al-Birwa from a distance, 1928
|Date of depopulation||11 June 1948 or mid-July|
|Cause(s) of depopulation||Military assault by Yishuv forces|
|Current localities||Ahihud, Yas'ur|
Al-Birwa (Arabic: البروه, al-Birweh) was a Palestinian Arab village, located 10.5 kilometers (6.5 mi) east of Acre (Akka). Mentioned by Arab geographers in the 11th century, it was known to the Crusaders as Broet. Al-Birwa was captured from the Mamluks by the Ottomans in the 16th century. In the 19th century, it had a mosque, a church, and an elementary school for boys. A school for girls was built during the British Mandate. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, al-Birwa was occupied by the Israel Defense Forces. The inhabitants fled to nearby villages or refugee camps in Lebanon. Kibbutz Yas'ur and Moshav Ahihud were established on the lands of al-Birwa in 1949 and 1950.
The Persian geographer Nasir Khusraw visited al-Birwa in 1047 while it was under Fatimid rule. He describes it as lying "between Acre and Damun," and reports having visited what he described as the tombs of Simeon and Esau there. While under Crusader rule, al-Birwa was called Broet. In the 1253 John Aleman, Lord of Caesarea, sold Al-Birwa together with several other villages to the Hospitallers. Al-Birwa was mentioned as part of the domain of the Crusaders during the hudna between the Crusaders based in Acre and the Mamluk sultan al-Mansur (Qalawun) declared in 1283. In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, it came under Mamluk rule after the defeat of the Crusaders.
The Ottomans ruled from 1517, after the village was captured in the Battle of Marj Dabiq. In 1596, al-Birwa was a small village in the nahiya ("subdistrict") of Akka, part of the sanjak ("district") of Safad. The village paid taxes on wheat, barley, fruit, beehives, and goats. According to Ottoman authorities, al-Birwa at this time had 121 residents. A map from Napoleon's invasion of 1799 by Pierre Jacotin showed the place, though misplaced, named as Beroweh.
Edward Robinson, visiting in 1852, noted al-Birwa as one of 18 villages in Palestine with an operating (Eastern Orthodox) Christian church. By 1859, the British Consul Rogers recorded approximately 900 inhabitants here. Victor Guérin, who visited in 1875, described the Christians of Birrwa as "Schismatic Greek", and noted that they had a "fairly new" church.
In 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. In 1888, the Ottomans built an elementary school for boys.
British Mandate period
At the time of the 1922 census of Palestine conducted by the British Mandate, Al-Birwa had a population of 807; 735 Muslims and 72 Christians. The Christians were mostly Orthodox with a few (5) Anglicans. By the 1931 census, the population had increased to 996; 884 Muslims and 92 Christians, in a total of 224 houses.
Cement roofs were added at this time. The main source of income was agriculture. Cultivated crops included, olives, wheat, barley, corn, sesame, and watermelons. There were three olive presses, a mosque and a church.
In 1936, the inhabitants of al-Birwa participated in the 1936–39 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.
Prominent families and landowners included the Saads, Darwiche, Abdullah, Kayal, Sakas, al-Wakid, al-Joudi, Najm, al-Dabdoub, Khalid, Akawi, Hissian, Hawash and al-Sheikha. The Mougrabis, Adlabis and al-Zayyats were tenant farmers who served as mediators for nearby villages when feuds occurred. In the late 1940s, Birwa had 600 head of cattle, 3,000 goats and 1,000 chickens. An elementary school for girls was established in 1943. Al-Birwa was the birthplace and childhood residence of the poet Mahmoud Darwish.
In 1945 the population of Al-Birwa was 1,460, and the village had 13,542 dunams of land according to an official land and population survey. 130 villagers were Christians. 1,564 dunams were plantations and irrigable land, 8,888 used for cereals, while 59 dunams were built-up (urban) land.
