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Arabic transcription(s)
 • Arabicجفنا
 • LatinJufna (official)
Gifna (unofficial)
Jifna is located in the Palestinian territories
Location of Jifna within Palestine
Coordinates: 31°57′43″N 35°12′56″E / 31.96194°N 35.21556°E / 31.96194; 35.21556Coordinates: 31°57′43″N 35°12′56″E / 31.96194°N 35.21556°E / 31.96194; 35.21556
Palestine grid170/152
StateState of Palestine
GovernorateRamallah and al-Bireh
 • TypeVillage council (from 1954)
 • Head of MunicipalityGabi Na'im Kamil[1]
 • Total6,015 dunams (6.0 km2 or 2.3 sq mi)
 • Total1,716
 • Density290/km2 (740/sq mi)
Name meaningGophna[3]

Jifna (Arabic: جفنا‎, Jifnâ) is a Palestinian village in the Ramallah and al-Bireh Governorate in the central West Bank, located 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) north of Ramallah and 23 kilometers (14 mi) north of Jerusalem. A village of about 1,400 people,[4] Jifna has retained a Christian majority since the 6th century CE. Its total land area consists of 6,015 dunams, of which 420 are designated as built-up areas, most of the remainder being covered with olive, fig and apricot groves.[5] Jifna is governed by a village council, led (2008) by chairman Jabi Na'im Kamil.

Jifna was known as Gophnah (Hebrew: גופנה‎) at the time of the First Jewish-Roman War, and after its conquest became a Roman regional capital, though remaining predominantly Jewish. Later the town grew less significant politically, but nevertheless prospered as a Christian locality under Byzantine and later Arab rule due to its location on a trade route. St. George's Church in Jifna was built in the 6th century CE, but fell into disrepair and was not rebuilt until the arrival of the Crusaders in the late 10th century. However, it again fell into ruin after the Crusaders were driven out by the Ayyubids. In modern times, the ruins of St. George's Church have become a tourist attraction.[6] During the period of Ottoman control in Palestine the tower of an ancient Roman structure in Jifna became the location of a jail house.[7]

Jifna has local traditions and legends relating to the Holy Family, and to the village water-spring. It is also locally known for its apricot harvest festival; each year, during the late Spring period, hundreds travel to the village to harvest the fruit during its brief season.[8]


Iron Age and Classical period[edit]

It was suggested by Edward Robinson that Jifna was Ophni of Benjamin, mentioned in the Book of Joshua as one of the "twelve cities."[9][10] Nothing thereafter is recorded in its history until the time of the Roman conquest during the 1st century BCE,[dubious ] when it appears in various records as "Gophna". Gophna was described by Flavius Josephus as the second city of Judea, after Jerusalem, in his account of the First Jewish-Roman Wars during the 1st century CE. The town is depicted as Gophna in the Map of Madaba, situated north of Gibeon (al-Jib),[11] and is also mentioned in rabbinic literature as Beit Gūfnīn, literally meaning a "house of vineyards".[12] The Talmud mentions the place as being inhabited by priests of Aaron's lineage.[13]

Known by the Romans as Cofna,[7] Jifna was a regional capital in the Iudaea Province under the Roman Empire.[6][8][14] Around 50 BCE the Roman general Cassius sold the population into slavery, for failure to pay taxes. They were freed, however, by Mark Antony shortly after he came to power.[6] Jifna was within the area under John b. Hananiah's command in 66 CE,[15] during the First Jewish-Roman War, and was the headquarters of one of the twelve toparchies (administrative districts) of Judea. The Roman emperor Vespasian occupied the town in 68 CE, established an army garrison there, and concentrated within the city Jewish priests and other local notables who had surrendered to him.[6][16] Titus, the future Roman emperor, passed through Gophna during his march to besiege Jerusalem in 70 CE.[17] Gophna had a sizable priestly Israelite population on the wake of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the 130s, and it is possible that an entire synagogue congregation of Gophna (including priests) relocated to Sepphoris in Galilee by the 3rd century CE.[18]

