|Also spelled||'Amwas, Amwas|
|Date of depopulation||7 June 1967|
|Cause(s) of depopulation||Expulsion by Israeli forces|
|Current localities||Canada Park|
Imwas (Arabic: عِمواس) was a Palestinian Arab village located 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) southeast of the city of Ramla and 26 kilometres (16 mi) from Jerusalem in the Latrun salient of the West Bank. Often identified with the biblical Emmaus, over the course of two millennia, Imwas was intermittently inhabited and was ruled by the Romans (including the Byzantines), Arab caliphates, Crusaders, Ottomans, and the British, as part of the Mandate in Palestine. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Imwas fell under Jordanian control. Its population at the time was predominantly Arab Muslim, though there was an Arab Christian minority.
Captured by the Israeli Defense Forces during the Six-Day War on June 7, 1967 along with the neighbouring villages of Yalo and Bayt Nuba, Imwas was depopulated and then destroyed on the orders of Yitzhak Rabin. Reports of its destruction caused a minor controversy abroad. The residents of the three villages were offered compensation but were not allowed to return. Today the area of the former village lies within Canada Park, which was established by the Jewish National Fund in 1973.
The name of the town was popularly pronounced by its local inhabitants as 'Imwās. Arabic literary sources indicate the name is also pronounced 'Amwās and 'Amawās, the latter being form transcribed by the Syrian geographer Yakut (1179–1229) drawing from earlier sources. At the time of Jerome, when the city was known as Nicopolis, Charles Clermont-Ganneau notes that it was still also known by the Greek forms of 'Ammaôs or 'Emmaus, both beginning with an 'āyin. Moshe Sharon, drawing upon this observation concludes that the Arabic name more faithfully approximates the town's original ancient name when compared against the name as transcribed in the Talmud, where it begins with an 'alef.
Imwas has been identified as the site of ancient Emmaus, where according to the Book of Luke (24:13-35), Jesus appeared to a group of his disciples, including Cleopas, after his death and resurrection. Emmaus is also mentioned in the first Book of the Maccabees as the site where Judas Maccabeus defeated the Syrian General Gorgias in the 2nd century BCE. It was subsequently fortified by Bacchides in 160 BCE, and replaced Gezer as the head of a toparchy in 47 BCE. Edward Robinson relates that its inhabitants were enslaved by Cassius, while Josephus relates that the city was burned to the ground by Varus after the death of Herod in 4 BCE.
Reduced to a small market-town, its importance was recognized by the Emperor Vespasian who established a fortified camp there in 68 CE to house the fifth ("Macedonian") legion. In 131 CE, the city was destroyed by an earthquake. It was rebuilt and renamed Nicopolis ("City of Victory") by Elagabalus in 221 CE, becoming the chief polis in a region that bore its name. Robinson writes that the town was rebuilt "by the exertions of the writer Julius Africanus." In 222 CE, a basilica was erected there, which was rebuilt first by the Byzantines and later by the Crusaders. In the 4th century, the city served as an episcopal see. Remains of a Samaritan synagogue point the presence of a Samaritan community in Imwas in the late Roman period.
Described by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Onomasticon, Jerome is also thought to have referred to the town and the building of a shrine-church therein, when he writes that the Lord "consecrated the house of Cleopas as a church." In the 5th century, a second tradition associated with Emmaus emerges in the writings of Sozomen, who mentions a fountain outside the city where Jesus and his disciples bathed their feet, thus imbuing it with curative powers.
Arab caliphate era
After the conquest of Palestine by forces of the Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century, a military camp was established at Imwas, which formed part of the newly created administrative district of Jund al-Urrdun (District of Jordan). This military camp, among others established in Tiberias and Homs, was made up of Arabian soldiers who were soon to become citizens of the newly conquered areas. The soldiers brought their wives and concubines to the camps, some of whom, according to Philip Hitti, were no doubt captured native women. The governmental framework of the Byzantine era was preserved, though a commander-in-chief/governor-general was appointed from among the new conquerors to head the government, combining executive, judicial and military roles in his person.
In 639, a plague which began in Imwas and spread out from there, ended up killing some 20,000 people, including the commander-in-chief Abu Ubaydah, and his successor Yazid. The caliph Umar appointed Yazid's younger brother Mu'awiyah to the position of commander-in-chief in 640, and he served as the governor of Syria for 20 years before becoming the caliph himself. Studies on the impact of the plague note that it was responsible for a massive depopulation of the countryside, with the consequence that the new Arab rulers, particularly under the Umayyad caliphate which followed, were prompted to intervene more directly in the affairs of these areas than they had intended. Until as late as the 19th century, a well in the village was known locally as Bir at-Taun ("the plague well"), its name suggesting a derivation from these events.
In 723, Willibald of Eichstätt visited Imwas. In his writings, he notes that the church, which he thought lay over the house of Cleopas, was still intact; he also recalls and describes the miraculous water source mentioned by Sozomen. Hugeburc von Heidenheim, a nun who visited Palestine in the 8th century, mentions both the church and the fountain in Imwas in her work on The Life of St. Willibald. By the 9th century, the administrative districts had been redrawn and Imwas was the capital of a sub-district within the larger district of Jund Filastin. The Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi (c. 945-1000), recalls that Imwas had been the capital of its province, while noting, "that the population [was] removed therefrom to be nearer to the sea, and more in the plain, on account of the wells."
