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Tell es-Safi

Tell es-Safi
Tel es-Safi, 2008
Arabic تلّ الصافي
Also spelled Tall al Safi
Subdistrict Hebron

31°41′59.23″N 34°50′48.77″E / 31.6997861°N 34.8468806°E / 31.6997861; 34.8468806Coordinates: 31°41′59.23″N 34°50′48.77″E / 31.6997861°N 34.8468806°E / 31.6997861; 34.8468806{{#coordinates:31|41|59.23|N|34|50|48.77|E|type:city_region:IL |primary |name=

Palestine grid 135/123
Population 1,290[1] (1945)
Area 27,794[1] dunams
Date of depopulation 9–10 July 1948[2]
Cause(s) of depopulation Military assault by Yishuv forces

Tell es-Safi (Arabic: تل الصافي, Tall aṣ-Ṣāfī, "the white hill"; Hebrew: תל צפית, Tel Tzafit) was a Palestinian village, located on the southern banks of Wadi 'Ajjur, Script error: No such module "convert". northwest of Hebron that was depopulated during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war on orders of Shimon Avidan, commander of the Givati Brigade.[3]

Archaeological excavations at the site reveal that it had been continuously inhabited since the 5th millennium BCE.[4] On the Madaba Map, the name is Saphitha, while the Crusaders called it Blanche Garde. It is mentioned by Arab geographers in the 13th and 16th centuries. Under the Ottoman Empire, it was part of the district of Gaza. In modern times, the houses were built of sun-dried brick. The villagers were Muslim and cultivated cereals and orchards.

Today Tell es-Safi is an archaeological site known as Tel Tzafit.[5] The remains of the Crusader fort and the Arab village can still be seen on the tel.[4]


Tell es-Safi sits on a site Script error: No such module "convert". above the plain of Philistia and Script error: No such module "convert". above sea level, and its white-faced precipices can be seen from the north and west from several hours distant.[5] Excavations there indicate that the site was settled, "virtually continuously from the Chalcolithic until the modern periods." Stratigraphic evidence attests to settlement in the Late Bronze and Iron Age (I & II) periods.[4] A large city in the Iron Age, the site was "enclosed on three sides by a large man-made siege-moat."[6]

Some archaeologists believe that Tell es-Safi was the site of the Philistine city Gath, though the identification is uncertain and was opposed by Albright.[7][8] The place appears on the Madaba Map as Saphitha. Israeli archeologists have uncovered a Philistine temple and evidence of a major earthquake in biblical times. Other major finds were evidence of the destruction of Gath by Hazael King of Aram-Damascus around 830 BCE, and evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan.[9]

During the Crusades, the site was called Blanche Garde ("White guard"), likely referring to the white rock outcrop next to the site. Richard Lion-Heart was nearly captured while inspecting his troops next to the site. During this period a fort was built on the site, this fort was later destroyed by Saladin.[10] The remnants of the castle of Blanchegarde, erected in 1141 by Fulk of Anjou, dismantled after being taken by Saladin in 1191, reconstructed by Richard of England in 1192, and retaken by Muslims forces shortly thereafter, served as a place of some importance in the village for centuries.[5]

Yaqut al-Hamawi, writing in the 1220s, described the place as a fort near Bayt Jibrin in the Ramleh area, while the Arab geographer Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali (d. ca. 1522), noted that the village was within the administrative jurisdiction of Gaza.[10]

In 1596 Tell al-Safi was a village in the Ottoman Empire, nahiya (subdistrict) of Gaza under the liwa' (district) of Gaza, with a population of 484. It paid taxes on a number of crops, including wheat, barley and sesame, and fruits, as well as goats and beehives.[11]

In the late 19th century, Tell al-Safi was described as a village built of adobe brick with a well in the valley to the north.[12] James Hastings notes that the village contained a sacred walī.[5]

The villagers of Tall al-Safi were Muslim, and they had a mosque, a marketplace, and a shrine for a local sage called Shaykh Mohammad. In 1944 a total of 19,716 dunums of land were used for cereals, while 696 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards.[13]

1948, and after

In 1948, Tell es-Safi was the destination for the women and children of Qastina, sent away by the menfolk of Qastina at this time, but they returned after discovering there was insufficient water in the host village to meet the newcomers' needs.[14]

On 7 July Givati commander Shimon Avidan issued orders to the 51st Battalion to take the Tall al-Safi area and "to destroy, to kill and to expel [lehashmid, leharog, u´legaresh] refugees encamped in the area, in order to prevent enemy infiltration from the east to this important position."[15] According to Benny Morris, the nature of the written order and, presumably, accompanying oral explanations, probably left little doubt in the battalion OC's minds that Avidan wanted the area cleared of inhabitants.[16][17]

In 1992, Walid Khalidi wrote that the site was overgrown with wild vegetation, mainly foxtail and thorny plants, interspersed with cactuses, date-palm and olive trees. He noted the remains of a well and the crumbling stone walls of a pool. The surrounding land was planted by Israeli farmers with citrus trees, sunflowers, and grain. A few tents belonging to Bedouin were occasionally pitched nearby.[10]


  1. ^ a b Hadawi, 1970, p.50
  2. ^ Morris, 2004, p xix village number #292. Also gives cause of depopulation
  3. ^ Morris, 2004, p 436.
  4. ^ a b c Negev and Gibson, 2005, p. 445.
  5. ^ a b c d Hastings and Driver, 2004, p. 114.
  6. ^ Widoger, 2005, pp. 348-9.
  7. ^ Bromiley, 1982, pp. 411-413
  8. ^ Horton Harris (2011). "The location of Ziklag: a review of the candidate sites, based on Biblical, topographical and archaeological evidence". Palestine Exploration Quarterly 143 (2): 119–133. doi:10.1179/003103211x12971861556954. 
  9. ^ In the Spotlight, Jerusalem Post
  10. ^ a b c Khalidi, 1992, p. 222.
  11. ^ Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, 1977, p. 150. Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 222
  12. ^ Conder and Kitchener, 1882, pp. 415 - 416 Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 222
  13. ^ Hadawi, 1970, p.94. Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 222
  14. ^ Morris, 2004, p. 176.
  15. ^ Givati, Operation An-Far, 7 July 1948, IDFA 7011\49\\1. Cited in Morris, 2004, p 436. According to Morris, Avraham Ayalon (1963): The Givati Brigade Opposite the Egyptian Invader "gives a laundered version of the order, - which I (unfortunately) used in the original edition of The Birth." The "laundered" version does not contain the words: "to destroy, to kill".
  16. ^ Morris, 2004, p 437
  17. ^ Operation An-Far



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