For the record, I'm neither an academic nor a scholar, and admittedly, I've never been to many of the places posted here. So if someone should find a mistake, or believe I omitted something, please feel free to email me and I'll correct it.

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Thursday, September 10, 2020


Hebron Cave of the Patriarchs.jpg
ancient Herodian structure over the Cave of
Machpelah in Hebron, courtesy, Wikipedia
The Cave of Machpelah, sometimes referred to as the Tombs of the Patriarchs, is a series of caves located in the heart of the Old City of Hebron in the Judean hills, approximately 18 miles south of Jerusalem. In 1967, Israel liberated the site from Arab occupation and subsequently divided the ancient structure over the tombs and the cave into a synagogue and a mosque. The site is considered by Jews to be the second holiest place in the world, after the Temple Mount.

The word Machpelah means "doubled", "multiplied" or "twofold". Therefore, a literal translation would simply be "the double cave". But according to some, the name could refer to the layout of the cave which is thought to consist of two or more connected chambers. This hypothesis is discussed in the tractate Eruvin from the 6th century Babylonian Talmud which cites an argument between two influential rabbis, Rav and Shmuel. Another theory holds that Machpelah didn't refer to the cave but rather a large tract of land, The Machpelah, at the end of which the cave was found. This theory is supported by some Bible verses such as Genesis 49:30, "the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan…".

According to Jewish tradition, the cave and adjoining field were purchased by Abraham as a burial plot. This was the first commercial transaction mentioned in the Bible. He had approached the sons of Heth who were charmed by him and told him that he can bury his dead in any of their tombs. Instead, he decided to purchase the site of the Cave of Machpelah from its owner, Ephron the Hittite, for a fair price. Afterward, Abraham’s wife Sarah died, according to Genesis 23:1–20, and was buried in the cave. She was 127 and the only woman in the Bible whose exact age is given. The burial of Sarah is also the first account of a burial in the Bible. In time, Abraham himself followed her, and much later, his son Isaac, and his wife Rebecca, and finally Jacob’s wife Leah. In the final chapter of Genesis, Joseph, ruler of Egypt, had his physicians embalm his father Jacob, before they removed him from Egypt to be buried in the Cave next to Leah. (Jacob’s second wife Rachel was buried in her own tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem.)

In 31–4 BCE, King Herod the Great built a large, rectangular enclosure over the cave. It is the only fully surviving Herodian structure from the period of Hellenistic Judaism. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the site remained a Jewish pilgrimage center, only now, they were forced to share it with Christians. The Piacenza Pilgrim (c. 570) noted in his pilgrimage account that Jews and Christians shared possession of the site.

The Arab occupation of the 7th century was actually seen as a liberation by the Jews. When they conquered the country they handed over the supervision of Machpelah to the Jews, in recognition of their assistance. They also permitted the building of two small synagogues at the site. Over the years, even though Jews were permitted to pray at the site itself, it officially acted as a mosque as long as it was under Muslim rule (or a church when it was under the control of the Christian Crusaders). During the late 11th century, the Jewish official responsible for the area bore the title of "The Servant to the Fathers of the World." The Jews of Hebron were accustomed to pray daily in Machpelah for the welfare of the head of the Palestinian gaonate. Many Jews sought to be buried in its vicinity considering burial there to be equal to burial on the sacred Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. When the site became a church during the Crusader period, Jews were banned from using the adjoining synagogues. In the mid-12th century, the Arab nobleman from Damascus, Ibn al-Qalanisi in his chronicle alludes to the discovery of relics purported to be those of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a discovery that excited eager curiosity among all three communities in the southern Levant, Muslim, Christian, and certainly Jewish. Towards the end of the period of Crusader rule, in 1166 Maimonides visited Hebron and wrote, "On Sunday, 9 Marheshvan (October 17), I left Jerusalem for Hebron to kiss the tombs of my ancestors in the Cave. On that day, I stood in the cave and prayed, praise be to God, (in gratitude) for everything." In 1170, Benjamin of Tudela visited the city, which he called by its Frankish name, St. Abram de Bron. He reported: "…there is the great church called St. Abram, and this was a Jewish place of worship at the time of the Mohammedan rule… The custodians tell the pilgrims that these are the tombs of the Patriarchs, for which information the pilgrims give them money. If a Jew comes, however, and gives a special reward, the custodian of the cave opens unto him a gate of iron, which was constructed by our forefathers, and then he is able to descend below by means of steps, holding a lighted candle in his hand. He then reaches a cave, in which nothing is to be found, and a cave beyond, which is likewise empty, but when he reaches the third cave behold there are six sepulchres, those of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively facing those of Sarah, Rebekah and Leah, upon which the names of the three Patriarchs and their wives are inscribed in Hebrew characters. The cave is filled with barrels containing bones of people, which are taken there as to a sacred place. At the end of the field of the Machpelah stands Abraham's house with a spring in front of it". Rabbi Shmuel bar Shimshon visited the cave in 1210 with the permission of the governor of Jerusalem; he says that the visitor must descend by twenty-four steps in a passageway so narrow that the rock touches him on either hand.

