The village was situated on a hill at the junction of the Ramla-Jerusalem highway with other highways that led to Gaza and Ramallah. This location lay just south of an ancient Roman road that ran from the Mediterranean coast through Emmaus/'Imwas and up the mountains to Jerusalem. Because of its proximity to this road, the site of al-Latrun had strategic importance. Its name may have been derived from the phrase Le Toron des Chevaliers ('The Tower of the Knights' in Old French), which was the name of a castle built on the site by the Crusaders between 1150 and 1170. Salah aI-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin) captured the castle in 1187. Migrants from neighboring villages moved to al-Latrun during the governorship of Mustafa Thurayya Pasha (1852-62). In the late nineteenth century, al-Latrun was a small, mud-brick village built within the walls of the Crusader castle. French Trappist monks built a monastery cum agricultural school on a slope near the village in 1890 that became famous for its vineyards. During the British Mandate it was classified as a hamlet by the Palestine Index Gazetteer.
Interviews with monks who arrived at al-Latrun before 1940 revealed that there were two al-Latruns: Old al-Latrun (al-Latrun al-Qadima) and New al-Latrun (al-Latrun al-Jadida). The old al-Latrun was situated about 100 m east of the monastery; the new al-Latrun was built around 1940, some 400-500 m south of the monastery. The monks bought the land and houses of old al-Latrun and built twenty new houses for the villagers in return; these houses were built away from the monastery, so that the monks could maintain a quiet environment.
AI-Latrun's population was predominantly Christian. The villagers grew mainly grain and beans. In 1944145 a total of 7 dunums was devoted to citrus and bananas and 6,554 dunums was allocated to cereals; 439 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards. With the aid of the Trappist monastery the residents drew their drinking water via pipes from Bi'r al-Hilw (the 'sweet well'). Al-Latrun contained the ruins of the Crusader fortress, tombs carved in rock, and a canal. About 2 km west of al-Latrun lay Khirbat Jadira (146137), where a ruined tower, three large cisterns with arch-supported roofs, and a rock-cut tomb chamber were found.
This strategically located hamlet, which controlled the Jerusalem-Jaffa road, was the scene of a long series of battles in the course of the war. Six separate Israeli attacks were launched to capture the al-Latrun salient between mid-May and mid-July 1948. The first attack, during Operation Makkabi, actually led to the occupation of al-Latrun by the Giv'ati Brigade for a brief period on 16-17 May, according to the History of the War of Independence. This occurred while the Arab Liberation Army was in the process of handing over its positions to the Transjordanian Arab Legion. However, al-Latrun was regained by Arab forces when the Giv'ati units were summoned to the southern front.
Shortly afterwards, the newly-formed Sheva' (Seventh) Brigade and the Second Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade launched Operation Ben-Nun (Phase A) to gain control of the road to Jerusalem. Their attempt to capture al-Latrun was repulsed by the Arab Legion, which inflicted heavy casualties upon the Israeli forces. The New York Times stated that Arab Legion units rushed to the area to participate in the twenty-four-hour battle on 25-26 May. The fighting later spread to the area of Khulda and Bayt Jiz. Phase B of the same operation was implemented on 30 May. Israeli units reached the al-Latrun police station, but the demolition squad charged with destroying the building came under fire and withdrew. On 31 May the Israeli commander told a New York Times reporter that the attack had left the village badly burned and its police station gutted.
After this failure, the Israelis concentrated on finding an alternative route to Jerusalem, bypassing al-Latrun. This effort resulted in the so-called 'Burma Road' (named after the Chinese supply route in World War II), a dirt road making a detour southwards east of Dayr Muhaysin and rejoining the road at Saris. Since the road was insufficient for military purposes, a fourth attempt to occupy al-Latrun was made during the night of 8-9 June. The History of the War of Independence relates that Operation Yoram aimed at attacking the village from the southeast by occupying two overlooking hills. This time, units of the Har'el and Yiftach brigades were again driven back by the Arab Legion. Shortly after this attack, on 18 June, the 'shock troops' of the Irgun Zvai Leumi blasted part of the al-Latrun monastery. The New York Times quoted the Irgun as saying that the monastery was a stronghold for the Arab Legion. However, in the middle of the following month, an Associated Press (AP) correspondent wrote that 'in the face of repeated shelling by Israeli guns, the venerable Trappist monks still cling to their famous Latrun monastery under the French flag.' The AP report added: 'Neutral foreign reporters accredited to the Trans-Jordan Arab Legion have visited Latrun continually during the Palestine hostilities and never have detected the slightest violation by the Arabs of the monastery's sanctity.' The monastery had been attacked at least once before by Zionist forces, according to the newspaper Filastin. It reported on 16 April that a passing Jewish convoy opened fire on gardeners on the grounds of the monastery, wounding two of them and breaking windows.
The fifth attempt to occupy al-Latrun took place in the framework of Operation Dani (see Abu al-Fadl, Ramla sub-disctrict), on 15-16 July, after the end of the first truce of the war. As the second truce drew near, the operation's commander decided to focus on al-Latrun. The plan was to isolate the village from its hinterland and attack it from the east. Once again, the force assigned to isolate the village failed, sustaining nineteen casualties in a confrontation with the Arab Legion, according to the official Israeli version.
The sixth and final attempt, just before the second truce on 18 July, involved a direct frontal assault by units of the Yiftach Brigade. The Yiftach forces were equipped with a number of armored vehicles, including two Cromwell tanks that had been dispatched from the northern sector. However, technical difficulties with one of the tanks led to the failure of this effort. Two days into the second truce, a 20 July New York Times dispatch stated that al-Latrun had been completely surrounded by Israeli forces. But it remained accessible from Arab-held territory, being linked by the road to Ramallah. On 10 August, United Nations mediator Count Folke Bernadotte announced that Arab Legion forces had withdrawn from al-Latrun, after having controlled it for many weeks. He did not mention the cause of the withdrawal. The following day, Bernadotte ordered Israeli forces to withdraw from Hill 312 on the al-Latrun-Ramallah road because the position had been occupied after the truce was proclaimed. According to a New York Times report, Israel had agreed to evacuate two unnamed nearby villages and permit 400 inhabitants to return. However, on 12 August a pumping station was blown up at al-Latrun and press reports stated that the 'initial investigation points to Arab irregulars.' In response, the Israeli government countermanded orders for the evacuation of the two villages. Bernadotte then dropped his request that Israeli forces withdraw in the al-Latrun area, according to the New York Times.
The History of the War of Independence states that Israel was granted the right to use the al-Latrun-Jerusalem road in the armistice agreement with Jordan. As a result, the old al-Latrun became part of the West Bank and served as a camp for the Jordanian army, whereas the new al-Latrun fell in the no-man's-land. The residents of al-Latrun moved to the neighboring village of '1m was, on the West Bank. Their houses remained empty until 1967, when al-Latrun was captured by the Israeli army during the June War.
The settlement of Newe Shalom was established on village land in 1983.
All the houses of New al-Latrun have been destroyed. Dense foxtail grass and thorny plants grow among the rubble of former houses. There are also a few almond and carob trees and cactuses on the site.