Meron Benvenisti noted there were 240 families living in the village, most of them Muslims, however, there were 100 Palestinian Christians. Of the families, 140 worked for the tenant farmers. At that time there were approximately 300 houses in al-Birwa. The main clans (a group of families) of the village were Kayyal, Darweesh, al-Moughrabi, al-Zayyat, and Idilbi.
1948 war and aftermath
Israeli 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, 45 elderly residents hid in the church with the priest. The defenders of the village surrendered after losing men and running out of ammunition. The residents took refuge in nearby villages for thirteen days. Nevertheless, clashes continued during the truce. According to local militiamen from al-Birwa, 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, 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 Nazareth 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 village lands, and on January 6, 1949, Yas'ur, a kibbutz, was established. In 1950, the moshav of Ahihud 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, Kabul and other localities. Some fled to Lebanon, and ended up in the Shatila refugee camp, Beirut, where Palestinian historian Nafez Nazzal interviewed them in 1973.
After the establishment of Israel, in 1950, Arab Knesset member Tawfik Toubi raised the issue of the internally displaced refugees of al-Birwa in the Israeli Knesset, demanding that they be allowed to return to their homes. David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minister of Israel, replied in the negative, stating, "The questioner presented the facts inaccurately. Birwa is an abandoned village which was destroyed in the fighting. Its inhabitants cooperated with Kaukji's gangs. The Israel Defense Forces and the government did not treat them as they deserved, but permitted them to remain in villages near Birwa, and to become residents of Israel. The government of Israel treats them as it does the other residents of Israel and those lacking means of subsistence. A special body was established to deal with these refugees, to resettle and rehabilitate them, not necessarily in their former villages, and the resettlement of the refugees in Nazareth has already begun."
In December 1951, the village site was declared to be a closed area by the Military Government.
The area remained under Martial Law until 1966.
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 Haifa. Located 10.5 kilometers east of Acre, other nearby localities include the destroyed village of Damun to the south, the surviving Arab towns of Jadeida to the northwest, Julis to the north, Sha'ab 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.
In October 2002, a salvage excavation was conducted at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Finds include a large building, numerous potsherds from the Late Roman period, a bronze coin from the first or second century CE, remains of an ancient olive press, glass vessels such as a wine goblet and bottles dated to the Late Byzantine and Umayyad periods (seventh and first half of eighth centuries CE) and an underground water reservoir A few potsherds from the Crusader and Mamluk periods were also found.
- Morris, 2004, p. xvii, village #89. Also gives cause of depopulation.
- Khalidi, 1992, p.10.
- Morris, 2004, p. xxi, settlement #47, January 1949
- Welcome to al-Birwa
- Khalidi, 1992, p.9.
- le Strange, 1890, p.423.
- Delaville Le Roulx, 1883, p. 184; cited in Clermont-Ganneau, 1888, pp. 309 -310; cited in Röhricht, 1893, RRH, p. 319, No. 1210
- Dan Barag (1979), "A new source concerning the ultimate borders of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem", Israel Exploration Journal 29: 197–217
- Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, 1977, p. 190, quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 9
- Karmon, 1960, p. 162.
- Robinson, 1856, p.630.
- Conder and Kitchener, 1881, SWP I, p. 270
- Guérin, 1880, pp. 432-433
- Conder and Kitchener, 1881, SWP I, p. 270, cited in Khalidi, 1992, p. 9
- van de Velde, 1858, p.223.
- Barron, 1923, Table XI, Sub-district of Acre, p. 37
- Barron, 1923, Table XVI, p. 50
- Mills, 1932, p. 100
- Benvenisti, 2000, p. 317
- Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 40
- Palestine Government Village Statistics, April 1945, p. 2
- Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 80
- Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 130
- Nazzal, 1978, pp.65-70, quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p.10
- Palestinian Internally Displaced Persons inside Israel: Challenging the Solid Structures BADIL, p.5.
- Nazzal, 1978, pp. 65-70
- Charles S. Kamen (1987), "After the Catastrophe I: The Arabs in Israel, 1948-51", Middle Eastern Studies 23 (4): 453–495, doi:10.1080/00263208708700721
- Kacowicz and Lutomski, 2007, p. 139.