When the Egyptian Muslim Mamelukes took over Crusader lands, they forbade Jews, as well as Christians, from entering the site, allowing them only as close as the fifth step on a staircase at the southeast, but after some time this was increased to the seventh step. But they were able to insert petitions into a hole opposite the fourth step. This hole pierces the entire thickness of the wall, to a depth of 6 ft. 6 in. It is first mentioned in 1521, and it can almost certainly be assumed to have been made at the request of the Jews of Hebron, possibly on payment of a large sum, so that their supplications would fall into the cave situated under the floor of the area. The Cave itself was off-limits to everyone, even Muslims.

After Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria in 1948, no Jew was allowed in the territory and consequently no Jew could visit the tomb. Following its liberation by Israel in 1967, Hebron, and Machpelah in particular, came under Jewish control for the first time in 2,000 years and the 700-year-long restriction limiting Jews to the seventh step outside was lifted. According to the autobiography of the Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Major General Rabbi Shlomo Goren, on June 8, during the Six-day war, he made his way from Gush Etzion to Hebron. He then entered the site and began to pray, becoming the first Jew to enter the compound in 700 years. While praying, a messenger from the Mufti of Hebron delivered a surrender note to him, whereby the rabbi replied "This place, Ma'arat HaMachpela, is a place of prayer and peace. Surrender elsewhere."

The stairway leading to the site was destroyed in order to erase the humiliating "seventh step". The first Jewish wedding ceremony to take place there was on August 7, 1968. At the same time, a special arrangement was made to accommodate Jewish services on the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement. This led to a hand-grenade being thrown on the stairway leading to the tomb on October 9; 47 Israelis were injured, 8 seriously. However, that same day, the first Jew to enter the underground caves was Michal Arbel, the 13-year-old daughter of Yehuda Arbel, chief of Shin Bet operations in Judea and Samaria, because she was slender enough to be lowered into the narrow hole and gain access to the tomb site, after which she took photographs. A group of Israeli residents in the area then reestablished a small synagogue under the mosque. On November 4, a large explosion went off near the gate to the compound and 6 people, Jews and Arabs, were wounded. On Yom Kippur eve, in 1976, an Arab mob destroyed several Torah scrolls and prayer books at the tomb. In May 1980, an attack on Jewish worshippers returning from prayers at the tomb left 6 dead and 17 wounded. In 1981, a Jewish group lead by Noam Arnon took photos of the burial chambers. Tensions would later increase when the Zionist authorities under Yitzhak Rabin decided to backstab the Jews and sign the Oslo Accords in September 1993. It was only a matter of time before something tragic would happen. In February 1994, 29 Arabs were killed at the site and scores injured by a Jewish resident of Kiryat Arba, Baruch Goldstein. The resulting riots resulted in a further 35 deaths. The increased sensitivity of the site meant that in 1996, the Wye River Accords included a temporary status agreement restricting access for both Jews and Muslims. As part of this agreement, the Jews control the southwestern section. Muslims are allowed free reign over the entire site but the waqf (Islamic charitable trust) controls 81% of it which includes the whole of the southeastern section which lies above the only known entrance to the caves and possibly over the entirety of the caves themselves. In consequence, Jews are not permitted to visit the Cenotaphs of Isaac or Rebecca, which lie entirely within the southeastern section, except for 10 days a year that hold special significance in Judaism. Tourists are permitted to enter the site. Furthermore, it is illegal for Jewish religious authorities to maintain the site, allowing only the waqf to do so.

Security at the site has increased since the Intifada. On February 21, 2010, the Zionists, uncharacteristically, announced that it would include the Cave of Machpelah in a national heritage site protection and rehabilitation plan. This made the UN, the Arab governments, and the Obama administration, very angry.