The building of a church dedicated to Saint George during the 6th century CE indicates that by this time Jifna, now under Byzantine rule, had become a Christian town. Besides the church, other remains from this era are located in Jifna, including a Jewish tomb, a tower (Burj Jifna) once used by the Ottomans as a prison, a Roman villa, an olive oil press and a winery.[6][19]

Middle Ages[edit]

A woman in Jifna weaving in the traditional method, 1921

Jifna, along with most of Palestine, was annexed by the Rashidun Caliphate under Umar ibn al-Khattab after the Battle of Ajnadayn in 634.[20] The town became less politically significant under the Arab dynasties of the Umayyads, Abbasids and Fatimids, but remained a major regional center for trade and commerce, due to its location along the Jerusalem–Nazareth road.[19] It was known by the Arabs as Gafeniyyah.[6]

Sources are vague, but it is likely that St. George's Church fell into disrepair during the early decades of Islamic rule, and that unfavorable circumstances for the Christian population prevented them from rebuilding it. However, it was partially rebuilt with old materials by the Crusaders, who conquered the area in 1099.[6] The Crusaders built a large courtyard building in Jifna. It had a monumental gate with a portcullis, with a large vaulted hall and thick walls of fine masonry.[21] After their defeat to the Ayyubids under Saladin in 1187, the church again fell into ruin.[6] A document dated 1182 with the signature of one Raymundus de Jafenia, might indicate a Christian presence at this time.[6][22] According to the American biblical scholar Edward Robinson, there are remains of massive walls in the center of the village, now filled by houses. They were relics of a castle built by the Crusaders. However, the masonry has no characteristics of the Crusader period; rather, the remains display the Arab architectural style of the post-Crusader period, most likely of the 18th century, judging by the dressing of the stones.[6][9]

Ottoman era[edit]

After the Crusaders were succeeded by the Ayyubids and then the Mamluks, the Ottoman Empire conquered Palestine in 1517,[23] and Jifna came under their control for the following 400 years. In 1596 it appeared in the tax registers under the name of "Jifna an-Nasara", being in the nahiya (subdistrict) of Jerusalem of the Jerusalem Sanjak, with a population of 21 households. The villagers paid a fixed tax-rate of 33.3% on agricultural products, including wheat, barley, olive trees, vineyards, fruit trees, goats and beehives, in addition to occasional revenues; a total of 6,470 akçe.[24] It was under the administration of the Bani Zeid subdistrict, part of the larger Jerusalem District, throughout Ottoman rule, being the only all-Christian village in the district. During this period, the main commodity of Jifna was olive oil.[25] Ottoman activity in the village was minimal, but they used the remains of Jifna's castle, known as "Burj Jifna", as a jail house sometime during the 19th century.[7] In the early 1830s, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt conquered most of the Levant, including Palestine. In 1834 there was a revolt against the Egyptian authorities in the Jifna area; 26 residents of Jifna were subsequently exiled to Egypt for their alleged participation in the uprising. They were joined, voluntarily, by two prominent local priests.[6][26]

An Eastern Orthodox Church was built in the village in 1858, and a larger Latin (Catholic) church dedicated to St. Joseph was built in 1859, adjacent to the ruins of St. George's Church.[19][27] In the courtyard of St. George's Church is a sarcophagus.[28] St. George's Church has continued to serve as a place of worship into the modern era and has been the site of archaeological excavation since the mid-19th century.[6] Mass is still held at its altar on certain occasions.[17] In 1882 the Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine described Jifna as an Important Christian village, with a Latin Church and a convent.[29] Also in the 1880s, Jifna was frequently taxed by Ottoman authorities. It also came into consistent armed conflict with another Christian village, Bir Zeit, which in one incident, resulted in the deaths of five men from that village. In retaliation, residents of Bir Zeit uprooted and burned 125 of Jifna's olive groves.[30]

Modern times[edit]

