Tell es-Safi

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Tell es-Safi

تلّ الصافي

Tall al Safi
Tel es-Safi, 2008
Tel es-Safi, 2008
Etymology: The clear, or bright mound. (Name dates from the 12th century)[1]
Tell es-Safi is located in Israel
Tell es-Safi
Tell es-Safi
Tell es-Safi in Mandatory Palestine
Coordinates: 31°41′59″N 34°50′49″E / 31.69972°N 34.84694°E / 31.69972; 34.84694Coordinates: 31°41′59″N 34°50′49″E / 31.69972°N 34.84694°E / 31.69972; 34.84694
Palestine grid135/123
Geopolitical entityMandatory Palestine
Date of depopulation9–10 July 1948[4]
 • Total27,794 dunams (27.794 km2 or 10.731 sq mi)
 • Total1,290[2][3]
Cause(s) of depopulationMilitary assault by Yishuv forces

Tell es-Safi (Arabic: تل الصافي‎, romanizedTall aṣ-Ṣāfī, "the white hill"; Hebrew: תל צפית, Tel Tzafit) was a Palestinian village, located on the southern banks of Wadi 'Ajjur, 35 kilometers (22 mi) northwest of Hebron which had its Palestinian population expelled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war on orders of Shimon Avidan, commander of the Givati Brigade.[5]

Archaeological excavations show that the site (a tell or hill city) was continuously inhabited since the 5th millennium BCE.[6] It is believed to be the location of the Biblical Philistine city of Gath. On the Madaba Map, the name is Saphitha, while the Crusaders called it Blanche Garde. It is mentioned by Arab geographers in the 13th and 16th centuries. Under the Ottoman Empire, it was part of the district of Gaza. In modern times, the houses were built of sun-dried brick. The villagers were Muslim and cultivated cereals and orchards.

Today Tell es-Safi is an Israeli national park encompassing an archaeological site thought to have been the Philistine city of Gath mentioned in the Bible.[7] The remains of the Crusader fort and the Arab village can also be seen on the tell.[6]

Location and topography[edit]

Tel Tzafit excavations

Tell es-Safi sits on a site 300 feet (91 m) above the plain of Philistia and 700 feet (210 m) above sea level, and its white-faced precipices can be seen from the north and west from several hours distant.[7] Tell es-Safi is situated between the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Beit Shemesh and is one of the country's largest Bronze and Iron Age sites.[8]


Excavations at Tell es-Safi since 1996[8] indicate that the site was settled, "virtually continuously from the Chalcolithic until the modern periods."[6]

Bronze and Iron Ages[edit]

Stratigraphic evidence attests to settlement in the Late Bronze and Iron Age (I & II) periods.[6] A large city in the Iron Age, the site was "enclosed on three sides by a large man-made siege-moat."[9]

It is now widely accepted that Tell es-Safi was the site of the Philistine city of Gath. The identification was formerly opposed by Albright, who noted its proximity to Tel Miqne (Ekron), yet the recent excavations turned up more supportive evidence for Tell es-Safi.[10][11][12] As Schniedewind writes, the big reason why Gath was so important for the Philistines in the eighth century BCE was its easily defended geographical position: Albright argued that Tell es-Safi was too close to Tel Miqne/Ekron to be identified with Philistine Gath. It is true that the sites are only 8 km apart. However, this seems to be a moot point now since there is no doubt that both Tell es-Safi and Tel Miqne were major sites in the Middle Bronze through the Iron Age. The real question is how to understand their proximity. First, the ideal agricultural features of this region of the southern coastal plain explain why these two sites were so close together. Additionally, we cannot be certain that the two sites flourished simultaneously. Literary sources ... suggest that Gath flourished in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages until its destruction by the Assyrians in the late eighth century B.C.E. The heyday of Ekron, on the other hand, was the seventh century B.C.E., after the site was taken over by the Assyrians as an agricultural administrative center (Dothan and Gitin 1993).[13]

According to 2010 reports, Israeli archeologists have uncovered a Philistine temple and evidence of a major earthquake in biblical times. Other major finds were evidence of the destruction of Gath by Hazael King of Aram-Damascus around 830 BCE, and evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan.[14] Radiocarbon dating in 2015 showed an early appearance of Philistine material culture in the city.[15]

Byzantine period[edit]

The place appears on the Madaba Map as Saphitha.

Crusader and Ayyubid period[edit]

During the Crusades, the site was called Blanchegarde, ("White guard"), likely referring to the white rock outcrop next to the site.[16] In 1142 a fort was built on the site by King Fulk, it was dismantled after being taken by Saladin in 1191,[16][17] but reconstructed by Richard of England in 1192. King Richard was nearly captured while inspecting his troops next to the site.[16] Shortly thereafter Blanchegard was retaken by Muslims forces. The remnants of the square castle and its four towers served as a place of some importance in the village well into the 19th century.[7][18][19]

Yaqut al-Hamawi, writing in the 1220s, described the place as a fort near Bayt Jibrin in the Ramleh area.[16][20]

Mamluk period[edit]

The Arab geographer Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali noted around 1495 that a village by this name was within the administrative jurisdiction of Gaza.[16][21]

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 being in the nahiya (subdistrict) of Gaza under Gaza Sanjak, with a population of 88 Muslim households; an estimated 484 persons. The villagers paid a fixed tax rate of 25% on a number of crops, including wheat, barley and sesame, and fruits, as well as goats and beehives; a total of 13,300 akçe.[22]

