19-24 October 1948, after the Harel Brigade captured the village as part of Operation HaHar. This operation was complementary to Operation Yoav, a simultaneous offensive on the southern front. Most of the village population fled southwards, towards Bethlehem and Hebron. Many refugees from Bayt 'Itab, and other Palestinian villages clustered together on the western slope of the Judean mountainsmarker, ended up in Dheisheh refugee campmarker in the West Bankmarker, roughly from their former homes.

Israel established the settlement of Nes Harimmarker north of the village site on village land in 1950. Of the village site in 1992, the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi writes: "The site is covered with large amounts of rubble from the demolished village houses. The remains of the Crusader fortress are prominent on it. There are two cemeteries east and west of the village. Some of the graves are open, and human bones are visible. Almond, carob and olive trees grow on the village site and on the lower approaches. Cactuses grow on the southern edge of the site. Part of the surrounding agricultural lands is cultivated by Israeli farmers." In 2002, declared 130 dunams at the site were declared a national park by Israel named Horvat 'Itab.

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