In 1917, during World War I, the Ottomans were defeated by British and Arab forces. After a brief period of military rule, Jifna and its region came under the control of the League of Nations British Mandate, in 1922.[31] In 1947 the United Nations proposed the partitioning of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jifna being a part of the projected Arab state.[31] However, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the whole West Bank region, including Jifna, was annexed by Transjordan to form the Kingdom of Jordan, and the Arab state was stillborn. In Six-Day War in 1967, Jifna have been under Israeli occupation.[32]

After the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Israel, Jifna was placed in "Area B". Thus, its administrative and civil affairs were transferred to the PNA, while security matters remained in Israeli control.[33] Throughout the ongoing Second Intifada, which began in 2000, Jifna has not experienced violence to the same extent as other parts of the West Bank, such as in nearby Ramallah, but its residents face travel restrictions and economic hardship.[34]

On 31 July 2015 a 15-year-old resident was shot dead by an IDF sniper after allegedly throwing a firebomb at an army outpost.[35] In April 2019, the village was attacked a Fatah official and his gunmen, a number of whom made demands that the village’s Christian residents pay the medieval jizya tax, in response to the police questioning of his son for allegedly assaulting a Christian woman from Jifna and her children. The incident did not result in casualties and was condemned by Palestinian government and church officials.[36]

Geography and climate[edit]

A map of the West Bank indicating Jifna's location

Jifna is located on the slope of a hill, standing at an elevation of about 661 meters (2,169 ft) above sea level.[5] It is situated at the intersection of two ancient trade routes, the mountainous north-south route and the east-west route connecting the Jordan Valley with the Mediterranean seacoast.[19] In 1945 its land area consisted of 5,939 dunams, 52 dunams of which were classified as built-up area in 1945.[37][38] Today Jifna has a total jurisdiction over 6,015 dunams, 420 of which are designated as built-up and roughly 2,000 planted with olive, apricot and other fruit trees.[5]

The village is located 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) northwest of Ramallah and al-Bireh and about 23 kilometers (14 mi) north of Jerusalem. The Palestinian refugee camp of Jalazone was built on Jifna's southern lands and is connected to the village by road. The villages of Dura al-Qar' and Ein Siniya are located adjacent to Jifna to the east and northeast respectively. Other nearby localities include Abu Qash to the southwest, Beitin to the southeast, Ein Yabrud to the east, 'Atara to the north and Bir Zeit to the northwest.[5] Jifna is connected to the main Ramallah-Nablus highway by a road at the eastern side of the village.[39]

Jifna experiences a temperate Mediterranean climate. Based on data for nearby Ramallah, average monthly high temperatures range from 53 °F (12 °C) in January to 84 °F (29 °C) in July/August, the corresponding lows being 39 °F (4 °C) and 63 °F (17 °C).[40] Rain is usually restricted to the winter season,[41] from around November until the end of April. The months that receive the most precipitation are January and December and the annual rainfall is 23.2 inches (590 mm).[40]


Year Population
1596 21 households[24]
1838 200[6]
1870 185 males[42][43]
1896 576[44]
1922 447[45]
1927 550[46]
1931 676[47]
1945 910[37][48]
1961 758[49]
1995 649[50]
1997 961[51]
2007 1,716[2]

According to Edward Robinson, Jifna's population in 1838 consisted of about 200 people, of whom only 42 were adult males.[6][26] An Ottoman village list from about 1870 found that Jifna had a population of 185 "Greeks", in a total of 56 houses, though that population count included men, only.[42][43] In 1896 the population of Dschifna was estimated to be about 576 persons.[44]

According to a census conducted in 1931 by the British Mandate authorities, Jifna had a population of 676 inhabitants, in 155 houses.[47] In a 1945 land and population survey carried out by Sami Hadawi, Jifna had 910 inhabitants, 580 Christians and 330 Muslims.[48][37] The modern inhabitants of Jifna belong mainly to eight families, four of whom are originally from the village, while the other five have, at various times, migrated from other countries such as Syria.[46]

