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Birzeit History

Birzeit history and population

 

A University Town in Palestine

 

Birzeit was made internationally known because of its famous University and the energy of its people. Birzeit University is the first Arab University which had been established in the West Bank of Jordan and one of its largest academic institutions.

Many Palestinian leaders, academicians, engineers, artists, scientists, historians & writers were graduates of Birzeit University or sons and daughters of Birzeit.

Birzeit the town hads been in existence for thousand of years. The early history of the town or the origin of the name is not documented. The most common belief is that the name was origninated during the Byzantine and Roman rules. It was given to a town that was located in the same vicinity of the current location. The English translation of the nake Bir Zeit (two words) is Oil Well. It is believed that the name was given to the town because at that time, it ws famous for its olive oil, adnt that the inhabitants used to store the oil in wells dug in the ground. As a matter of fact, six of these old wells still exist in the old town,but are not beign used. The name, Beorzetho, has appeared in several verses of the Old Testement. Beorzetho is believed to be the name that the Romans usesd for Birzeit.

 

Location

Birzeit  is  located  about 25 Kilometers (15.6 miles)  into the north of Jerusalem (Province of Ramallah).

It is located in a hilly terrain at the elevation of 780 meters (2,340 feet) above sea level. The highest of its hills is at 818 meters (2,454 feet). It is bordered by Jifna and Ain Senia from the East, Atarah from the North, Burham and Koubar from the West, Abu Shukhaidem and Abu Qash from the South, and Mazra’a Al- Sharkiah from the South West.

 

Climate

Temperature with four distinct seasons, warm to hot summer, cold to mild winter.

 

Population

In the official Ottoman register, the village of Birzeit had a population of 135 people. In 1863 an immigrant named GUERRIN visited Birzeit and wrote in his memories that Birzeit ahd a population of 1800 people, most of them were Orthodox Christians. Some old people recall that prior to the first World War, Birzeit had a population of about 1400 people. By the end of that war in 1918 and due to the death cases that occurred and because of the war also the spread of the infectious diseases such as Cholera, the population of Birzeit had been decreased to 700 people.

The following is a list of an official enumerations of population that were done by the British Mandate and the Jordanian Government: 

Year

Number of Individuals

1922

896

1931

1232 (360 Moslems & 871 Christians)

1945

1560 (570 Moslems & 990 Christians)

1961

3253 (1829Moslems & 1424 Christians)

 

The steady increase of population between the year 1945 and 1961 was due to the influx of refugees who settled in Birzeit after they were out of their cities and villages due as a result of 1948 war. Since 1961 no official enumeration of population has been carried out. It is important to add that 30% of Birzeit’s population left their city after the war of 1967 as most of them left to Jordan, other Arab Countries, and the Americas. Estimates suggest that the population is between 7,000 to 10,000 people living around the world. Five thousand people remained in Birzeit along with the rest scattered around the world. The large Birzeiti Diaspora is in the United States of America. There is also a large group of Birzeitis in Amman –Jordan, and small communities in Canada, Australia and the Arab Gulf States.

Historical  Sites

Birzeit is located in an area that has witnessed a great deal of historic changes over the centuries. Many civilizations had flourished and perished in that part of the world. The ground under the town is full of ruins and artifacts from the old civilizations. There are six large town ruins that can be seen around the town. These include Birzeit Old Town, Birzeit ruins such as: Khirbah, Tarfeen, El-Ras ruins, Monastry of Augbaan and Rojoum Al- Rujman. Other ruins can be located outside the town’s limits, but there is a part of the land which was owned and farmed by the the townspeople. Birzeit University has had an Archeology Department for a number of years, and they have been excavating theses and many other ruins in neighbouring towns.

 

The Recent History

The transformation of Birzeit into its  present cultural identity is well documented. That society was kept alive by carrying it from generation to generation through word of mouth until it ws documented early in the twentieth century.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were great families who settled down in Birzeit. Such as: Aub Awwad, Kassab and Abu Shaar as the situation demanded at that time. Eache family belonged to one of the two big Groups which were very popular, the Qais and Yeman Groups. Abu Awwad family followed the Qais Group, whereas the families of  Kassab and Abu Shaar towed the Yemen Group.

According to an agreement made among  the country Leaders, The Yeman and Aais tribes were asked to relocate. Consequently,the families of  Kassab and Abu Al- Shaar were asked to leave Birzeit to the villages og Ain Qinia and Ain Areek. At the same time, the families (Al-Arankia and Al-Bazzar) were asked to move to Beitello, Surda and Birzeit. However, the Kassab and Abu Al-Shaar families refused to comply with the agreement. As a result, and after consulting Sheikh Samhan, a country Leader who ws living in Ras Karkar, Al-Bazzar sent their men to invade Birzeit. Two of them,arriving before the down,killed Alqam, head of the Kassab family. After that, the two families of  Kassab and Abu Shaar were forced to leave Birzeit into Ain Qinia and Ain Areek by the invaders.

