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 ‘Ayn al-Zaytun



Population   :

1931            : 567

1944/45       : 820


‘Aynn al-Zaytun Before 1948


The village was situated on the western slope of Wadi aI-Dilb, next to the highway leading to the city of Salad. Wadi al-Dub may have been the wadi that the Arab geographer al-Dimashqi (d. 1327) called Wadi Dulayba, which he described as lying between Mirun and Salad. He said that water gushed from a spring there for one or two hours (allow­ing people to collect drinking water and wash), and then abruptly retreated.  In fact, the village name, which was Arabic for “spring of the olives,” did indicate that a spring of some kind was in the vicinity. In 1596, ‘Ayn al-Zaytun was a village in the nahiya of Jira (tiwa’ of Salad) with a population of 622. It. paid taxes on a number of crops, including wheat, barley, and olives, as well as on vineyards and orchards.

In the late nineteenth century, visitors reported that ‘Ayn al-Zaytun was a stone-built village located on top of a hill north of Salad. The village, which had an estimated population of 200 to 350, was surrounded by arable land.  Because of its proximity to the district capital, ‘Ayn al-Zaytun was considered a suburb of Salad. As the village grew, stone houses were built to the south, in the direction of Salad. The entire population was Muslim. ‘Ayn al-Zaytun had an elementary school and a mosque. The villagers cultivated olives, grain, and fruit, especially grapes. Agriculture was dependent upon rainfall, but the villagers drew their drinking water from a well and a spring which lay 800 m due north. In 1944145 a total of 280 dunums was allotted to cereals; 477 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards.


 Occupation and Depopulation

 Zionist forces attacked ‘Ayn al-Zaytun well before they suc­ceeded in occupying it. The New York Times reported that early on the morning of 3 January 1948, a raiding party killed one villager and bombed four houses, and that firing continued in the neighborhood during the rest of the day. Later, as a prelude to the occupation of Salad during Operation Yiftach (see Abil al-Qamh, Salad District), Palmach troops approached ‘Ayn al-Zaytun from the north and occupied it on.

As the villagers later recalled, the bloody events in the village began at 3:00 A.M. with a barrage of mortar fire from eleven mortars, followed by a ground assault by two platoons. Villagers interviewed in 1973 said that the village men who had weapons decided on a tactical retreat, but the rest of the villagers decided not to leave their homes. When Israeli troops entered the village, the villagers were rounded up. The men among them were taken away and the rest were humiliated and expelled while shots were fired over their heads, accord­ing to the villagers’ testimony and Israeli sources. As for the men, some were later expelled and enabled to join their fami­lies, but thirty-seven of them, selected at random, were taken captive. According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, they were probably among a group of seventy people later massa­cred in a gully between ‘Ayn al-Zaytun and Salad under orders from Moshe Kelman, the commander of the Paknach’s Third Battalion. Morris reports that Kelman had some difficulty in finding soldiers who were willing to carry out the killings, but eventually entrusted the task to two men. After the prisoners were killed, and in anticipation of a Red Cross visit to the area, he ordered their hands to be untied, to conceal the fact that the killing had been done in cold blood.

Several villagers attempted to return to their homes over the next couple of days but were fired upon by the Palmach; one of them was killed, according to Morris. As for the village houses, they were burned or bloWn up by Palmach sappers on 2 and 3 May. The destruction was carried out partly in order to terrify the inhabitants of Salad, who could watch the spectacle from nearby hills. The sight of the village being leveled had a demoralizing effect in the city, as well as in the surrounding villages of eastern Galilee. 


The Village Today

 The rubble of destroyed stone houses is scattered through­out the site, which is otherwise overgrown with olive trees and cactuses. A few deserted houses remain, some with round arched entrances and tall windows with various arched designs. In one of the remaining houses, the smooth stone above the entrance arch is inscribed with Arabic calligraphy, a fixture of Palestinian architecture. The  well and the village spring also remain.