In 1994, Jifna experienced a wave of emigration, with about half of its population leaving the town to pursue better livelihoods elsewhere.[50] The first census carried out by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) shows that Jifna had a population of 961, of whom 623 (64.8%) were classified as refugees in 1997.[51] The gender distribution was 465 males (48.4%) and 494 females (51.6%). The age distribution was: Under 15, 330 (34%); 15–29, 275 (29%); 30–65, 304 (32%); Over 65, 50 (5%).[52]

The population of Jifna continues to grow. According to the PCBS, Jifna's mid-year population estimate for 2006 was 1,358.[4] An informal estimate from Autumn 2006 gives the population as 1,500, "25% of whom have had to move to Jerusalem or Ramallah to find jobs". The 2007 census by the PCBS listed Jifna's population as 1,716, of which 856 were males and 860 females.[2]


The remains of the Byzantine-era church in Jifna testifies to the existence of a Christian community prior to the Muslim conquest. It continued to exist during the Middle Ages and the village is still inhabited mainly by Christians. The names of Christian inhabitants from Jifna appeared in a 10th-century inscription on a stone above the gate of St. George's Monastery in the Wadi Qelt.[53]

Ottoman tax records from the late 16th century reveal that Jifna had a Christian population at the time also.[53] An informal survey in 1927 found 550 inhabitants, of whom 325 were Catholics and the remainder reportedly "Christians of other denominations".[46] Palestinian Christians make up about 80% of the residents,[34] while the remaining 20% are Muslims, mostly refugees.[46]

It is certain that most of the Christian residents of Jifna in the 12th century were local inhabitants. Apart from local Christians there was also a Frankish settlement, as is attested by the ruins of a maison forte (manor) built in the lower part of the village. In Jifna, like in many other sites in Palestine, the Crusaders built their settlement in the heart of the local Christian settlement.[53]


Although most of Jifna's cultivable land is covered with olive groves as well as fig, walnut and apricot trees and grape vines, agriculture is no longer the village's main source of income. Many of the village's former farmers are living off other businesses, including restaurants, other small family-owned industries, and simple commerce.[46]

Unlike some other West Bank localities, unemployment is a minor issue in Jifna. However, the average income is low because of the unstable political situation in the Palestinian territories, Israeli checkpoints, the West Bank barrier and the 2006 freezing by Israel of funds to the Palestinian territories—although the latter no longer applies to the West Bank.[46]

According to the PCBS, 98.5% of Jifna's 201 households are connected to electricity through a public network.[54] The same percentage is connected to a sewage system, mostly through a cesspit.[55] Pipe water is provided for 98% of the households primarily through a public network (97.5%), but some residents receive water through a private system (1.5%).[56] The village is home to the Jifna Women's Charitable Society which offers health services and recreational activities for women and children.[57]

Small businesses[edit]

There are three restaurants in Jifna: Al-Burj Restaurant, Red Valley Restaurant and Garden, and Tabash Restaurant,[58] as well as a hotel: al-Murouj Pension.[59] In 2003, the Odeh family of Jifna opened a leisure complex—called the Dream Day Resort—in the village. The complex, containing a half-Olympic-size swimming pool, a children's pool and a jacuzzi is frequented by residents in Jifna and the surrounding area.[60]

Al-Burj Restaurant—also known as "Burj Jifna"—specializes in Palestinian cuisine and contains a café and a Palestinian culture hall.[19] Situated in the center of the village, the restaurant is the site of Jifna's old city. With international funding, the local youth club restored the area, adding bright accents to the stone masonry. The restaurant has become a center of tourism and the complex provides tours for its rooms, olive oil presses and ancient ramparts.[61] Tabash Restaurant was founded in 1962 by a Palestinian refugee family from Jaffa. Initially known as al-Wadi Bar, it received its current name in 1972. The owners and the employees of the restaurant are from the Tabash family.[62]



A church in Jifna, 2012
Western part of Jifna

There are a number of local traditions in Jifna. A prominent legend among Jifna's inhabitants is that the Holy Family rested near an oak tree in the town on their way from Jerusalem. The legend's origins are due to Jifna's location along the ancient Jerusalem-Nazareth road.[6]