Friday, September 4, 2020


Lod city center
Lod city center, courtesy, Wikipedia
Lod is an Israeli city about 9 miles southeast of Sheikh Munis. In 2019 it had a population of about 77,000. Israel's main international airport, Ben Gurion Airport (previously known as Lydda Airport, RAF Lydda, and Lod Airport) is located on the outskirts of the city.

The town of Lod appears in the Hebrew Bible as a town of Benjamin but is not mentioned in the Book of Joshua. It is however, mentioned in the Book of Chronicles as being founded by Shemed the Benjaminite who also founded the town of Ono (1 Chronicles 8:12; Ezra 2:33; Nehemiah 7:37; 11:35). In Ezra 2:33, it is mentioned as one of the cities whose inhabitants returned after the Babylonian captivity. From the fifth century BCE until c. the 2nd century, the city was a center of Jewish scholarship and commerce. During the Hasmonean period, Jonathan Maccabee and his brother Simon conquered the city from the Greeks and enlarged the area under Jewish control. But in 63 BCE, the Land of Israel came under Roman rule and twenty years later, Cassius, the Roman governor of Syria, sold the inhabitants of Lod into slavery. They were set free two years later by Mark Antony. In the New Testament, Lod appears in its Greek form, Lydda, and was the site of Peter's healing of a paralytic man as described in Acts 9:32-38. The earliest Christian community in the town was established at this time. In 66 CE, during the First Jewish–Roman War, Lod/Lydda was under the command of John the Essene. The Roman proconsul of Syria, Cestius Gallus, razed the town on his way to Jerusalem which was also razed four years later. But in the period following the destruction, Rabbi Tarfon, who appears in many Tannaitic and Jewish legal discussions, served as the town’s rabbinic authority. During the Kitos War, 115–117 CE, the Roman army laid siege to Lod/Lydda, where the rebel Jews had gathered under the leadership of Julian and Pappos. The distress became so great, that Patriarch Rabban Gamaliel II, who was shut up there (and died soon afterwards), controversially permitted fasting on Ḥanukkah. Lydda was finally taken and many Jews were executed; the "slain of Lydda" are often mentioned in words of reverential praise in the Talmud. Generally speaking however, the town flourished between the first war against Rome and the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 CE). It had a large market; cattle were raised in the area; and textile, dyeing, and pottery industries were established. It was the seat of a local Sanhedrin; famous scholars, such as R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, R. Akiva, Joshua b. Levi, Judah b. Pazi, Eleazar bar Kappara, and Ḥanina bar Ḥama taught there. Among its synagogues was one specially maintained by a community of Tarsians.  After the Bar Kochba Revolt was crushed, Jews remained in Lydda, though its agricultural hinterland had been destroyed. On the other hand, the patriarch R. Judah I leased estates in its plain. The Samaritan element became more powerful in Byzantine times, although the town became predominantly Christian and had a bishop.

In 1170, Benjamin of Tudela found only one Jewish family there, but after Saladin's re-conquest of the town in 1191, more Jews settled there. The community was even described by the 14th century geographer Ashtori ha-Parhi. A small community existed sporadically since then but was largely gone for most of the 19th century. In the second half of the century however, a new community was established, but they were ethnically cleansed by Arabs after the 1921 Jaffa riots. Some returned afterwards. In 1934, an airstrip was built by the British authorities for purposes of trade and travel. In 1973, it was renamed, Ben Gurion Airport. 

In the 1947 United Nations proposal to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Lydda was allotted to the Arabs. During the bloody Arab onslaughts that triggered the War of Independence, Israeli forces captured the town and it was later incorporated into the State of Israel. The Arab population fled and later, Jewish refugees from “Arab” countries settled there. Beginning in the 70s, they were joined by Jews from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.

In 1996, prior to the widening of HeHalutz Street, a well-preserved mosaic floor dating to the Roman period was excavated as part of a salvage dig conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Municipality of Lod. The mosaic was initially covered over with soil at the conclusion of the excavation, for lack of funds, to conserve and develop the site. It is now part of the Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center.

Although Lod has been plagued by a poor image for decades, as of 2008 dozens of projects were under way to improve life in the city. New upscale neighborhoods are expanding the city to the east, among them Ganei Ya'ar and Ahisemah. In 2010, the Lod Community Foundation organized an event for representatives of bicultural youth movements, volunteer aid organizations, educational start-ups, businesses, sports organizations, and conservation organizations.   

