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Bayt Jibrin ( , also Beit Jibrin) was a Palestinian Arab village located northwest of the city of Hebronmarker. In the last census of Palestine in 1945, the population was 2,430. The village had a total land area of 56,185 dunams or , of which were built-up while the rest remained farmland.

The early inhabitants of Bayt Jibrin are believed to have been the Canaanites. The Romans conquered the town after the First Jewish-Roman War and it became a Roman colony and a major administrative center under the name of Eleutheropolismarker. In the early 7th century, Bayt Jibrin was conquered by Muslim forces led by 'Amr ibn al-'As. Under the Crusader, who captured the city in the 11th century, the town declined economically, but prospered after its capture by the Mamluks. It fell to the Ottoman Turks centuries later and afterwards taxes were implemented on the town's goods. In the 19th century, the al-'Azza family took control of Bayt Jibrin and unsuccessfully attempted to rebel against the Ottomans, ending in the exile and execution of local leaders.

Under the British Mandate of Palestine, Bayt Jibrin again served as a district center for surrounding villages. In the 1947 UN Partition Plan, it was designated as part of the Arab state, but was captured by Israelimarker forces during the 1948 War, causing its inhabitants to flee east. Today, many of these refugee and their descendants live in the 'Azzamarker and Fawwarmarker camps in the southern West Bankmarker. The kibbutz of Beit Guvrinmarker was established on Bayt Jibrin's lands in 1949.


Bayt Jibrin has been renamed over the centuries by those who fought for control of the region. The city's Aramaic name is Beth Gabra which translates as the "house of [strong] men". According to some sources, prior to the Roman conquest, the town was known as Betaris. In his account of the Jewish revolt in 68 CE, the Roman Jewish historian Josephus called it Betaris, describing it as one of two villages taken by the Romans "right in the heart of Idumea." The Egyptianmarker-Roman geographer Ptolemy referred to it as Baitogabra. The Romans gave it a Greek name, Eleutheropolismarker, meaning “City of the Free". In the Peutinger Tables in 393 CE, Bayt Jibrin was called Beitogabri. In the 3rd-4th century Talmud, it was known as Beit Gubrin (or Guvrin).

To the Crusaders, it was known as Bethgibelin or Gibelin. Another name in medieval times may have been Beit Jibril, meaning "house of Gabriel". In Arabic, Bayt Jibrin or Jubrin (بيت جبرين) means "house of the powerful", reflecting its original Aramaic name. and the town was probably called Bayt Jibrin or Beit Jibril throughout its rule by various Islamic dynasties.



Local folklore tells that the city now known as Bayt Jibrin was first inhabited by Canaanites, a people said to be descended from giants. Bayt Jibrin was originally a suburb of the ancient city of Mareshamarker — a city of Judah. When Maresha was destroyed by the Parthians in 40 BCE, its inhabitants fled  north to Beit Guvrin, a densely-populated Jewish settlement until the Bar-Kokhba revolt in 132-135 CE, when it was conquered by the Romans. The Roman emperor Septimus Severus granted it municipal status, renaming it Eleutheropolis meaning "City of the Free" and exempting its citizens from taxes. Eleutheropolis, which covered an area of (larger than Jerusalemmarker at the time), flourished under the Romans, who built public buildings, military installations, aqueducts and a large amphitheater. The vita of Epiphanius of Salamis, born into a Christian family near Eleutheropolis, describes the general surroundings in Late Antique Judaea. The second chapter of the vita describes the details of the important market of Eleutheropolis. Excavations at Eleutheropolis show a prosperous city, and confirm the presence of Jews and Christians in the area. It was described as one of Palestine's five "Cities of Excellence" by 4th century Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus. Eleutheropolis encompassed the districts of Bethletepha, western Edom and Hebronmarker up to Ein Gedi, and included over 100 villages.

Roman ruins in Bayt Jibrin

In the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, Christianity penetrated the city due to its location on the route between Jerusalem and Gazamarker. The city's first bishop, Justus, was one of the 70 Disciples. In 325 CE, Eleutheropolis became the seat of Bishop Macrinus, who was present at the First Council of Nicaea. Beit Guvrin is mentioned in the Talmud in the 3rd and 4th centuries, indicating a revival of the Jewish community around that time. The tannamarker Judah b. Jacob and the amora Jonathan (referred to in the Talmud as "Yonatan me-Bet Guvrin" or Jonathan of Bet Guvrin) were residents of the city. The Talmudic region known as Darom was within the area of Eleutheropolis ("Beit Guvrin").

