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Other transcription(s)
 • Arabic بيرزيت
Birzeit is located in the Palestinian territories
Location of Birzeit within the Palestinian territories
Coordinates: 31°58′20″N 35°11′44″E / 31.97222°N 35.19556°E / 31.97222; 35.19556Coordinates: 31°58′20″N 35°11′44″E / 31.97222°N 35.19556°E / 31.97222; 35.19556
Palestine grid 169/152
Governorate Ramallah & al-Bireh
 • Type Municipality
 • Head of Municipality Hassib Kaileh
 • Jurisdiction 14,077 dunams (14.0 km2 or 5.4 sq mi)
Population (2006)
 • Jurisdiction 4,529
Name meaning "Well of [olive] oil"[1]

Birzeit (Arabic: بيرزيت‎‎), also Bir Zeit, is a Palestinian town north of Ramallah in the central West Bank. Its population in the 2007 census was 4,529.[2] Birzeit is the home to the Birzeit University.


Birzeit history dates back to the Byzantine era and earlier.[3] West of the town, at Khirbat Bir Zait, are the remains of a building which have been dated to the Crusader era.[4][5] Guérin first noted the remains of a buildings 50 paces on each side. He thought it could be from the Byzantine era, or later.[6]

Ottoman era[edit]

The village was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1517 with all of Palestine, and in 1596 it appeared in the tax registers under the name of Bir Zayt, as being in the nahiya of Jabal Quds in the liwa of Quds, with a population of 26 households. The inhabitants of the village paid taxes on wheat, barley, olive trees, vineyards, fruit trees, and goats and/or beehives.[7]

The French explorer Victor Guérin visited the village in July 1863. He found it to have a population of 1,800 inhabitants, of those 140 were Latin Catholics, the others were "schismatic Greeks" and Muslims. The Catholic parish was administered by a young French missionary, Father Joly. The irrigated gardens were well grown, and the soil naturally fertile. It abounded in vines, figs and pears. He also noted some beautiful walnut trees.[8]

An official Ottoman village list sometime around 1870 listed Bir Zet as having 73 houses and a male population of 250. Of this, 75 men in 20 houses were Muslim, while 175 men in 53 houses were "Latin" Christian.[9]

In 1882, the Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine described Bir Zeit as "a Christian village of moderate size, containing a Greek Church and a Latin Church, with a well to the north, and olives round it." The red-tiled roof of the Latin Church on top of the ridge was a conspicuous feature in the landscape.[10]

In 1906, a British missionary of the Church Missionary Society wrote about an outbreak of cholera in Birzeit thirty years before that began when the mother of a young man who died of cholera in Nablus washed his clothes in the village spring. The disease quickly spread and within a week killed 30 people out of a population of 200-300. The epidemic ended when a village elder ordered the entire population to camp in their vineyards. Three men remained to bury the dead and there were no further victims. The author felt that the incident was notable "as there was no European hand in it from first to last, and it shows what the Fellahin are capable of under wise and energetic native guidance."[11]

British Mandate era[edit]

In a census conducted in 1922 by the British Mandate authorities, the village, called Bair Zait, had a total population of 896; 119 were Muslims and 777 Christian,[12] while in the 1931 census, the village had 251 occupied houses and a total population of 1233; 362 Muslims and 871 Christians.[13]

In 1945, the population was 1,560, all Arabs, while the total land area was 14,088 dunams, according to an official land and population survey.[14] Of this, 6,908 were allocated for plantations and irrigable land, 2,414 for cereals,[15] while 402 dunams were classified as built-up areas.[16]


In the wake of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and after the 1949 Armistice Agreements, Birzeit came under Jordanian rule.


After Six-Day War in 1967, Birzeit has been under Israeli occupation.

Landmark buildings[edit]

Our Lady Queen of Peace - Guadalupe

The town has 200 historic buildings, including over 100 in the old part of town, some dating back to the Mamluk era. Birzeit University was formerly located there. Dozens of buildings vacated by the university's move to Ramallah were restored, reinvigorating social and economic development.[17]

There are three Christian churches in Birzeit. The oldest one is St George Orthodox Church; now the Orthodox Christian community is building another large Orthodox Church, and an Orthodox Christian school that is considered to be the largest in the West Bank. The second church is the Our Lady Queen of Peace - Guadalupe (Roman Catholic), which also runs a high school. The Third church is St. Peter’s Episcopal/Anglican Church.

Education and culture[edit]

The annual Maftoul Festival takes place in Birzeit in October. Women from different villages prepare couscous dishes and are judged by a jury of professional chefs. The goal of the festival is to highlight traditional Palestinian food, empower women and promote rural tourism. It is organized by the Rozana Association for Development and Architectural Heritage, the Palestinian Circus School, the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, Birzeit Women’s Charitable Society, the Palestinian Chefs Association, Heritage House and Birzeit Club.[18]

Notable residents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Palmer, 1881, p. 227
  2. ^ 2007 PCBS Census. Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. p.113.
  3. ^ About Birzeit, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
  4. ^ Pringle, 1997, p. 34
  5. ^ Ellenblum, 2003, pp. 125 n17; 239 -240
  6. ^ Guérin, 1869, p. 34, referred to in Conder and Kitchener, 1882, SWP II, p. 329
  7. ^ Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, 1977, p. 116. According to Hütteroth and Abdulfattah all the inhabitant were Muslim, however, according to Toledano, 1979, p. 84, who studied the same daftar, the whole village was Christian. Quoted in Ellenblum, 2003, pp. 239 -240
  8. ^ Guérin, 1869, pp. 33-34
  9. ^ Socin, 1879, pp. 148-149
  10. ^ Conder and Kitchener, 1882, SWP II, pp. 293-294
  11. ^ Wilson, 1906, pp. 151 -152
  12. ^ Barron, 1923, Table VII, Sub-district of Ramallah, p. 16
  13. ^ Mills, 1932, p. 48
  14. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 64
  15. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 111
  16. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 161
  17. ^ West Bank: Renovating an embattled city
  18. ^ Birzeit‘s Maftoul Festival: Empowering Palestinian women, promoting rural tourism


Further reading[edit]

  • David Lynch: A Divided Paradise: An Irishman in the Holy Land. (New Island, Jan 2009)

External links[edit]