- Sabri Jiryis (1973), "The Legal Structure for the Expropriation and Absorption of Arab Lands in Israel", Journal of Palestine Studies 2 (4): 82–104, doi:10.1525/jps.1973.2.4.00p0099c
- Satellite view of al-Birwa
- Israel Antiquities Authority bulletin
- Barron, J. B., ed. (1923). Palestine: Report and General Abstracts of the Census of 1922 (PDF). Government of Palestine.
- Barag, Dan (1979). "A new source concerning the ultimate borders of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem". Israel Exploration Journal 29: 197–217.
- Benvenisti, Meron; Kaufman-Lacusta, Maxine (2000). Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-21154-4.
- Clermont-Ganneau, Charles Simon (1888). Recueil d'archéologie orientale (in French) 1. Paris.
- Conder, Claude Reignier; Kitchener, Herbert H. (1881). The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography, and Archaeology 1. London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund.
- Delaville Le Roulx, Joseph (1883). Les archives, la bibliothèque et le trésor de l'Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem à Malte (in French and Latin). Paris: E. Leroux.
- Guérin, Victor (1880). Description Géographique Historique et Archéologique de la Palestine (in French). 3: Galilee, pt. 1. Paris: L'Imprimerie Nationale.
- Hadawi, Sami (1970). Village Statistics of 1945: A Classification of Land and Area ownership in Palestine. Palestine Liberation Organization Research Center.
- Hütteroth, Wolf-Dieter; Abdulfattah, Kamal (1977). Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late 16th Century. Erlanger Geographische Arbeiten, Sonderband 5. Erlangen, Germany: Vorstand der Fränkischen Geographischen Gesellschaft. ISBN 3-920405-41-2.
- Kacowicz, Arie Marcelo; Lutomski, Pawel (2007). Population Resettlement in International Conflicts: A Comparative Study. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-1607-4.
- Karmon, Y. (1960). "An Analysis of Jacotin's Map of Palestine" (PDF). Israel Exploration Journal 10 (3,4): 155–173; 244–253.
- Khalidi, Walid (1992). All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Washington D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies. ISBN 0-88728-224-5.
- Mills, E., ed. (1932). Census of Palestine 1931. Population of Villages, Towns and Administrative Areas (PDF). Jerusalem: Government of Palestine.
- Morris, Benny (2004). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-00967-6.
- Nazzal, Nafez (1978). The Palestinian Exodus from Galilee 1948. Beirut: The Institute for Palestine Studies.
- Robinson, Edward (1856). Later biblical researches in Palestine, and in the adjacent regions: A journal of travels in the year 1852. Drawn up from the original diaries, with historical illustrations, with new maps and plans. University of Michigan.
- Röhricht, Reinhold (1893). (RRH) Regesta regni Hierosolymitani (MXCVII-MCCXCI) (in Latin). Berlin: Libraria Academica Wageriana.
- le Strange, Guy (1890). Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500. Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund.
- van de Velde, Carel Willem Meredith (1858). Memoir to Accompany the Map of the Holy Land. Gotha: Justus Perthes.
- Welcome To al-Birwa
- Survey of Western Palestine, Map 5: IAA, Wikimedia commons
- Oral history of the fall of Birweh
- Al-Birwa, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center
- Al-Birweh, from Dr. Moslih Kanaaneh
- All About... al-Birwa, Zochrot
- Fifth Procession of Return by ADRID in al-Birweh, 2002
- Al-Birwa, the story of an uprooted Palestinian village, 2002, Zochrot
- Tour of al-Birwa, July 2nd, 2011, Zochrot
- Fifth Procession of Return by ADRID in al-Birweh, Yosefa Mekaitun, 2002, Zochrot
- Inside a Palestinian refugee camp, Martin Asser BBC, 14 May 2008. Interview with Muhammad Diab from al-Birwa, now refugee in the Shatila refugee camp, Lebanon.