Islamic era

The Muslim historian al-Biladhuri mentions Bayt Jibrin (it was renamed such after its conquest by the Arabs) as one of ten towns in Jund Filastin conquered by the Rashidun army led by 'Amr ibn al-'As in the early 7th century. Al-Biladhuri furthermore writes that ibn al-'As enclosed a domain to Bayt Jibrin, to which he gave the name ´Ajlun, after one of his freemen. In the beginning of the power struggle between Ali and Mu'awiya for the position of caliph, ibn al-'As left Medinamarker in the Hejaz and resided in Bayt Jibrin with his two sons Muhammad and Abdullah — the latter dying there.

In 796, Bayt Jibrin was reportedly destroyed by Bedouin tribesmen in an effort to combat Christian influence in the region during a civil war between the Arab tribal federations of the area. According to a monk named Stephen, "it was laid waste, and its inhabitants carried off into captivity". However, by 985, the city — now under Abbasid rule — seemed to have recovered, judging by the writings of the Muslim geographer al-Muqaddasi:

"[Bayt Jibrin] is a city partly in the hill country, partly in the plain. Its territory has the name of Ad Darummarker (the ancient Daroma and the modern Dairan), and there are here marble quarries. The district sends its produce to the capital (Ar Ramlahmarker). It is an emporium for the neighbouring country, and a land of riches and plenty, possessing fine domains. The population, however, is now on the decrease...."

In 1099, Crusader invaded the Palestine and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1135, King Fulk of Jerusalem erected a castle on the lands of Bayt Jibrin, the first of a series of Crusader fortifications built at this time to ensure control over the ports of Caesareamarker and Jaffamarker. In 1136, King Fulk donated the castle to the Knights Hospitalers. In 1165, the Hospitalers were granted a charter to establish a Frankish colony, which they named "Bethgibelin". Bayt Jibrin was on the itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, who found only three Jews living in Bayt Jibrin. The Ayyubid army under Saladin sacked Bethgibelin in 1187, after most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem came under Muslim control after his victory at the Battle of Hittinmarker. Soon after its capture Saladin ordered the demolition of the Crusader castle. From 1191-1192, the town was held in probate by Henry of Champagne, as lord of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, while Saladin and Richard the Lionheart negotiated a ceasefire. However, the Crusaders remained in control of Bethgibelin until 1244, when the Ayyubids reconquered it under the sultan as-Salih Ayyub. By 1283, the Mamluks took control and it was listed as a domain of Qalawun. The city prospered under the Egyptian-based Mamluk Sultanate and served as a postal station. During Mamluk rule, Bayt Jibrin administratively belonged to Hebron and was under the jurisdiction of the Shafi'i qadi ("head judge") of that city.

Ottoman rule and the 'Azza family

Bayt Jibrin, along with the whole of Palestine, came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire after it defeated the Mamluks at the Battle of Marj Dabiq in 1516. Bayt Jibrin was incorporated into the Ottoman nahiya (subdistrict) of Hebronmarker (al-Khalīl) under the Liwa of Gaza ("District of Gaza"). The Ottomans did not exercise strict control over their territories and tended to keep local leaders in their current positions as long as they complied and paid imperial taxes. Under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1552, the destroyed Crusader castle was partially rebuilt in order to protect main road between Gaza and Jerusalem. In 1596, the inhabitants of Bayt Jibrin, consisting of 50 Muslim families, paid taxes on wheat, barley and sesame seeds, as well as goats and beehives.

In the 19th century, Bayt Jibrin was headed by members of the 'Azza family, who had ruled the area since migrating to Palestine from Egypt. In the 1840s, after the Ottomans attempted to crush local leaders in the Hebron region for their refusal to pay taxes, the 'Azza family joined a revolt against Ottoman rule. They had aligned themselves to the 'Amr clan of Hebron. Between 1840-46, hostilities were ranging between the Qais and Yaman tribo-political factions in southern Palestine.
A sketch painting of Bayt Jibrin in 1859 by W.M.
'Azza and Amr families, loyal to the Qays were constantly clashing with the Yaman-aligned Abu Ghoshmarker. In 1846, the shaykh of Bayt Jibrin, Muslih al-'Azza, (known as the "giant of Bayt Jibrin") and the leader of the 'Amr clan and other local leaders were exiled, but were allowed to return in the early 1850s.

