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Jish (Gush Halav)

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Jish (Gush Halav)
District North
Government Local council
Hebrew גִ'שׁ/גִ'ישׁ, גּוּשׁ חָלָב
Arabic الجش
Population 2,700 (2006)
Area 6916 dunams (6.916 km2; 2.670 sq mi)
Head of municipality Elias Elias
Coordinates 33°1′18.76″N 35°26′46.81″E / 33.0218778°N 35.4463361°E / 33.0218778; 35.4463361Coordinates: 33°1′18.76″N 35°26′46.81″E / 33.0218778°N 35.4463361°E / 33.0218778; 35.4463361

Jish (Arabic: الجش‎; Hebrew: גִ'שׁ, גּוּשׁ חָלָב‎, Gush Halav) is an Arab Christian town located on the northeastern slopes of Mt. Meron, 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) north of Safed in Israel's North District.[1] Classical sources written in Greek, including the Wars of the Jews by Josephus, call the village Gischala.

Jish was largely depopulated of its Muslim inhabitants during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, but those expelled from the nearby Arab Christian villages of Iqrit and Kafr Bir'im in the years following took up residence in Jish, forming the majority of Jish's population today.

According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Jish had a population of 2,600 inhabitants in 2005.[2] The majority of the population belong to the Maronite Church and Greek Catholics, with a significant Muslim minority.


Settlement in Jish dates back 3,000 years. The village is mentioned in the Mishnah as Gush Halav, a city "surrounded by walls since the time of Joshua Ben Nun". The Hebrew name, lit. "block of milk" is thought to refer to the chalky white limestone characteristic of the village's geological structure, or perhaps the fertility of its soil. Both Josephus and later Jewish sources from the Roman-Byzantine period mention the fine olive oil the village was known for.

After the fall of Gamla, Gush Halav was the last Jewish stronghold in the Galilee and Golan region during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-73 CE). Gischala was the home of Yohanan of Gush Halav (יוחנן מגוש חלב), known in English as John of Gischala, a key figure in the Jewish revolt in the Galilee and later Jerusalem.

In the Middle Ages, Gush Halav was famed among Jews for its graves of rabbis and ruins of ancient synagogues. During the Islamic rule of the Levant, the town adopted its modern name of Jish. In the 17th century, the town was inhabited by Druze, who left at the end of the century. In the early 18th century, Maronites, Greek Catholics and Muslims began settling in the town. The Galilee earthquake of 1837 caused widespread damage and over 200 deaths.[3]

1948 war

The population of Jish in 1945 numbered 1,090 inhabitants and the village spanned 12,602 dunams, the bulk owned by Palestinian Arabs.[4] Israeli forces captured Jish on October 29, 1948 in Operation Hiram[5] after what Benny Morris describes as "a hard-fought battle."[6] Benny Morris speculates, on the basis of cryptic handwritten notes from a meeting of the Mapam Political Committee on November 11, 1948, that a woman and her baby were killed in Jish, and possibly 11 others. After the capture of Safsaf and Jish, the initial IDF intelligence report states that 150-200 prioners were taken, but a report the next day states that this was a mistake and only "a small number of prisoners is in our hands."[6]

Residents of Jish who left the village in 1948 became Palestinian refugees, and many of them reside today in Lebanon. Hundreds of Arabs expelled from the nearby towns of Iqrit and Kafr Bir'im in 1949 resettled in Jish.[3][7] They are citizens of Israel, but continue to demand the right to return to their former villages.[7]

One of the Kafr Bir'im villagers who settled in Jish, Elias Chacour, (now Archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church), describes in his autobiography "Blood Brothers" how he discovered a mass grave containing two dozen bodies. [8]


Eighteen archaeological sites have been excavated to date in Jish and the nearby vicinity.[9] Archaeologists have excavated a synagogue in use from the 3rd to 6th centuries CE. Evidence was found of earthquakes in 306 CE and of the Galilee earthquake of 363 CE. A strong earthquake in 551 CE may have led to the site's abandonment. A carved Aramaic inscription on one of the columns of the synagogue, believed to date from the middle of the 3rd century or early 4th century CE, reads: "Yosei son of Nahum built this. A blessing be upon him." Coins indicate that Jish had strong commercial ties with the nearby city of Tyre. On Jish's western slope, a mausoleum was excavated, with stone sarcophagi similar to those seen at the large Jewish catacomb at Beit She'arim. The inner part of the mausoleum contained ten hewn loculi, burial niches known in Hebrew as kokhim. In the mausoleum, archaeologists found several skeletons, oil lamps and a glass bottle dating to the fourth century CE. A network of secret caves and passageways in Jish, some of them dug under private homes, is strikingly similar to hideaways in the Judean lowlands used during the Bar Kokhba revolt.[10]


  1. Yoav Stern (30 July 2007). "Galilee villages launch campaign to attract Christian pilgrims". Haaretz. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  2. Population of Localities numbering above 1,000 residents Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, pp.2
  3. 3.0 3.1 Projects: Gush Halav, Jish Archbishop Faina Milshtein. Israel Antiquities Authority.
  4. "Wecome to Jish (Gush Halav)". Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  5. Welcome To Jish (Gush Halav): Town Statistics and Facts Murad al-Dabagh, Mustafa. Biliduna Filisteen.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Benny Morris (2004). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge University Press. p. 500–501. ISBN 0-521-00967-7. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kafar Bir'em is waiting for justice:Introduction Committee for the uprooted of Kafar Bir'em.
  8. Elias Chacour: "Blood Brothers. A Palestinian Struggles for Reconciliation in the Middle East" ISBN 0-8007-9321-8 with Hazard, David, and Baker III, James A., Secretary (Foreword by) 2nd Expanded ed. 2003 (The first six chapters can be downloaded here (the Nov 08, 2005 link)
  9. Projects - Preservation
  10. ERETZ Magazine

See also

Oldest synagogues in the worldar:الجش (إسرائيل)


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