Lod is also active in Israel’s sports scene. The city's major football club, Hapoel Bnei Lod, formed by a merger of Bnei Lod and Rakevet Lod in the 1997, plays in Liga Leumit (the second division). Its home is at the Lod Municipal Stadium. Two other clubs in the city play in the regional leagues: Hapoel MS Ortodoxim Lod in Liga Bet and Maccabi Lod in Liga Gimel. Hapoel Lod played in the top division during the 1960s and 1980s, and won the State Cup in 1984. It folded in 2002. A new club, Hapoel Maxim Lod (named after former mayor Maxim Levy) was established soon after, but folded in 2007.

Sunday, August 30, 2020


oasis in Libya, courtesy, Libyan Landscape Travel Agency on Facebook
The Arab-occupied North African country of Libya is in the midst of a civil war as of this writing. It is bordered on the north by the Mediterranean, on the east by Arab-occupied Egypt, on the southeast corner by Arab-occupied Sudan, on the west by Arab-occupied Algeria and Tunisia, and on the south by the African/Berber countries of Chad and Niger. The indigenous peoples in Libya are, of course, the Amazigh (Berbers), the majority of whom, unfortunately, tend to identify themselves as “Arabized” Berbers, of mixed Arab and Berber ancestry, therefore identifying more with their Arab than with their Berber roots.

The indigenous Libyans consist of several tribal and language affiliations: the Awjla of the Awjla Oasis in the Cyrenaica region in the eastern half of Libya (see also, the posting on Cyrenaica.), Zuwara of the town of Zuwara, Nafusi of the Nafusa Mountains, Sokna of the oasis town of Sokna in western-central Libya, and Fezzan of the Fezzan region comprising the southwestern quarter of Libya. The Ghadames inhabit the area in and around the town of Ghadames in the extreme west where the borders of Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia meet. The popular annual Ghadames Festival, attended by thousands of local and international visitors, is a lively celebration of local Berber culture. Another popular celebration of Berber culture, Tuareg specifically, is the annual Ghat Festival, held in the town of Ghat in the extreme southwest of Libya next to the border with Algeria and inhabited by the Tamahaq-speaking Northern Tuareg. One aspect of their culture was the trade in salt, long an important commodity. Several salt mines dot the landscape such as the Tin Garaban Salt Mines near Ghat which are controlled by the Azjar Tuareg Confederacy. Presently, Tuareg territory is divided among Libya, Algeria, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

People settled in what is now Libya in prehistoric times as is evidenced by their rock art as observed in Tadrart Acacus in the Libyan Desert. The earliest known Libyan Amazigh tribe was the Garamantes, based in Germa but the earliest tribe that was written about in Egyptian hieroglyphs dating back to the Eighteenth Dynasty and Pharaoh Amenhotep III was the Meshwesh who lived alongside the Libu and Tehenu. During the 19th and 20th dynasties (c. 1295 – 1075 BC), the Meshwesh were in almost constant conflict with Egypt. It was at this time that the name “Libya” first appeared, in an inscription of Pharaoh Ramesses II and written as rbw in hieroglyphic. The name derived from a generalized identity given to a large confederacy of ancient east "Libyan" BerbersAfrican people(s) and tribes who lived around the lush regions of Cyrenaica and Marmarica. The Hebrew Bible referred to this region as “Luv”.

During the reign of Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah (1208 BCE), a confederacy of tribes known as the "Great Chiefs of the Libu" and numbering 40,000 men, were led by King Meryey who fought a war against Egypt but resulted in his defeat. During the late 21st Dynasty, increasing numbers of Meshwesh began to settle in the Western Delta region of Egypt. They would ultimately take control of the country, beginning with Osorkon the Elder, and continue to dominate throughout the 22nd and 23rd Dynasties under such powerful pharaohs as Shoshenq IOsorkon IOsorkon IIShoshenq III and Osorkon III. Beginning in 630 BCE, Libya came under the control of the ancient Greeks, then the Persians, Phoenicians, and the Greeks again but as part of the Egyptian kingdom. Under the Greeks, the Phoenicians, based in Carthage, continued to settle in, and rule over, Libya and established strategic colonial cities in many Berber areas, including OeaLeptis Magna, and Sabratha, thus making Libya an autonomous area in the Greek/Egyptian kingdom. Even though considered second class by the Phoenicians, the Berbers maintained their own identity, culture and traditions, and continued to develop their own agricultural and village skills. But they were still required to pay half of their crops as tribute especially during the First Punic War against Rome. Eventually, coastal Libya came under Roman rule. However, not all Berber tribes in Libya would be dominated by foreign empires. Between 400 BCE and 600 CE, Garamantia, a notable Berber kingdom that flourished in the Fezzan area, was located just outside the southern borders of the succeeding empires.