In 1855, the newly-appointed Ottoman pasha ("governor") of the sanjak ("district") of Jerusalem, Kamil Pasha, attempted to subdue the rebellion in the Hebron region, which included Bayt Jibrin. Pasha and his army marched towards Hebron in July 1855, and after crushing the opposition, he ordered local shaykhs to summon to his camp. Several men, including the leader of the 'Amr clan and Muslih al-'Azza, did not obey the summons. Kamil Pasha then requested that the Britishmarker consul in Jerusalem, James Finn, serve as an envoy and arrange a meeting with Muslih. Finn sent his vice-consul to assure Muslih of his safety in Hebron and convinced him to meet with Pasha. Muslih was well-received in Hebron and returned to Bayt Jibrin escorted by twenty of the Pasha's men. Soon after, the Pasha paid a visit to Bayt Jibrin to settle their affairs and collect the town's late taxes. The Pasha took an oath of loyalty from all the local shaykhs in the Hebron region, including those under the rule of Muslih al-'Azza.

European travelers who visited Bayt Jibrin during that time were very impressed both by the shaykh of Bayt Jibrin, as well as by his "castle" or "manor." At the time, the remains of the Crusader fortress still served for defensive purposes in the village. According to Bayt Jibrin's shaykh, in 1863, he was in command of 16 villages in the area and was pledged "to provide as many as 2,000 men to the government if necessary." In 1864, however, Muslih's brother told a traveler that Muslih and his property had been seized on "false charges of treason," and that he had been banished to Cyprusmarker and then beheaded.

Bayt Jibrin's status began to decline throughout the 1800s. According to Western travelers it was "a small and insignificant village". The primary reasons for the decline was the Bedouin raids on Bayt Jibrin's countryside villages, the 'Azza revolt, tribal warfare among the inhabitants of the towns and villages throughout Palestine and epidemics which struck the town and the nearby area.

British Mandate era

After the British army captured Palestine from the Ottomans in 1917-1918, Bayt Jibrin became an important town in the District of Hebron. The population was entirely Muslim, and had two schools, a medical clinic, a bus and a police station. The town's inhabitants cultivated grain and fruit, and residents from nearby towns flocked to its weekly market or souk.After 157 villagers (one-sixth of the population) died of malaria in 1920, the British established an anti-malaria committee together with Jewish and other bodies to seal open wells, improve drainage and distribute quinine.

On January 10, 1938, during the Arab National revolt of 1936-1939 J. L. Starkey, a well-known archaeologist, was killed by a group of armed Arabs on the track leading from Bayt Jibrin to Hebron. Bayt Jibrin was in the territory allotted to the Arab state under the 1947 UN Partition Plan. The first Battalion of the Egyptian Army were ordered to take up position in Bayt Jibrin during the second half of May during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. At the same time, the New York Times correspondent reported that thousands of Jaffamarker's inhabitants had fled inland, including "large numbers" to the Bayt Jibrin area.

1948 war

In October 1948, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Yoav, which differed from operations three months earlier, as the IDF was now equipped with aircraft, artillery, and tanks. On October 15-16, the IDF launched bombing and strafing attacks on a number of towns and villages, including Bayt Jibrin. According to Morris, the towns caught in the fighting were neither psychologically nor defensively prepared for aerial strikes, and Israeli Air Force bombing of Bayt Jibrin on October 19 set off a "panic flight" of residents from the town.

On October 23, a United Nations-imposed ceasefire went into effect, however, there was an IDF raid on the neighboring police fort on the night of October 24, which resulted in more villagers fleeing Bayt Jibrin. Israeli troops from the Giv'ati Brigade then occupied Bayt Jibrin and its police fort on October 27.

In 2008, a former resident of the town who was eight months old at the time of the raid, described his family's ordeal as follows:
"In the 1948 war, the village was attacked by Israeli military units and bombed by Israeli aircraft.
By that time, Beit Jibreen already hosted many refugees from neighboring villages.
The fighting and bombing frightened the people.
They escaped the fighting and sought shelter in the surrounding hills.
[My] family found protection in a cave 5 km east of the village.
They had left everything in their home, hoping to return after a few days when the attack would be over.
The Israelis, however, did not allow them to return.
Several men of Beit Jibreen were killed when they tried to go back."

In 1949, a Jewish communal settlement, Kibbutz Beit Guvrin, was founded on the former town's lands.


Bayt Jibrin was situated on a plain above sea level west of the Hebron Hillsmarker, northwest of Hebron. Nearby localities included the depopulated villages of Kudnamarker to the north, al-Qubaybamarker to the southwest, al-Dawayimamarker to the south and the existing Palestinian towns of Beit Ulamarker to the east and Idhnamarker to the southeast. Historically, it was located on the main road between Cairomarker to Hebron, via Gaza.

