Bayt Mahsir

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Bayt Mahsir
Panorama feom west.JPG
Panorama from west, 2008
Bayt Mahsir is located in Mandatory Palestine
Bayt Mahsir
Bayt Mahsir
Arabic بيت محسير
Name meaning the house of Mahsîr[1]
Subdistrict Jerusalem
Coordinates 31°47′40″N 35°02′05″E / 31.79444°N 35.03472°E / 31.79444; 35.03472Coordinates: 31°47′40″N 35°02′05″E / 31.79444°N 35.03472°E / 31.79444; 35.03472
Palestine grid 153/133
Population 2,400[2][3] (1945)
Area 16,268 dunams
Date of depopulation May 10–11, 1948[4]
Cause(s) of depopulation Military assault by Yishuv forces
Current localities Beyt Me'ir,[5][6] Mesillat Tziyyon[6]

Bayt Mahsir (Arabic: بيت محسير) was a Palestinian Arab village in the Jerusalem Subdistrict. It was depopulated during the 1947–48 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine on May 10, 1948 by the Harel Brigade of Operation Makkabi. It was located 9 km west of Jerusalem.


A large medieval oil press, about 10 x 35 meters, was recorded NW of the village in 1947 by representatives from the Palestine Antiquities Department. The representative thought it was from the Ayyubid or Crusader era, later examination of surviving pictures by D. Pringle determined them to be from the Crusader era. It has since been destroyed.[7][8]

Ottoman era[edit]

In 1838 Beit Mahsir was noted as a Muslim village, located in the District of Beni Malik, west of Jerusalem.[9]

An Ottoman village list from about 1870 found 50 houses and a population of 130, though that population count included men only.[10][11]

In 1883, the Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine (SWP) described Beit Mahsir as “a village of moderate size, standing on a hill at the end of the higher spurs overlooking the lower hills on the west. It has olives to the north and a spring to the north-east."[12]

In 1892, P. Baldensperger recounted a story about the 'Ajami of Beit Mahsir, "whose lands were mixed with the village lands, [he] killed several animals which were on his lands. The people thought it was enemies who did it, and one evening they hid themselves, and saw the rider, [..] He asked them what they wanted, and they told him: If thou art the 'Ajami, show us thy lands. The next morning he had shown them by a boundary line all around his lands, and since then, nobody interferes with his grounds. A camel which was feeding on an olive tree was found hanged between its branches; and at another time a jackal was found standing dead with a candle in its mouth at the door of the Makam. Thus the 'Ajami punishes man and beast for going on, or taking anything from his grounds."[13]

Baldensperger later recounted the meeting with a Dervish who had stayed "with 'Ajami" (apparently some mythical creature) at the 'Ajami shrine above Bayt Mahsir.[14]

In 1896 the population of Bet Mahsir was estimated to be about 258 persons.[15]

British Mandate era[edit]

In the 1922 census of Palestine, during the early British Mandate of Palestine period, there were 1,367 villagers, all Muslims,[16] increasing in the 1931 census to 1,920 Muslims, in 445 houses.[17]

In 1944/5, the village had a population of 2,400 Muslims,[2] and the total land area was 16,268 dunams.[3] Of this, 1,348 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards, 6,225 dunams were for cereals,[18] while 77 dunams were built-up (urban) Arab land.[19]

Bayt Mahsir had three schools; two schools for boys and an elementary school for girls. Bayt Mahsir contains a number of khirbat, including al-Huwaytiyya, al-Masi, Khatula and al-Sallam.[20]

The villagers took pride in the fact that the last Imam of its mosque, Shaykh Khalil As'ad, was a graduate of Al-Azhar University in Cairo.[20]

1948, aftermath[edit]

Maqam al-'Ajami, in 2008

According to the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, the village remaining structures on the village land are: "Several village houses have been spared, and are for the most part interspersed among the houses of the settlement of Beit Meir. Two large, rectangular-shaped, almost identical houses built of limestone rise above the Israeli settlement's cabin-like residences. The remains of a flour mill, a metal machine with flywheels fitted over a stone structure, can still be seen. There is a wild forest of old trees on the eastern edge of the village site, on top of the mountain. The tomb of al-'Ajami, together with other graves, are among the trees."[6]

The Maqam al-'Ajami, or tomb of al-'Ajami, was examined by Petersen in 1994. It is located south east of the village site, on a hill in the present Hamasrek Nature Reserve. The name is identified by Tawfiq Canaan as coming from Ahmad al-'Ajami, called the Persian, though Canaan doubted that he was of Persian origin.[21][22] The representative from the Palestine Antiquities Department dated it to the seventeenth century in 1947, a date which Petersen find "not inconsistent" with the architecture of the building.[23]



  1. ^ Palmer, 1881, p. 286
  2. ^ a b Department of Statistics, 1945, p. 24
  3. ^ a b Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 56
  4. ^ Morris, 2004, p. xx, village #336. Also gives cause of depopulation.
  5. ^ Morris, 2004, p. xxi, settlement #28.
  6. ^ a b c Khalidi, 1992, p. 277.
  7. ^ Pringle, 1997, p. 28
  8. ^ Petersen, 2002, p. 124
  9. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1841, vol 3, Appendix 2, p. 123
  10. ^ Socin, 1879, p. 146
  11. ^ Hartmann, 1883, p. 140
  12. ^ Conder and Kitchener, 1883, SWP III, p. 16
  13. ^ Baldensperger, 1893, p. 219
  14. ^ Baldensperger, 1913, pp. 76-96
  15. ^ Schick, 1896, p. 125
  16. ^ Barron, 1923, p. 15
  17. ^ Mills, 1932, p. 38
  18. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 101
  19. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 151
  20. ^ a b Khalidi, 1992, p. 276
  21. ^ Canaan, 1927, p. 251, cited in Petersen, 2002, p. 125
  22. ^ meaning "The Persian Sheikh", according to Palmer, 1881, p. 327
  23. ^ Petersen, 2002, p. 125


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