All That Remains 



Dr. Nazzal  relates the story of `Ayn al-Zaytun  in his book The Palestinian Exodus From Galilee 1948 as follows:



cEin ez Zeitun is a village on the northern outskirts of the city of Safad, which had a population of 820 Arabs and a total land area of1, 100 dunums.27

The people of cEin ez Zeitun were almost all farmers who tilled their own land. It was only a short distance to Safad, and they depended on its markets to sell their produce and buy their supplies. They often travelled to Safad on business, to visit a physician, or to purchase medicine. They were also neighbours to the Jews of `Ein Zeitim, to the north, who often passed through their village on the way to the Jewish quarter of Safad.

The people of CEin ez Zeitun first heard the news of the Arab-Jcwish fighting over the radio belonging to Ibrahim Abdul-Rahman Khatib, mukhtar of the village. Ahmad Hussain Hamid, an inhabitant of the village and formerly a policeman, related what happened when the villagers first heard the news of the Deir   Yasin massacre.28

Although we continued to ignore the Jewish threat, we were distressed about the massacre at Deir Yasin, followed by the Jewish victories and the Arab flight from Tiberias and Haifa. We had between 50 and 60 men,29 armed with 40 to 50 rifles of different kinds, one or two machine guns, and with 25 to 35 rounds of ammunition for each man.3°

During the night of May 1, 1948, a Palmach unit, with mules loaded with ammunition, advanced towards the village of (:Ein ez Zeitun by way of Tall al Durraiyat, which overlooks the village to the north. From the top of the hill, Palmach soldiers rolled barrels filled with explosives down the hill to the village and threw hand grenades, killing and injuring many of the villagers.3

In the early hours of the morning, the village’s armed men began to retreat as Palmach soldiers proceeded to encircle the village. Almost all the old men, women, and children remained in the village because the villagers had previously agreed among themselves not to leave. The men with rifles meanwhile retreated, leaving their wives and children behind.32 In the village, Palmach soldiers ordered the villagers to assemble at Mahmud Hamid’s courtyard. Then the women were separated from the men and were taken to a courtyard behind the village mosque near Abu Rida’s house. Muhammad Abmad Hamid, a mechanic and a member of the village militia, related what happened:


I decided not to leave the village as we retreated. Instead, I hid in a nearby stable, close to my house. 1 remained in hiding for a while and then decided to join the people assembled at Mahmud Hamid’s courtyard.... As I was crossing the street, I was caught. The Jewish soldiers took me to the center of the village, near the spring of~Ein ez Zeitun from which the village derives its name. There I saw Jamil Ahmad Idris crucified on a tree. I was beaten and questioned, then I was ordered to join the men in the courtyard.33


Mansur Shaibi and his wife decided to remain in the village, but they were afraid to surrender:


We were terrified and decided to remain in our house with some of our relatives. We were afraid to surrender because Rashid Shaibi, who was hiding with us, told us he had seen cAbdullaj Shaibi killed as he was trying to surrender. Fearful of being found disobeying orders, we decided to send Umm Ibráhim. the midwife and the eldest among us, outside, carrying a white scarf.. We were happy to be sent to join the rest of the villagers.34



At the courtyard, the Jewish soldiers kept threatening to shoot them:



Yusif Ahmad Hajjar suddenly stood up, addressing the soldiers. “Our village has been captured, we have surrendered, and we expect to be treated humanely:’ He threatened the soldiers, if they did not treat them well that the villagers would help in burning the Jews when the Arab armies entered Palestine. A Palmach officer slapped Yusif in the face and ordered his soldiers to choose thirty-seven teen-aged boys at random,35 ordering the rest of the villagers to move into the storage rooms of the mosque.36


Those taken away were never seen again:



I do not know what happened to our young men. We have been away from ~Ein ez Zeitun now for almost 25 years, and still I don’t know what happened to them. I feel my brother is still alive somewhere.37

1 do not think my brother is alive. I think the Jews killed him. Why would the Jews keep him for so long? What use is he to them?38


The women and the children were escorted by Palmach soldiers to the western edge of the village. They were ordered to leave the village; then the Zionists began firing over their heads, making them run. At night, the men assembled in the village courtyard were told that their wives and children had decided to leave the village, and they were given the choice of joining them or being killed. They were led by Palmach soldiers to Wadi al-Kharrar, to the west of the village. The villagers ran in panic westwards along Wadi al-Tahuna, looking for their wives and children. Many of the villagers rejoined their families en route to the village of Meirun and northwards along the road to the village of Safsaf.

