|• Also spelled||al-Bira (unofficial)|
|Governorate||Ramallah & al-Bireh|
|• Head of Municipality||Umar Hammayil|
|• Jurisdiction||22,406 dunams (22.4 km2 or 8.6 sq mi)|
|Name meaning||"The Well of the Palace"|
Al-Bireh, al-Birah, or el-Bira (Arabic: البيرة; also known historically as Castrum Mahomeria, Magna Mahomeria, Mahomeria Major, Birra, or Beirothah) is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank, 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) north of Jerusalem. It is situated on the central ridge running through the West Bank and is 860 meters (2,820 ft) above sea level, covering an area of 22.4 square kilometers (8.6 sq mi).
Because of its location Al-Bireh served as an economic crossroad between the north and south, along the caravan route between Jerusalem and Nablus. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the city had a population of approximately 39,202 in the 2007 census.
The Crusaders captured and named the town Birra. It was also called Castrum Mahomeria, Magna Mahomeria or Mahomeria Major. It was one of 21 villages given by King Godfrey as a fief to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1114, the gift was re-confirmed by Baldwin I of Jerusalem.
In 1156, 92 people from Mahomeria pledged their allegiance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and a further 50 names were added in the next three decades. Hence, it has been estimated that the total Frankish population at this time was 500-700.
The Crusaders built a castle, church and hospice there. The latter two buildings were built by the Knights Templar in 1146 and belonged to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Ayyubids under Saladin drove away the Crusaders from Birra when they reconquered interior Palestine after the Battle of Hattin in 1187, and completely demolished the town. Yaqut al-Hamawi mentions seeing the ruins a few times during his travels in the area. Nearing the end of Ayyubid rule, in 1280, the modern town of al-Bireh was an inhabited village. The Ayyubids built a mosque in the town dedicated to Umar ibn al-Khattab adjacent to the church ruins.
Al-Bireh, like the rest of Palestine, was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1517, and in the census of 1596 the village, called Bira al-Kubra, was a part of the nahiya ("subdistrict") of Al-Quds which was under the administration of the liwa ("district") of Al-Quds. It had a population of 45 households, all Muslim, and paid taxes on wheat, barley, olive trees, fruit trees, occasional revenues, beehives and/or goats.
After the 1834 Arab revolt in Palestine, the Ottoman authorities conscripted many men from Al-Bireh as soldiers. In 1838, when Robinson visited, 60 had been taken away to be soldiers, out of a total population of 700.
An Ottoman village list from about 1870 showed that Al-Bireh had a population of 399 Muslims in 142 houses, and 20 "Greeks" in 5 houses, though that population count included men, only. It was further noted that the name meant "The cistern".
British Mandate era
In the 1922 census of Palestine conducted by the British Mandate authorities, Al-Bireh had a population of 1,479; 1,407 Muslims, and 72 Christians, increasing at the time of the 1931 census to 2,292, 2044 Muslim and 248 Christians, in 541 houses.
In 1945, the town's residents numbered 2,920, of which 280 were Christians and 2,640 Muslims,, while urban Bireh had 967 dunams of land, and rural Bireh 22,045 dunams, according to an official land and population survey. Of this, 5,162 dunams were plantations and irrigable land, 11,226 used for cereals, while 759 dunams were built-up (urban) land.
On June 6, 1967, Israeli troops occupied the city in the Six-Day War. In 1994, the civil administration of the city was turned over to the Palestinian National Authority under the Oslo Accords. Al-Bireh is the second largest center of Palestinian administration after Gaza. Besides the governor’s headquarters, it also hosts a considerable number of governmental, non-governmental, and private organizations, including the Ministries of Transportation, Supply, Information, Public Works and Higher Education, as well as the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Due to its proximity with Ramallah, the cities form a single constituency for elections to the Palestinian National Authority.
The 1997 census carried out by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics counted 27,856 residents, of which the gender distribution was exactly half male and half female. The majority of the inhabitants were Palestinian refugees who made up 55.4% of the total population. In the 2007 PCBS census, there were 38,202 people living in the city.
Al-Bireh established a city council headed by mayor Eid Musa in 1928 under the British Mandate. Eight other mayors took office either through elections or government appointments. The city had some well known mayors, including Abudul Jawad Saleh who was mayor in the 1970s until exiled by the Israelis. He later went on to become a member of the PLO executive committee and then minister of agriculture in the Palestinian Authority. In 1982, Israel instated a civil administration, but later appointed an Arab mayor, Hassan al-Tawil. In 1988, after two years in office, he was stabbed and critically wounded outside his office. In 1996, a 12-member municipal council was established by the Palestinian National Authority with Sheikh Jamal al-Tawil as mayor.
In the Palestinian municipal elections in 2005, the Hamas-backed Reform and Change List won 9 of the 15 seats, while independent lists won the remaining 6. The current mayor is Umar Hammayil. Al-Bireh, located in Area A, is under the complete control of the PNA.
Health and education
In 2010, the Jerusalem Fund, National Arab American Medical Association Foundation and Physicians for Peace dedicated the Palestine Diabetes Institute in al-Bireh. Al-Quds University maintains a campus in al-Bireh.
The 7,000-seat Majed Ass'ad or Al Bireh International Stadium was completed in 2010; originally constructed in 1996, it was upgraded to international standards from 2006 to 2010 at a cost of €3 million. The work was funded by France, the German Development Bank, the UN Development Agency, and FIFA. Construction was halted by the Israeli Supreme Planning Council on November 1, 2009, but resumed in late December. In November 2009, the nearby settlement of Psagot petitioned the High Court of Justice to have the stadium shut down, citing concerns that rowdy soccer fans might attack Psagot.
The Palestinian Center for Judo, Karate and Aerobics is located in al-Bireh.
- Ahmad Sa'adat, PFLP secretary-general currently imprisoned in Israel
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