From the 1st to 3rd centuries CE, Libya was an early center of Christianity. Many believe that the theologian Arius, who was deemed a heretic by the Christian Church, was of Libyan Berber descent. Sabellius, a third-century priest and theologian who most likely taught in Rome, may also have been of Berber descent. Basil and others call him a Libyan from Pentapolis, but this seems to rest on the fact that Pentapolis was a place where the teachings of Sabellius thrived, according to Dionysius of Alexandria, c. 260. However, not all Berbers were Christian. Byzantine authors mention the Mazikes (Amazigh) as tribal people raiding the monasteries of Cyrenaica

Beginning in the mid-7th century, Arab Muslims began to occupy and colonize North Africa, spreading the new religion of Islam in the process. Some Berber tribes willingly accepted the new religion, others did not. Those who did not, were eventually subjugated. Thus, most Berbers became Muslim. However, they did not necessarily practice Islam like the Arabs but instead, mixed their own indigenous culture with the new religion. And in fact, the Libyan Berbers in the Nafusa and Zuwara areas for example, were primarily adherents of the Ibadi Muslim denomination. But Muslim or not, they were often treated as second class citizens by the Arabs and would often resist Arab political rule. This forced the Arab occupation authorities to form strategic alliances with some of the Berber tribes and would often appoint members of elite families among them, as governors over certain territories. In the 10th century for example, the Shiite Fatimids of Egypt who also controlled Libya beginning in 972, appointed Bologhine ibn Ziri, a Sanhaja Berber, as governor of Tripolitania in the northwestern quarter of the country. The Zirid dynasty ultimately broke away from the Fatimids, and recognized the Sunni Abbasids of Baghdad as rightful Caliphs. In retaliation, the Fatimids brought about the migration of thousands of Arabs, mainly from the Qaisi tribes of the Banu Sulaym and Banu Hilal to North Africa. This act drastically altered the fabric of the Libyan countryside, and cemented the cultural and linguistic Arabization of the region that lasts to this day.

Zirid rule in Tripolitania was short-lived. Already in 1001 the Berbers of the Banu Khazrun broke away. But Tripolitania remained under their control until 1146, when the region was overtaken by the Normans of Sicily. It was not until 1159 that the Moroccan Berber Almohad leader Abd al-Mu'min reconquered Tripolitania. For the next 50 years, Tripolitania was the scene of numerous battles between Kurdish Ayyubids, the Almohad rulers and insurgents of the Sanhaja Berber Banu Ghaniya of the Almoravid dynasty. Later, a general of the Almohads, Muhammad ibn Abu Hafs, ruled Libya from 1207 to 1221 before the later establishment of the Tunisian Hintata Berber Hafsid dynasty independent from the Almohads. The Hafsids ruled Tripolitania for nearly 300 years. By the 16th century the Hafsids became increasingly caught up in the power struggle between Spain and the Ottoman Empire.

In the mid-20th century, many of the Arabized Berbers in Libya considered themselves part of the wider Arab people and identified with the pan-Arab movement taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa. With the independence of Libya, the teaching and even use of indigenous Berber language was strictly forbidden, even the giving of Berber names. In 1969, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, himself of Arabized Berber ancestry, came to power. He continued the ban on the teaching of Berber languages, and often threatened un-Arabized Berber leaders if they didn’t comply. This and other persecutions prompted many Berbers to join the opposition during the “Arab Spring” in 2011which resulted in Gaddafi’s overthrow. It was followed by a civil war that continues to this day. At the same time, efforts by the indigenous Libyans who remained un-Arabized to gain some political influence, bore fruit in 2017 with the founding of the Libu Party also known as The Nation Party by the former World Amazigh Congress president Fathi Ben Khalifa. The main headquarters of the party is in Zuwara with other branches in TripoliUbari and other cities. According to its founder, the party supports the establishment of a secular democratic Libyan state, defends Amazigh (Berber) Libyan identity instead of Arabism, and calls for the recognition of the Berber language (Tamazight) as an official language of the State of Libya.