The people of cEin ez Zeitun were forced out of their village without being able to take any of their belongings with them. Although the Palmach soldiers had threatened to shoot anyone who returned to the village, six villagers decide to return two days after they had been driven out. Hussain CAlj Hamid, one of the villagers who attempted to return, recalled:

                We went back to get the money that we had buried in our courtyards. Rashid Khalil, the first to enter the village,

                 was shot dead by a Jewish soldier. We saw it was too dangerous to go in and decided to leave to Lebanon.39


On May 3 and 4, the Palmach amplified Operation Yiftah by carrying out Operation Matateh (“Broom”) to clear the remaining villages along the road between Rosh Pinna and Tiberias of their Arab inhabitants, thereby connecting the Jewish settlements in the Hula Valley with those in Eastern Galilee and simultaneously eliminating the Syrian threat to Eastern Galilee.40



27 1,054 dunums belonged to the Arabs and 46 were listed as “public property”. Palestine, Village Statistics, 1945, p. 69.

28 on April 9, 1948, an armed force composed mostly of the Irgun and the Stern Gang, attacked the village of Deir Yasin near Jerusalem and massacred 250 villagers, including women and children. For further information, see Jacques de Reynier, A Jerusalem un drapeauflonail sur Ia ligne defeu (Neuchâtel: Editions de Ia Baconnière, 1950), pp. 69-74; Jiryis, The Arabs in Israel, p. 91; Jon Kimche, Seven Fallen Pillars; The Middle East, 19)5-195(1 (London: Secker&Warburg, 1950), pp. 217-iS and 222-24; and Joseph, The Faithful City, pp. 71-72.

29 Only nine of the villagers had military training, having served in the British Police Corps or the Transjordanian Frontier Force. Their names were given me by Ahmad Hussain Hamid, interviewed at CAin al-Hilwah Camp, Sidon, Lebahon, February 5, 1973.

30 Ibid,February 12, 1973

31~‘ Eyewitnesses Mansur Shaibi and his wife, Munira Hamid Shaibi, gave me the names of eight men and women killed. Beirut, Lebanon, February 8 and 11, 1973. Ahmad Hussain Hamid also included two others among those killed and one wounded.

32 Ahmad Hussain Hamid, interviewed at tAin aI-Hilwah Camp, Sidon, Lebanon. February 12, 1973.

33 Muhammad Ahinad Hamid, interviewed in Beirut, Lebanon, February 8, 1971

34 Mansur Shaibi and his wife Munira Hamid Shaibi, interviewed in Beirut, Lebanon, February 11, 1973.’

35~Eyewitnesses Muhammad Ahmad Hamid, Mansur Shaibi, Ahmad Hussain Hamid, and Hussain ~AIi Hamid told me the names of 24 of these. One of them, Zakariya Hamid, had asked the soldiers to take him in place of his son, Hussain Zakaria Hamid. The Palmach officer in charge ordered them both to be taken. Interview at LAin al-Hilwah Camp, Sidon and Beirut, Lebanon, February 8, 1973.

36 Muhammad Ahmad 1-lamid, interviewed in Beirut, Lebanon, February 9, 1973.

37 Mansur Shaibi, interviewed in Beirut, Lebanon, February 8, 1973.

38 Munira Hamid Shaibi, interviewed in Beirut, Lebanon, February 8, 1973.

39.    Hussain `Ali Hamid, interviewed aaat`Ain al_hilwah camp, Sidon, Lebanon, Februar 14,1973

40.    See Talmi, Lexicon Melhemt Ha-Itzmaout,pp. 40-42


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