Bethlehem of Galilee

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Bethlehem of Galilee
בֵּית לֶחֶם הַגְּלִילִית
Templar Architecture In Bethlehem galilee 2004.jpg
Bethlehem of Galilee is located in Israel
Bethlehem of Galilee
Bethlehem of Galilee
Coordinates: 32°44′11.85″N 35°11′28.72″E / 32.7366250°N 35.1913111°E / 32.7366250; 35.1913111Coordinates: 32°44′11.85″N 35°11′28.72″E / 32.7366250°N 35.1913111°E / 32.7366250; 35.1913111
Grid position 167/237 PAL
District Northern
Council Jezreel Valley
Affiliation Moshavim Movement
Founded Bronze Age (ancient town)
1906 (Templer colony)
1948 (moshav)
Population (2015)[1] 777

Bethlehem of Galilee (Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶם הַגְּלִילִית, Beit Lehem HaGlilit; lit. "the Galilean Bethlehem") is a moshav in northern Israel. Located in the Galilee near Kiryat Tivon, around 10 kilometres north-west of Nazareth and 30 kilometres east of Haifa, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Jezreel Valley Regional Council. In 2015 it had a population of 777.

The modern moshav is located at the site of the ancient Israelite settlement known as Bethlehem of Zebulun or Berlehem Zoria. The town existed as Christian settlement in the classic era and was populated during the Middle Ages. It was reestablished as a Templer Bet Lam colony in the 19th century and turned into Jewish moshav in 1948.


To distinguish the city from the city of Bethlehem near Jerusalem, it was originally known as Bethlehem of Zebulun, whilst the town near Jerusalem was called "Bethlehem of Judea."[citation needed] In the Jerusalem Talmud it is referred to as Beth Lehem Zoria, as it was part of the kingdom of Tyre at the time. Until the late 19th century, ruins of a church and a synagogue could be seen there, and archaeological findings "from the early Roman Period"[2] show, it was a prosperous city. So the biblical Bethlehem of Zebulon is "identified"[2] by archaeologists with today's Bethlehem of Galilee.

Due to its proximity to Nazareth, some historians believe that it is the Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Aviram Oshri, a senior archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, supports this claim,[3] although others at this institution reject it.[4]

Major building remains and pottery from the forth-fifth century Byzantine era have been found here,[5] together with major remains from Umayyad, Abbasid (eighth century CE) and Mamluk eras (fourteenth–fifteenth centuries CE).[6]

Ottoman era[edit]

In 1517, the village was included in the Ottoman empire, and in the 1596 tax-records it appeared as Bayt Lahm, located in the Nahiya of Tabariyya of the Liwa of Safad. The population was 27 households and two bachelors, all Muslim. They paid a tax rate of 25% on agricultural products, which included wheat, barley, cotton, vegetable and fruit gardens, occasional revenues, goats and beehives; a total of 1200 Akçe.[7][8]

In 1859, the British consul Rogers stated that the population was 110, and the tillage at sixteen feddans.[9]

In 1875 Victor Guérin visited and noted that Bethlehem was a small village, which had succeeded a town of the same name.[10] He further noted the ruins of two buildings; one, completely destroyed, had been constructed of good cut stones; the entrance was at the south façade. He thought, from its orientation north and south, that it was a synagogue. The other building, which lay east and west, may have been a Christian church. On its site were seen a few shafts, four of which were still in situ and half covered up.[11]

In 1882, the Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine described it as "The ancient Bethlehem of Zebulon. A village principally built of adobe on high ground in the border of the wooded country. The nearest water is in Wady el Melek, on the north (Ras el 'Ain), and at the springs near Muwarah on the south."[9]

In 1906 Templers from the German Colony in Haifa established a colony in Galilee,[12] naming it for the ancient city.