Indigenous sites in Libya aside from those mentioned above include: Messak Settafet and Mellet in southern Libya, the Slontha Grotto, the Ghirza farming community about 150 miles southeast of Tripoli, the Qasr Alhaj granary in the Nafousa Mountains, the village of Jado (also the site of a Nazi-built slave labor camp for Jews during World War II), the Janzur Catacombs, and the Jalo oasis.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020


Trappist Monastery
monastery at Latrun, courtesy, Wikipedia
Latrun is located on a strategic hilltop in the Ayalon Valley. It overlooks the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road and was the site of fierce fighting during the War of Independence in 1948. Between 1948 and 1967, it was under Arab occupation, at the edge of a no man's land between the armistice lines. In the Six Day War in 1967, it was liberated by Israel along with Judea and Samaria and is today, considered a part of the Samaria region.

In the Hebrew Bible, the site that became Latrun was allotted to the tribal territory of Dan, in the southern portion of the territory near the border with Ephraim. In the 2nd century BCE, Judah Maccabee established his military camp here in preparation for battle with the Seleucid Greeks who occupied the land. The Jewish victory in what was later called the Battle of Emmaus led to greater Jewish autonomy under Hasmonean rule over the next century. Latrun was a Roman base during the first Roman-Jewish War (66-73) and the Bar-Kokhba Rebellion (132-135). Since the Byzantine period (395-636), the site and the surrounding area became abandoned and uncultivated except for an occasional military fort that would be built by a foreign power.

In the 1880s, the Jewish Batato brothers from Jerusalem, purchased a hotel in the area from a Lebanese agent of the Thomas Cook travel company and renamed it the “Maccabee Hotel”. In December 1890, a monastery was established nearby by French, German and Flemish monks of the Trappist Order. Shortly afterward, the monks bought the hotel together with two-hundred hectares of land. Later, they established a vineyard using knowledge gained in France as well as advice from an expert in the employ of Baron Edmond James de Rothschild from the Carmel-Mizrahi Winery in Rishon l’Tzion. During World War I, the monastic community was expelled by the Ottoman Turks and the buildings were pillaged. It was rebuilt in 1926.

Following the 1936–39 Arab riots, the British authorities built at Latrun, a police fort, named Tegart fort after its designer. The site was chosen due to its strategic significance, particularly its dominant position above the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem road. Many members of the Yishuv who had resisted the British administration were imprisoned at the site’s detention camp. Moshe Sharett, later Israel's second Prime Minister, and several other members of the Jewish Agency's Executive Committee, were held at Latrun for several months in 1946.

During the War of Independence, the Arab army of Transjordan, from their vantage point at Latrun which was handed over to them by the British, had blocked the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road, shelling Israeli motorists below and effectively imposing a siege on the Jews in Jerusalem. On May 24, 1948, ten days after the official Israeli Declaration of Independence and the Arab onslaughts against Israel which followed, the Arab-occupied fort was finally assaulted by the combined forces of Israel's newly created 7th Armored Brigade, and a battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade. The assault, codenamed Operation Bin Nun Alef, was unsuccessful, and the Jews sustained heavy casualties. Ariel Sharon, then a platoon commander, was wounded along with many of his soldiers. On May 31, a second attack against the fort, Operation Bin Nun Bet, also failed, although the outer defenses had been breached. Therefore, to circumvent the blocked road, a makeshift camouflaged road through the seemingly impassable mountains of the Jerusalem Corridor was constructed under the command of David “Mickey” Marcus. This bypassed the main routes overlooked by Latrun and was nicknamed the Burma Road. By June 10, the road was fully operational, and it eventually put an end to the Arab blockade. Meanwhile, the Arabs destroyed the Latrun water pumping station which provided water to Jerusalem. In response, the Israelis built an auxiliary water pipe-line of small capacity along the Burma Road which provided a minimum amount of water. After Operation Danny, Israeli forces anticipated a Jordanian counterattack, possibly from Latrun, but King Abdullah remained within the bounds of the tacit agreement made with the Jewish Agency and kept his troops at Latrun from attacking.  

In the 1949 Armistice Agreements, the fort remained under Jordanian Arab occupation surrounded by a no man's land, and Jordan was not to disrupt Israeli travelers using this road; in practice however, there were constant sniper attacks which were approved of by the United Nations. In the Six-Day War in 1967, Latrun was liberated by Israel and the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road to Jerusalem was re-opened and made safe for travel.  