There are a few documentaries including a book prepared by Mousa Alloush about Birzeit that attempted to capture that History. The following are a few highlights from these documents. Prior to the year 1700 AD, Birzeit was inhabited by two clans: Dar Awwad and Dar Kassab. Dar Awwad belonged to Al-Qais political group, while Dar Kassab belonged to Al-Yeman group. These two political groups have had ancient enmity since they lived in the Arabian Peninsula. That enmity flared from time to time, causing the two groups to fight bitter wars. Al- Qais and Al-Yeman were engaged in one of these wars at the turn of the century,when another clan, the Aranika, who were belonged to Al-Qais group was forced by Al-Yeman to leave Ain Areek and live in the Palestinian village called Beit Ello, near Ramallah.

The Aranika, 150 years prior to that event, had migrated from Trans Jordan, from a town called Middian near Al-Karak, because of another tribal war, and settled in Ain Areek. In the year 1700 AD, the Aranika were sharing a small area in Beit Ello with Al-Bazzar clan, which belonged to Al-Qais Group. Being started from land, some of the Aranika decided to return back to Ain Areek and claim their land back. The remaining Aranika decided with Al-Bazzar clan to invade Birzeit and get rid of Dar Kassab and claim their land and belongings. In a surprise attack, the two clans succeeded in killing the leaders of Dar Kassab and fourteen others of their men. The rest of Kassab fled the twon, Al-Aranika quaralled among themselves and agreed eventually to divide the lands of  Birzeit, Beitello and Surda. Birzeit formed one share while Beitello and Surda formed the second share. Al- Aranika expressed their desire to get Birzeit. However, Saleh Ibn Hamdan, a leader of Al-Bazzar family, who advised them to express no preference for Birzeit in front of his father who according to Ibn Hamdan would object to that.

Acting upon Ibn Hamdan’s advice, Al-Aranika demanded that they get Beitello and Surda As their first preference was rejected, Al-Aranika got Birzeit as they originally wanted. The two clans had also occupied other villages in the area. In a tossup,the Aranika won Birzeit, while Al-Bazzar got the other villages. The Aranika quickly moved into Birzeit & distributed the land of Dar Kassab among themselves. On the other hand, Dar Awwad kept their belongings and lived with the newcomers in harmony. The town has expanded a great deal since those events took place. Much of the lands that are owned  today by the people of Birzeit was bought from neighbouring villages. Many other families also joined the town including the Aranika families who previously opted to return to Ain Areek. Other families moved into town as refugees of the Arab – Israeli war of 1948.

 

Immigration

1- Causes  of  Immigration:

The development that took place in the Ottoman Empire after 1908, was the desposition of  Sultan Abdul-Al-Hameed,and the strict Turkish political parties who received the power which led to more pressure and harassment on the people of Palestine at that time. The Turkish government then grasped severely on the economy and the military life, and imposed a compulsory military recruitment system on the Christians similar to Moslems. So far, the first time, the Christians of Birzeit found themselves forced to be involved in the military service, and to participate in wars very far away from their town as Yaman, Balkan & other Countries. Those people who participated in such wars and traveled such long journies knew that there is no return. On the other hand, the escape from the military service meant facing the death penalty. To escape such situation, a great number of the Birzieti people tended to immigrate to the United States of America. Some of them left their wives and small their small children, sold their land or mortgaged them and got abroad the ship and sailed to the mysterious,unknown and faraway country. Between the years of 1910 and 1914, an intensive immigration wave had been carried out to U.S.A. as an escape from the unjust, and brutal rule of  the Turkish Government. A large number of the Birzeiti immigrants who settled down in the new country, had to overcome and live freely and respectfully. They became involved in the new life, and joined the army during the first world war. But, the problem with the first Birzeiti immigrant is that most of them did not return. Some of them died as single people while others married to foreign girls and got children from them, and they remained there, while very few of them returned to their homeland after the end of the war and began a new life in Birzeit. The decision fro the immigration was the hardest decision even taken by the Birzeiti people whose the sweat of their foreheads was mixed with the soil of their lands. There were no doubt that a stranger factor which imposed itself upon them and forced those farmers to abandon their animals, their ploughs, their fields and their olive trees just for the immigration to America. Surely, that severe and strong factor was the cruelty and brutality of the Turkish rule. Immigration to North and South America was then the temporary escape from the brutal Turkish Regime. The charge for travel ws very high comparing with the revenues of those farmers, only very few of them were able to afford it, so the majority of the immigrants had to borrow the required amount of money from both the  rich people and the clergymen,some of them had mortgaged or sold their lands,also a number of them lost almost their lands, so they did not return back to their homeland.

 

2- Means of Travel:

The old Birzieti immigrants used to ride on their donkies to Jaffa to sell them there, and then got abroad a ship tht happened to anchored in the port and would sail anywhere the ship takes them  to. Thus we find that some of them arrived to North America, and others to South America. Others who wanted to escape the military service with the Turks.