PLace

Tall al-Safi

Place
Tall al-Safi — تلّ الصافي
District
Jerusalem
Average Elevation
175 m
Subdistrict
Hebron
Distance from Hebron
31 km
Population
Year Arab Total
1944/45 1290
1931 * 925
Land Ownership (1944/45) in dunums
Year Arab Jewish Public Total
1944/45 27794 1120 11 28925
Land Use (1944/45) in dunums
Use Arab Jewish Public Total
Non-Cultivable & Built-up (Total)
Use Arab Jewish Public Total
Non-Cultivable 7314 5 11 7330
Built-up 68
7382 5 11 7398 (26%)
Cultivable (Total)
Use Arab Jewish Total
Cereal 19716 1115 20831
Plantation and Irrigable 696 696
20412 1115 21527 (74%)
Number of Houses (1931)
208
*

The village stood on a hilltop almost 100 m above the plain, on the south bank of Wadi al-'Ajjur. It was in the western foothills of the Hebron Mountains. A secondary road linked it to the highway between al-Majdal and the Jerusalem-Jaffa highway, which ran northwest of Tall al-Safi.

Tall al-Safi was one of many sites in Palestine with a long history of human habitation; it was occupied from the third millenium B.C. until 1948. A limited excavation which unearthed many pieces of Philistine pottery was conducted on the site for the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1899. This and other evidence indicates that Tall al-Safi was probably the place where Gath, the Philistine city, was located. It appears on the Madaba map (dating from the sixth century B.C.) with the name Saphitha. During the Crusader period a fort was built on the site which was destroyed later by Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin). The Crusaders called it Blanch Garde ('white guard'), doubtless referring to the white rock outcrop that was visible on the east side of the mound. Richard the Lion-Heart was nearly captured while inspecting his troops next to the site. The Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1228) described it as a fort near Bayt Jibrin in the al-Ramla district, and the Jerusalem chronicler Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali (d. 1522) noted that Tall al-Safi was within the administrative jurisdiction of Gaza. In 1596, Tall al-Safi was a village in the nahiya of Gaza (liwa' of Gaza), with a population of 484. It paid taxes on a number of crops, including wheat, barley, fruit, and sesame, as well as on other types of produce, such as goats and beehives.

In the late nineteenth century, Tall al-Safi was a village built of adobe bricks with a well in the valley to the north. The walls of the village houses were built of stones that were held together by mud and mortar. The houses stood along the roads that wound in and out of the village, forming a star-shaped pattern.

Tall al-Safi's population consisted of Muslims. The villagers had a marketplace, a mosque, and a shrine for a Shaykh Muhammad, a local sage. Water for domestic use was drawn from a well. Rainfed agriculture constituted the main source of livelihood for the people of Tall al-Safi, followed by animal husbandry, especially goat and sheep breeding. The cultivated land was uneven in parts and flat in others and was planted in grain, vegetables, and fruits such as grapes, figs, and almonds. Olives were grown on 521 dunums. In 1944 a total of 19,716 dunums was allotted to cereals; 696 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards. Tall al-Safi's antiquities included the remnants of a Crusaders' castle, walls, burial places, a cave, and carved stones.

The village was a central target of Operation An-Far, launched during the period between the two truces (8-18 July 1948; see Bi'lin, Gaza District). On 7 July, Giv'ati commander Shim'on Avidan issued orders to the First Battalion to take the Tall al-Safi area and 'to expel the refugees encamped in the area, in order to prevent enemy infiltration from the east to this important position.' The position was taken on 9-10 July, and an Israeli army report quoted by Israeli historian Benny Morris later estimated that the capture of Tall al-Safi completely undermined the morale of the surrounding villages.

There are no Israeli settlements on village land.

The site is overgrown with wild vegetation, consisting mainly of foxtail and thorny plants, interspersed with cactuses, date-palm and olive trees. There are remnants of a well and the crumbling stone walls of a pool. The surrounding land is planted by Israeli farmers with citrus trees, sunflowers, and grain. A few tents belonging to a group of Bedouin are occasionally pitched nearby.