The village Neve Shalom/Wahat es Salam was the brainchild of Father Bruno Hussar who was born and raised a Jew in Egypt until his conversion to Christianity while studying in France. In 1970, he purchased 120 acres of land from the monastery but it wasn’t until 1978 that the first families moved in on a permanent basis. They were 4 Israeli Jewish families and 1 Arab. Other people followed them including Major Wellesley Aron, grandfather of the Israeli singer David Broza.

Today, in addition to the above mentioned, the Latrun area also contains the park Mini Israel, with scale models of historic buildings around Israel, and the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration (ICSBM), which is adjacent to Yad La-Shiryon Memorial (built on the site of the Tegart Fort). Canada Park is nearby to the east.

Saturday, August 22, 2020


ruins at Lachish, courtesy, Wikipedia
The Israeli region of Lachish is mainly a farming region surrounding the ancient site of Tel Lachish, located about midway between Jerusalem and Gaza in an area known as the Shephelah. This site was an ancient Canaanite, then Israelite, city. It is now an archaeological site and national park

During the Israelite conquest of Canaan, Japhia, the King of Lachish, was listed as one of the Five Amorite Kings that allied to repel the invasion, according to the Book of Joshua. After a surprise attack from the Israelites, the kings took refuge in a cave, where they were captured and put to death. Joshua and the Israelites then took the city after a two-day siege and exterminated the population. Afterwards, Lachish was assigned to the Tribe of Judah. After Israel split in two – the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel – its fortifications were built by the king of Judah, Rehoboam, son and successor of King Solomon, as is recorded in II Chronicles 11:9. Of the cities in ancient Judah, Lachish was second in importance only to Jerusalem. It was destroyed c. 925 BCE by Egyptian Pharaoh Sheshonk I. But the city’s rebuilding began soon after and in the first half of the 9th century BCE, under kings Asa and Jehoshaphat, Lachish’s importance was revived. It was heavily fortified with massive walls and ramparts and a royal palace was built on a platform in the center of the city. Lachish was foremost among several fortified cities and strongholds guarding the valleys that lead up to Jerusalem and the interior of the country against enemies which usually approached from the coast. According to II Chronicles 25:27, King Amaziah of Judah fled to Lachish after he was defeated in battle by King Jehoash of Israel, where he was captured and executed. In 701 BCE, during the revolt of King Hezekiah against Assyria, Lachish was besieged and captured by Sennacherib despite the defenders' determined resistance. Some scholars believe that the fall of Lachish actually occurred during a second campaign in the area by Sennacherib c. 688 BCE. Regardless, the town was rebuilt again in the late 7th century BCE during the decline of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. However, the city fell to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia, in his campaign against Judah in 586 BCE. According to the prophet Jeremiah (34:7), Lachish and Azekah were the last two Judean cities to fall before the conquest of Jerusalem. During the period of the Babylonian Captivity, a large residence was built on the spot where the palace once stood. At the end of the Captivity, some exiled Jews returned to Lachish and built a new city with fortifications. But since the time of Alexander the Great, it was abandoned and remained so ever since.

Beginning in the 1890s, archaeologists took an interest in the ancient city. Lachish was identified by Flinders Petrie with Tell el-Hesi, an identification supported when a relevant cuneiform tablet was found there. However, other scholars and archaeologists would identify Lachish with Tel ed Duweir based mostly on the writings of Eusebius, the royal reliefs of Sennacherib, the site excavations, and an ostracon found there. Future expeditions, mainly British, made additional discoveries at both sites. At the same time, the region around Lachish began to be developed beginning in 1939 and throughout the 40s in spite of British Mandate law forbidding Jewish settlement in the area. In the western part of the region for instance, outpost settlements were established including Negbah and Gevaram and after Israeli independence in 1948, a network of 31 moshavim and kibbutzim came into being there. Development in the central and eastern parts, however, was held up by lack of water. With the construction of the Yarkon-Negev conduit in 1954, the Lachish Development Project came into being and became the prototype of regional planning for Israel and also for other developing countries. Most of the 23 villages erected in the region since 1954 were moshavim (including Moshav Lachish founded in 1955), but there were also a few kibbutzim and administered farms. The three rural centers were Nehorah, Even Shemu'el, and Vardon (Menuḥah); for the older village clusters, no such centers were set up, and they were directly dependent on the next regional town. Kiryat Gat functioned as the Lachish region's urban center, but a number of villages in the western part were more closely linked to Ashkelon and Kiryat Malakhi which are within easier reach. In the mid-60s, an Israeli archaeological expedition, directed by Yohanan Aharoni, took place on behalf of Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University. Since 1973, excavations have continued at the site almost without interruption. And the debate between supporters of Tell el Hesi and Tel ed Duweir continues.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020