In 1945, Bayt Jibrin's total land area was , 98% of which was Arab-owned. The town's urban area consisted of , with of cultivable land and of non-cultivable land. 54.8% of the town's land was planted with cereal crops, 6.2% with olives and 4.4% with irrigated crops.

The Bayt Jibrin region contains a large number of underground caverns, both natural formations and caves dug in the soft chalk by inhabitants of the region over the centuries. There are said to be 800 such caverns, 80 of them, known as the Bell Caves, on the grounds of the Beit Guvrin National Park.


In 1838, the American Bible scholar Edward Robinson visited Bayt Jibrin, and identified it as ancient Eleutheropolis. The ruins of three Byzantine-era churches are located in Bayt Jibrin. A church on a northern hill of the town, later used as a private residence, had elaborate mosaics depicting the four seasons which were defaced in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. A church south of the town, known as Khirbet Mar Hanna was dedicated to Saint Anne — mother of the Virgin Mary. In Christian tradition, Bayt Jibrin is the birthplace of Saint Anne. Today, the apse and arched windows are still intact. The largely preserved remains of the amphitheater built by the Romans were excavated by archaeologist Amos Kloner. Among the unique finds was a Roman bath that has been confirmed to be the largest in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Nahal Guvrin region have unearthed artifacts from a village believed to be 6,500 years old. The finds include pottery vessels and lithic tools, among them flint sickle blades, cultic objects, clay figurines of horned animals, ceramic spindle whorls and animal bones belonging to pigs, goats, sheep and larger herbivores. The inhabitants probably chose this area due to the arable land and copious springs flowing in the summer months. Archaeologists believe the villagers grew grain, as indicated by the sickle blades and the grinding and pounding tools, and raised animals that supplied milk, meat and wool, as attested to by the spindle whorls. The settlement was small in scope, approximately 1.5 dunams, but there is evidence of bartering, based on the presence of basalt vessels and other lithic objects brought to the site from afar.


During the Roman period, Bayt Jibrin had a mixed population of Jews, Christians and pagans. Under Muslim rule, Islam gradually became the dominant religion and by the 1900s, the entire population was Muslim.

In Ottoman tax records from 1596, the town had a population of 275 inhabitants. In the 19th century its population reached 900. This rose to about 1,000 in 1912, and to 1,420 in the next decade. According to the 1931 census of Palestine, Bayt Jibrin's population was 1,804. A 1945 land and population survey by Sami Hadawi reported a dramatic increase to 2,430. The general growth pattern over every 9–11 years from 1912 to 1945 was around 400-500. In 1948, the projected population was 2,819.

The number of refugees from Bayt Jibrin, including their descendants, was estimated to be 17,310 in 1998. Many live in the al-'Azza and Fawwar camps in the southern West Bankmarker.



Bayt Jibrin, together with Hebron and the surrounding villages, was known for its fine Palestinian embroidery. An example is a woman's jillayeh (wedding dress)from Bayt Jibrin, dated about 1900, in the Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) collection in Santa Fe, New Mexicomarker. The dress is made of handwoven indigo linen with long, pointed wing-sleeves. The qabbeh ("chest-piece") is embroidered with the qelayed pattern; the maya ("water") motif, el-ferraneh ("the bakers wife") pattern, and the saru ("cypress") motif. The side panels are also covered with cross-stitch embroidery in a variety of traditional patterns.

Also on show is a late 19th century shambar (large veil) from Bayt Jibrin worn at weddings and festivals. It is made of embroidered handwoven black silk with a separate heavy red silk fringe. A woman wore the shambar mainly on her wedding day, positioned so that when she covered her face the embroidered end would show. Another item in the collection is a headdress (iraqiyeh) embroidered with cross-stitch and decorated with Ottoman coins minted in AH 1223 (1808), as well as Maria Theresa coin. The iraqiyeh was worn by married women and elaborate pieces were passed down as family heirlooms. Long embroidered headbands made of cotton hanging from both sides were wrapped around the woman's braids to facilitate the bundling of her hair, then secured to the back of the headdress.


In Islamic tradition, Bayt Jibrin is the burial place of the sahaba (companion) of the prophet Muhammad, Tamim al-Dari, who was famously known for his piety and briefly served as the Governor of Jerusalem in the late 600s. Al-Dari and his family were granted the Hebron Hills, including Bayt Jibrin and were assigned as the supervisors of the Cave of the Patriarchsmarker in Hebron. His sanctuary is the most venerated site in Bayt Jibrin, located just northwest of it. Until the present day al-Dari's sanctuary has been a place of local Muslim pilgrimage. Other Islamic holy sites in the village include the maqam for a local shaykh named Mahmud and a tomb for a shaykha named Ameina.

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