PLace

al-Shajara

Place
al-Shajara — الشَجَرَة
District
Galilee
Average Elevation
250 m
Subdistrict
Tiberias
Distance from Tiberias
14 km
Population
Year Arab Total
1944/45 770
1931 584
Land Ownership (1944/45) in dunums
Year Arab Jewish Public Total
1944/45 2757 61 936 3754
Land Use (1944/45) in dunums
Use Arab Jewish Public Total
Non-Cultivable & Built-up (Total)
Use Arab Public Total
Non-Cultivable 11 924 935
Built-up 100
111 924 1035 (28%)
Cultivable (Total)
Use Arab Jewish Public Total
Cereal 2102 28 12 2142
Plantation and Irrigable 544 33 577
2646 61 12 2719 (72%)
Number of Houses (1931)
124

The village was located on the eastern slope of a moderately elevated hill. A broad wadi ran north to south along its eastern perimeter. AI-Shajara was located on a highway that led to Tiberias, in the northwest, and Nazareth, in the southeast. Its name, al-Shajara, meant 'the tree' in Arabic. It was known as Seiera during Crusader times. In 1596, al-Shajara was a village in the nahiya of Tiberias (liwa' of Safad) with a population of 396. It paid taxes on a number of crops, including wheat, barley, olives, fruits, and cotton. Taxes were also paid on other types of property, such as goats, beehives, orchards, and a press that was used for processing either olives or grapes. The Swiss traveler Burckhardt noted in 1812 that the plain around the village was covered with wild artichoke. In the late nineteenth century, al-Shajara was a stone-built village and had about 150 residents. The village was surrounded by arable land on which there were fig and olive trees, and there was a spring to the south.

Al-Shajara was the fourth largest village in the Tiberias district in terms of area. The majority of its houses were clustered together in the northeastern part of the site, with most of the others scattered throughout the western part. Woodlands and fields of wild grass covered the foothills facing the village in the south. Of the 770 people in al-Shajara, 720 were Muslims and 50 were Christians. The village had an elementary school that was established during the British Mandate.

The villagers relied on agriculture for their living. In 1944/45 they allocated a total of 2,102 dunums to cereals; 544 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards. Al-Shajara was an archaeological site that contained remains such as the foundations of a church, inscriptions carved in stone, and tombs hewn from the rock. Two khirbas lay nearby, one to the northeast and the other to the southwest; they contained ruins, cisterns, and burial grounds.

In mid-February 1948, as a battle flared between Arab and Haganah forces in the Baysan Valley, the Haganah forces carried out a diversionary attack on al-Shajara. The Palestinian newspaper Filastin wrote that after midnight on 17 February, a Haganah unit infiltrated into the village and blew up two houses. (An official British communiqué said that the destroyed houses were deserted.)

The village was captured on 6 May 1948 in the aftermath of the fall of Tiberias and as a prelude to the attack on Baysan. The attack was part of a Haganah effort to consolidate its hold on lower Galilee before 15 May. Units of the Golani Brigade (mainly the Twelfth or Barak Battalion) struck at dawn and took the village after a 'powerful attack,' according to the History of the Haganah. An unspecified number of villagers were killed during the attack; the Haganah account states that the village's 'inhabitants fled leaving their dead behind.' A New York Times story said that the bodies of twenty Arabs were found after the Haganah overran the village. Meanwhile, another Haganah unit surrounded the neighboring village of Lubya to prevent reinforcements from arriving to aid the villagers. Later that morning, at 8:00 A.M., local Arab forces launched a counterattack from the direction of Kafr Kanna and Tur'ana. The battle lasted the whole day, but by nightfall, al-Shajara remained in the hands of Haganah forces, according to the History of the Haganah.

There are no Israeli settlements on village lands, but a number of settlements are quite close to the village site. Zionists established the settlement of Sejera in 1902, to the northeast of the village. Its name was taken directly from that of al-Shajara. The settlers later changed its name to Ilaniyya (188240), from the Hebrew ilan ('tree'), a translation of the name of the Arab village. Kibbutz Sde Ilan (190239) was established east of the agricultural lands of the village in 1949. The agricultural station of Chawwat ha-Shomer (188240), established in 1956, was not on village lands but was very close to the site. It no longer appears to be inhabited.

The ruins of houses and broken steel bars protrude from beds of wild vegetation. One side of an arched doorway still stands. The western part of the site and the nearby hill are covered with cactus. Cattle barns belonging to the nearby settlement of Ilaniyya stand on the southern and eastern sides of the site. On the northern edge is a wide, deep well with a spiral stairway inside (used for periodic cleaning and maintenance of the well). Fig, doum-palm, and chinaberry trees grow in the area.