By 1009, the church in Imwas had been destroyed by Yaruk, the governor of Ramla, after the Fatamid caliph of Egypt, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, ordered the destruction of Christian sites, affecting some 30,000 churches in the territory under his rule. Carsten Peter Thiede describes this destruction and other acts of suppression against Christian worship as one of the main impetuses behind the First Crusade, in which, "Saving Christian sites and guaranteeing access to them was paramount."
William of Tyre, describing the arrival of the armies of the First Crusade to Imwas from Ramla in 1099, notes the abundance of water and fodder available at the site. Throughout the 12th century, Imwas continued to be identified as the Biblical Emmaus by Eastern Orthodox Christians. For example, in 1106-7, Abbot Daniel writes of Imwas: "Once there was a large village here, and a church was built here, but now all is destroyed by the pagans and the village of Emmaus in empty. It was near the road beyond the mountains on the right hand as you go from Jerusalem to Jaffa." John Phocas also located Emmaus in the same position. Conversely, Western sources in the late 12th century identified Biblical Emmaus with another village closer to Jerusalem: Qaryat al-'Inab or Abu Ghosh. Denys Pringle and Peter E. Leach attribute the reasons for this shift as stemming from a difference in the description of the distance between Emmaus and Jerusalem in the Gospel texts, versus the distance as transcribed in the earliest Greek Gospel codices. In the Gospel texts, more widely embraced by the West, the distance is transcribed as 60 stades, whereas the Codex Sinaiticus, which was known to Eusebius and Jerome, places the distance at 160 stades.
The identification of Biblical Emmaus with two villages in the 12th century has led to some confusion among modern historians when apprehending historical documents from this time. Generally-speaking however, Abu Ghosh was referred to by the Latin Biblical name for Emmaus, Castellum Emmaus, whereas Imwas was referred to simply as Emmaus. In 1141, Robert of Sinjil leased the "land of Emmaus", which included Imwas and six other villages, to Raymond of Le Puy, the master of the Hospitallers for 500 bezants a year. In February 1151 or 1152, the terms of the lease were modified and half of the tithes from the lands in question were accorded to the Hospitallers by the patriarch of Jerusalem, William. An 1186 reference to a "bailiff of Emmaus" named Bartholomew suggests that the Hospitallers had an established a commandery in Imwas. There is also archaeological and documentary evidence that suggests that the local Eastern Christian population continued to live in Imwas during this time, and likely attended services alongside the Crusaders at the parish church dedicated to St. George which was constructed in the village by the latter on the site of the ruins of the earlier churches.
Imwas was likely abandoned in 1187 and unlike the neighboring villages of Beit Nuba, Yalo, Yazur and Latrun, it is not mentioned in chronicles describing the Third Crusade of 1191-2, and it is unclear whether it was reoccupied by the Hospitallers between 1229 and 1244. The village was re-established just north of where the church had been located.
Imwas came under the rule of the Ottoman empire in the early 16th century and by the end of that century, the church built by the Crusaders had been converted into a mosque, which itself stood for almost a century before falling into ruin. In 1596 its population was reported as 24 Muslim families.
Edward Robinson visited Imwas during his mid-19th century travels in Syria and Palestine. He describes it as "a poor hamlet consisting of a few mean houses." He also mentions that there are two fountains of living water and that the one lying just beside the village must be that mentioned by Sozomen in the 5th century, Theophanes in the 6th, and by Willibald in the 8th. The ruins of the "ancient church" are described by Robinson as lying just south of the built-up area of the village at that time.
Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau also visited Imwas in the late 19th century and describes a local tradition centered around a bathhouse dating to the Roman era. The upper part of the structure, which protruded above the ground, was known to locals as "Sheikh Obaid" and was considered to be the burial place of Abu Ubayd who succumbed to the plague in 639. The site served as both a religious sanctuary and cemetery until the town's depopulation in 1967.
In 1875, the Carmelites of Bethlehem acquired the site containing the ruins of the church of Imwas. The debris was removed in 1887-8, and excavations were conducted intermittently from November 1924 to September 1930 by the Ecole Biblique. In 1884, Dr. C. Shick discovered a baptistry with a well-preserved font dating to the 4th century. The square building housed an apse and a shallow cruciform basin where it is thought that those undergoing baptismal rites would stand.
During the 1948 Palestine War, the village held strategic importance due to its location on the Latrun salient, affording control over the road to Jerusalem. Arab Liberation Army forces were there from April to the middle of May until the arrival of the Arab Legion. Israeli forces attacked the position several times but failed to gain control during the Battle of Latrun.
In 1961 the village had a population of 1,955 mostly Arab Muslims with a minority of 40 Arab Christians. The total land area of the village consisted of 5,167 dunums, of which 4218 dunums were cultivable.
Imwas was taken and destroyed in June 1967 on the orders of Yitzhak Rabin due to its strategic location which afforded control over the route to Jerusalem. Israel further justified the decision citing its residents participation in the Siege of Jerusalem two decades earlier, and in an attack by Egyptian commandos on Lod just days before the village was taken.
Since 2003, the Israeli NGO Zochrot ('Remember' in Hebrew) has lobbied the Jewish National Fund for permission to post signs designating the Palestinian villages in Canada Park. After petitioning the Israeli High Court, permission was granted. However, subsequently the signs have been stolen or vandalized. On June 23, 2007, Zochrot joined the refugees of the village Imwas for a tour of the remains of their village.
Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour made Imwas the subject of one of his paintings. The work, named for the village, was one of a series of four on destroyed Palestinian villages that he produced in 1988; the others being Yalo, Bayt Dajan and Yibna.
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