In 1838 Edward Robinson noted Tell es-Safieh as a Muslim village, located in the Gaza district.[23] He further described it as "an isolated oblong hill or ridge, lying from S. in the plain, the highest part being towards the South. The village lies near the middle; lower down." The Sheikh, Muhammed Sellim, belonged to the 'Azzeh family of Bayt Jibrin. After his family had taken part in the rebellion of 1834, his father and uncle had been beheaded, and remaining family was ordered to take up residence at Tell es-Safi.[24]

In 1863 Victor Guérin visited, and noted two small Muslim walīs.[25] An Ottoman village list of about 1870 counted 34 houses and a population of 165, though the population count included men, only.[26][27]

In 1883, the Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine described Tell al-Safi as a village built of adobe brick with a well in the valley to the north.[28] James Hastings notes that the village contained a sacred wely.[7]

In 1896 the population of Tell es-safije was estimated to be about 495 persons.[29]

British Mandate era[edit]

In the 1922 census of Palestine conducted by the British Mandate authorities, Tal al-Safi had a population of 644 inhabitants, all Muslims,[30] increasing in the 1931 census to 925, still all Muslim, in a total of 208 inhabited houses.[31]

The villagers of Tall al-Safi had a mosque, a marketplace, and a shrine for a local sage called Shaykh Mohammad. In the 1945 statistics, the total population was 1,290, all Muslims,[3] and the land area was 27,794 dunams of land.[2] Of this, a total of 19,716 dunums of land were used for cereals, 696 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards,[32] while 68 dunams were classified as built-up (urban) areas.[33]

1948, and after[edit]

In 1948, Tell es-Safi was the destination for the women and children of Qastina, sent away by the menfolk of Qastina at this time, but they returned after discovering there was insufficient water in the host village to meet the newcomers' needs.[34]

On 7 July Givati commander Shimon Avidan issued orders to the 51st Battalion to take the Tall al-Safi area and "to destroy, to kill and to expel [lehashmid, leharog, u´legaresh] refugees encamped in the area, in order to prevent enemy infiltration from the east to this important position."[35] According to Benny Morris, the nature of the written order and, presumably, accompanying oral explanations, probably left little doubt in the battalion OC's minds that Avidan wanted the area cleared of inhabitants.[36][37]

In 1992, Walid Khalidi wrote that the site was overgrown with wild vegetation, mainly foxtail and thorny plants, interspersed with cactuses, date-palm and olive trees. He noted the remains of a well and the crumbling stone walls of a pool. The surrounding land was planted by Israeli farmers with citrus trees, sunflowers, and grain. A few tents belonging to Bedouin were occasionally pitched nearby.[16]

The site is now an Israeli national park and the site of ongoing archaeological excavations.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Palmer, 1881, p. 275
  2. ^ a b c Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 50
  3. ^ a b Department of Statistics, 1945, p. 23
  4. ^ Morris, 2004, p. xix, village number #292. Also gives cause of depopulation
  5. ^ Morris, 2004, p. 436
  6. ^ a b c d Negev and Gibson, 2005, p. 445
  7. ^ a b c d Hastings and Driver, 2004, p. 114
  8. ^ a b Archaeology: The Science of the Human Past, Mark Sulton
  9. ^ Wigoder, 2005, pp. 348–9.
  10. ^ Gath in the Bible
  11. ^ Bromiley, 1982, pp. 411-413
  12. ^ Horton Harris (2011). "The location of Ziklag: a review of the candidate sites, based on Biblical, topographical and archaeological evidence". Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 143 (2): 119–133. doi:10.1179/003103211x12971861556954.
  13. ^ William M. Schniedewind, The Geopolitical History of Philistine Gath. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 309 (Feb., 1998), pp. 69–77
  14. ^ In the Spotlight, Jerusalem Post. 07/29/2010
  16. ^ a b c d e f Khalidi, 1992, p. 222
  17. ^ Conder and Kitchener, 1882, SWP II, p. 440
  18. ^ Pringle, 1997, p. 93
  19. ^ Rey, 1871, pp. 123-125; illustrated
  20. ^ Le Strange, 1890, p.544
  21. ^ Le Strange, 1890, p. 41
  22. ^ Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, 1977, p. 150. Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 222
  23. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1841, vol 3, Appendix 2, p. 119
  24. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1841, vol 2, pp. 362- 367
  25. ^ Guérin, 1869, pp. 90 −96
  26. ^ Socin, 1879, p. 162
  27. ^ Hartmann, 1883, p. 144 noted 80 houses
  28. ^ Conder and Kitchener, 1882, pp. 415416 Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 222
  29. ^ Schick, 1896, p. 123
  30. ^ Barron, 1923, Table V, Sub-district of Hebron, p. 10
  31. ^ Mills, 1932, p. 34
  32. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 94. Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, 222
  33. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 144
  34. ^ Morris, 2004, p. 176
  35. ^ Givati, Operation An-Far, 7 July 1948, IDFA 7011\49\\1. Cited in Morris, 2004, p. 436 According to Morris, Avraham Ayalon (1963): The Givati Brigade Opposite the Egyptian Invader "gives a laundered version of the order, – which I (unfortunately) used in the original edition of The Birth." The "laundered" version does not contain the words: "to destroy, to kill".
  36. ^ Morris, 2004, p. 437
  37. ^ Operation An-Far
  38. ^ Looking for a Wider View of History, Israeli Archaeologists Are Zooming In


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