British mandate era[edit]

In the 1922 census of Palestine conducted by the British authorities, Bait Lam had a population of 224; 111 Christians and 113 Muslims.[13] Of the Christians, 95 were Protestant and 16 were Greek Catholics (Melkites).[14] This had increased slightly by the 1931 census to a population of 235; 135 Muslim, 99 Christians and 1 Jew, in a total of 51 inhabited houses.[15]

Restored historic home in Bethlehem of Galilee

In 1932 the Nazi Party gained its first two members in Palestine; Karl Ruff and Walter Aberle from the Templer colony in Haifa.[16] In the course of the 1930s, Bethlehemites also joined the party, indicating the fading affinity to the Templers' original ideals. By August 1939, 17% of all German Christians in Palestine were members of the Nazi Party.[17] After the Nazi takeover in Germany, all international schools of German language subsidized or fully financed by government funds were obliged to employ teachers aligned to the Nazi Party. In 1933, Templer functionaries appealed to Paul von Hindenburg and the Foreign Office not to use swastika symbols for German institutions in Palestine and voiced opposition to the boycott of German Jewish shops.[18] Later, this opposition subsided. On 20 August 1939 the German government called on German Christians in Palestine to join the Wehrmacht and 350 men enlisted.

After the start of World War II, all Germans in Palestine were declared enemy aliens. The British authorities sent them to Sarona, Bethlehem (Galilee), Waldheim (today's Allonei Abba) and Wilhelma. In summer 1941, 665 German internees, mostly young families with children, were deported to Australia, leaving those who were too old or sick. In December 1941 and in the course of 1942 another 400 German internees, mostly wives and children of men who had enlisted in the Wehrmacht, were released - via Turkey - to Germany for the purpose of family reunification.[19]

In 1945 the population of Beit Lam consisted of 370 people, and the total land area was 7,526 dunams according to an official land and population survey.[20][better source needed] There were 210 Muslims and 160 Christians.[21] 6 dunams of land were designated for citrus and bananas, 278 dunams for plantations and irrigable land, 4,796 for cereals,[22][better source needed] while 51 dunams were built-up areas.[23][better source needed]

In 1945 the Italian and Hungarian internees were released but the Britons refused to repatriate the remaining German internees to the British zone in Germany. In 1947, they were allowed to emigrate to Australia.[24] By May 14, 1948, when Israel declared independence, only 50 Templers remained in the country.[25]


On 17 April 1948 the Haganah captured the village and it was resettled by Jewish farmers, becoming a moshav. Much of the original Templer architecture survives, and is similar in style to the homes built by the Templers in other parts of the country, such as Sarona in Tel Aviv, Wilhelma (today Bnei Atarot) and the German colonies of Haifa and Jerusalem.

In recent years, tourism has replaced agriculture as the main economic branch. A dairy, a herb farm, restaurants and country-style accommodation are among the tourist-oriented businesses in the village today.[12]


  1. ^ "List of localities, in Alphabetical order" (PDF). Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Negev and Gibson, 2001, p. 80
  3. ^ Bethlehem National Geographic
  4. ^ "Israeli Archeologist says Jesus was born in Bethlehem...of Galilee?". Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  5. ^ Dalali-Amos, 2011, Bet Lehem Ha-Gelilit
  6. ^ Tepper, 2016, Bet-Lehem Ha-Gelilit
  7. ^ Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, 1977, p. 188
  8. ^ Note that Rhode, 1979, p. 6 writes that the register that Hütteroth and Abdulfattah studied from the Safad-district was not from 1595/6, but from 1548/9
  9. ^ a b Conder and Kitchener, 1881, SWP I, p. 270
  10. ^ Guérin, 1880, pp. 393
  11. ^ Guérin, 1880, pp. 393-394; as given by Conder and Kitchener, 1881, SWP I, p. 301
  12. ^ a b Yet to be discovered: The Jezreel Valley Haaretz
  13. ^ Barron, 1923, Table XI, Sub-district of Haifa, p. 33
  14. ^ Barron, 1923, Table XVI, p. 49
  15. ^ Mills, 1932, p. 88
  16. ^ Balke, 2001, p. 41.
  17. ^ Sauer, 1996, p. 17
  18. ^ Balke, 2001, p. 81
  19. ^ Sauer, 1996, pp. 18seqq.
  20. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 48
  21. ^ Department of Statistics, 1945, p. 13
  22. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 89
  23. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 139
  24. ^ Sauer, 1996, p. 19.
  25. ^ Sauer, 1996, p. 20


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