PLace

Bayt Daras

Place
Bayt Daras — بَيْت دَرَاس
District
Gaza
Average Elevation
50 m
Subdistrict
Gaza
Distance from Gaza
32 km
Population
Year Arab Total
1944/45 2750 2750
1931 1804 1804
Land Ownership (1944/45) in dunums
Year Arab Public Total
1944/45 15896 461 16357
Land Use (1944/45) in dunums
Use Arab Public Total
Non-Cultivable & Built-up (Total)
Use Arab Public Total
Non-Cultivable 68 459 527
Built-up 88 88
156 459 615 (4%)
Cultivable (Total)
Use Arab Public Total
Cereal 14436 2 14438
Plantation and Irrigable 472 472
Citrus and Bananas 832 832
15740 2 15742 (96%)
Number of Houses (1931)
401

The village was situated in a flat area that sloped upwards on the west and southwest to form a hill. Bayt Daras was linked by a network of dirt roads to neighboring villages, such as Isdud (on the coastal highway) and Julis, which helped to make it into a rural center. The Crusaders built a castle on the hill that overlooked the village. The Mamluks (1205–1517) made Bayt Daras one of the mail stations between Gaza and Damascus and built a khan, or caravansary, there. In 1596, Bayt Daras was a village in the nahiya of Gaza (liwa' of Gaza) with a population of 319. It paid taxes on a number of crops, including wheat and barley, as well as on other types of produce and property, such as goats, beehives, and vineyards.

In the late nineteenth century, the village of Bayt Daras was surrounded by gardens and olive groves and was bordered to the north by a pond. Its houses were built of adobe brick. In modern times the village expanded southwestward along the road to Julis. It had two mosques, as well as an elementary school (established in 1921) that had 234 students enrolled in the mid-1940s. The evenness of the land and the availability of water rendered a large part of the land arable, and the people of this community worked mostly in rainfed agriculture, growing grain, fruit (especially citrus), and vegetables. In 1944/45 a total of 832 dunums was devoted to citrus and bananas and 14,436 dunums were allocated to cereals; 472 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards. The inhabitants also raised poultry and some worked in handicrafts and commerce. Bayt Daras had an archaeological site that contained stone foundations and vaulted rooms.

Bayt Daras was first attacked by Zionist forces in the early weeks of the war. The commander of Arab militia forces in the area described an assault consisting of indiscriminate mortar bombardment on 27–28 March 1948. Commander Tariq al-Ifriqi said that the attack left nine villagers dead, all noncombatants, and caused a fire in the village that burned crops and livestock. Earlier in the day, a skirmish had broken out between Arab militiamen and a Jewish convoy in the area. There was another brief battle around the village after a Jewish attack two days later, on 29 March.

Bombarding the village with mortar fire before launching a ground assault, the Giv'ati Brigade occupied Bayt Daras on 10 May 1948, according to Israeli historian Benny Morris. The assault took place at the beginning of Operation Barak. Morris states that the inhabitants fled during the attack and that their houses were blown up in the context of 'clearing' the Giv'ati's southern front before 15 May, in accordance with Plan Dalet. Egyptian accounts state that the village was not occupied by Israeli forces until shortly after the first truce began on 11 June.

Staff officer of the Sixth Battalion Gamal Abd al-Nasir (later president of Egypt) recalled that Israeli forces used the truce as 'an opportunity for consolidation' in this area, occupying Bayt Daras. Arab forces had intended to recapture Bayt Daras after the truce ended on 9 July, but failed due to 'a comic stroke of bad luck,' according to Abd al-Nasir. According to the plan, a Sudanese force was to occupy the village in a night attack, firing a green success signal to alert the Egyptian Seventh Battalion, which would move in to consolidate the victory. In case of failure, a red signal was to be fired and the Sudanese force was to withdraw to allow the artillery to go into action. Bayt Daras was indeed occupied by the Sudanese forces, but the soldier charged with the task made a mistake, firing the red instead of the green signal. Accordingly, the Egyptian artillery began bombarding the area, forcing the Sudanese from the positions they had taken in the village.

Three settlements were established in 1950 on village lands: 'Azriqam, Emunim, and Giv'ati. Later in the 1950s a farm called Zemorot was built on Khirbat Awda, which was also on village land.

The only remains of village buildings are the foundation of one house and some scattered rubble. The site is overgrown with wild vegetation interspersed by cactuses and eucalyptus trees. At least one of the old streets is clearly recognizable. The surrounding lands are cultivated by the settlements.