swamp scene at Sumer, courtesy,
Located in the ancient land of Sumer, often referred to as the Cradle of Civilization, are the marshlands of Hawizeh, Hammar, and Qurna, all with a distinct ecosystem. Today, this is part of Arab-occupied southern Iraq. In this area live the descendants of the ancient Sumerians, the so-called “Marsh Arabs” (even though most are not of Arab descent), but more properly known as Maadan. Comprising members of many different tribes and tribal confederations, such as the Āl Bū Muḥammad, Ferayghāt, Shaghanbah and Banī Lām, the Maadān had developed a unique culture centered on the marshes' natural resources. The majority of Maadan are Shiʿi Muslims, though in the marshes small communities of Mandaic-speaking Mandaeans (often working as boat builders and craftsmen) live alongside them. The Maadan’s long association with Persian tribes may have influenced the spread of Shī‘īsm among them. Few had ever made the haj to Mecca but many would travel to the holy city of Mashhad in Persia instead (thereby earning the title Zair).  

It is often said that the Garden of Eden was located in the land of Sumer. Before and during the 4th millennium BCE, what archaeologists call, the Ubaid and Uruk periods, the first literate societies had emerged. Due to the geographical location and ecological factors of the Fertile Crescent, the Sumerians were also able to develop agricultural and technological programs. Farming arose early in the Fertile Crescent because the area had a large quantity of wild wheat and pulse species that were nutritious and easy to domesticate. Soon, city-states rose to power and between that time and the 27th century BCE, their written history began. Classical Sumer ends with the rise of the Akkadian Empire in the 23rd century and following the Gutian period, which ended c. 2055, there was a brief Sumerian Renaissance. But that was cut short in the 20th century by invasions by the Amorites. The Amorite "dynasty of Isin" persisted until c. 1700, when Mesopotamia was united under Babylonian rule. The Sumerians were eventually absorbed into the Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) population. Since then, Sumer became a part of the empires of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Arameans, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.

In the early Christian period CE (or AD), some Assyrians settled in or near the area of the marshlands and churches were built in Ur and Larsa, while the Sumerians/Maadan developed a culture where the water buffalo became an important part. In 636, the Muslim Arabs invaded from Arabia and the indigenous Sumerians/Maadan overwhelmingly adopted the religion of the conquerors. Sumer, along with the rest of Mesopotamia and the Middle East, became part of the Arab Empire. Almost immediately however, their acceptance of Islam notwithstanding, the Arabs began to colonize the area, stealing land from the inhabitants in the process. In addition, the Maadan would often suffer a cruel dhimmi-like status in their now-occupied homeland. This situation still exists to this day.

Shortly after the Arab invasion, the settler colony of Basra was established. In the 10th and 11th centuries, the marshes became the site of the short-lived Arab colonial state of Batihah founded by 'Imran ibn Shahin. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, pastoral nomads that formed tribal confederations often provided the framework for a ruling dynasty and state. 

In the early 17th century, the Italian composer and musicologist Pietro Della Valle (1586–1652) who was also a world traveler, visited and studied the Maadan and brought them to the attention of the western world. In 1824, George Keppel, 6th Earl of Albemarle (1799–1891) reported in detail on the marsh inhabitants. In the first half of the 20th century, other high-status travelers visited the area and wrote of their experiences e.g. Gerturde Bell, TE Lawrence (of Arabia), and British colonial administrator Stuart Edwin Hedgecock and his wife. In the early 1930s, American anthropologist Henry Field visited the Maadan and made the acquaintance of their Sheikh Falih al S’aihud of the Al Bu Muhammad tribe. 

Beginning in the 1950s and continuing to the 70s, and without the consent of the Maadan, the Arab occupation authorities began a process of draining the swamps thus displacing, as well as destroying, the Maadan’s way of life. During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), many were driven out of their homes, their few possessions were stolen, and their water buffalo were slaughtered for food by the armies. In the late 1980s and 90s, during the presidency of Saddam Hussein, the draining of the swamps was expanded and accelerated. Before 2003, the marshes were drained to 10% of their original size. The Qurna and Hammar Marshes were nearly dried up and only 35% of the Hawizeh Marshes remained. After the fall of the regime in 2003, the recovery of the marshes was excruciatingly slow. Drought along with dam construction in Turkey, Arab-occupied Syria, and Iran have hindered the process.