A nearby mountain was named Jabal ad-Dik ("Mount of the Rooster") because of a traditional story. According to the tradition, a Jew that lived in Jifna had visited Jerusalem during the Passion. Seeing Jesus rise from the dead, the man immediately converted and told his wife what he saw. His wife refused to believe him unless the rooster she had just killed would come back to life. Instantly, the rooster flew away towards the mountain.[6][63][64] The story was recited in some monasteries on Holy Thursday together with other biblical readings.[6]

A legend exists about Jifna's spring—which the village has used for centuries—concerning how it periodically runs low on water.[6] Popular belief is that this is the work of the djinniye (female spirit). According to Palestinian researcher Tawfiq Canaan, "In Jifna the priest has to go on such an occasions to the dry spring to repeat prayers and burn incense, and thus reconcile the djinniye or force her to let the water flow".[65]

Like many Palestinian villages, the women of Jifna have their own traditional dress. Costumes in the village, known as rumi abyad ("Greek White") and rumi aswad ("Greek Black"), were dresses of hand-woven linen embroidered with the Jifna's own motifs.[66] Preparing burbara, a sweet pudding-like dish made from whole grain wheat, on the Feast of Saint Barbara has been a tradition in Jifna for several centuries.[46]


In April–May 2005 Jifna hosted the first annual International Artists' Workshop in Palestine. The festival, known as the "Jifna Spring" was the first held in a rural village instead of a major city such as Hebron or Ramallah. During the festival, dozens of artists from all over the world collaborated on several projects, including stone sculptures, metalwork, photography, mural paintings and installation pieces. Many of the works were influenced by the "specificity and qualities" of Jifna, while others dealt with the subject of Palestinian identity.[67]

Jifna, locally famous for its apricot harvest, hosts an annual two-day apricot festival in the first week of May. Hundreds of West Bankers flock to participate in the harvest.[8] The festival is also used by Palestinian politicians as an opportunity to give speeches praising Palestinian farmers and encouraging boycotts on Israeli products and reliance on domestic agriculture.[68]

Local government[edit]

Jifna is governed by a village council consisting of ten members including the chairman.[1] The council was founded in 1954, when a prominent resident, Nasri Ilias Samara, pressured the Jordanian authorities to recognize the institution, even though a village was normally required to have a population of at least 1,000 inhabitants for permission to establish a village council. The decision was approved by Jordan's then prime minister. Representatives from Jifna's largest families formed the original council's body, appointing Smara as chairman and Salim Issa Musleh as vice chairman.[69] Jabi Na'im Kamil was elected as the chairman in 2005 and the Badil (Alternative) list—which represents a leftist alliance of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian People's Party—won most of the council seats.[60]


Jifna contains one gender-mixed primary school and kindergarten, founded by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1856 and managed by Jifna's Catholic church.[46][70] The school's staff comprises eight teachers and two nuns, as well as four teachers for the kindergarten.[70][71] Students who have graduated from the school commute to Ramallah or Bir Zeit daily for their secondary and tertiary education. Most university students attend the nearby Bir Zeit University.[46]

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ Palmer, 1881, p. 230
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  10. ^ Van de Velde, 1858, p. 317.
  11. ^ Donner, 1992, p. 50.
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  13. ^ Cf. Talmud, Berakhot 44a
  14. ^ Goodrich-Frier, 1905, p. 186.
  15. ^ Other texts put the commander as "John, the son of Matthias." See: Wars 2.20.4.
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  25. ^ Singer, 1994, p. 77.
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  35. ^ [1] Ha'aretz 1 August 2015
  36. ^ {{cite news |last1=ABU TOAMEH |first1=KHALED |title=GUNMEN ATTACK CHRISTIANS NEAR RAMALLAH AFTER DISPUTE INVOLVING PA OFFICIAL |url= |accessdate=28 April 2019
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  49. ^ Government of Jordan, Department of Statistics, 1964, p. 24 It was further noted (note 2) that it was governed through a village council.
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External links[edit]