Remembering Kafr Sabt
02/2011
Kafr Sabt Booklet cover

Kafr Sabt

The village – which its Arab inhabitants call Kufr Sabet – was located in the eastern lower Galilee, 11 kilometers southwest of Tiberias, until Israeli forces captured it in 1948 and later demolished all its buildings. The village stood on a moderate slope with a view to the north over Wadi al-fajjas (Adami in Hebrew), part of a plain that descended gently in the remaining three directions. Before the Nakba it was connected by dirt roads to the neighboring villages: Lubya to the north, al-Shajara to the west and Kafr Kama – the nearest, and still existing today – to the south.

This seems to have been the site of the Canaanite village of Shibtan, which during the Roman period was known as Shabtay. Kafr Sabt is first mentioned by the Arab geographer al-Maqdisi (d. 990 CE) as an inhabited village with a mosque next to the main road. The Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1225 CE) also referred to Kafr Sabt, which was "near Tiberias,'' in his "Mu'jam al-Budlaan'' (Catalogue of Localities). The Crusaders (1099-1260 CE) called it Kafrasset. Ibn Qudama al-Maqdasi (1147-1223 CE), the Arab writer, who had been a soldier in Salah al-Din's army and participated in the liberation of Palestine from the Crusaders, noted in his war diary that Salah al-Din reached Kafr Sabt on Tuesday, 30 June 1187 CE, and departed on July 2. In 1596, during the Ottoman period, the village had 160 inhabitants who paid taxes on their wheat, oat and cotton harvest, as well as on goats and beehives. Jacotin's French map from 1799 shows the village as Kafr as-Sit.

The village had about 300 inhabitants at the end of the 19th century. They lived in houses of stone and mud, surrounded by level agricultural land. 'Arab al-Mashariqa, a Bedouin tribe, also lived on the village lands, in tents. The ruins of Umm al-'Alaq were nearby, and were part of the village. In 1930 there were a total of 340 inhabitants in Kafr Sabt, Umm al-Alaq and 'Arab al-Mashariqa, living in 71 crowded structures of stone, mud and cement. In 1944-45 the village had 480 inhabitants; it had 9,850 dunums of land, more than half of which had been bought by Jews. Most of the Arab-owned lands had been sown that year with legumes, except for seven dunums of irrigated orchards.

A report on archaeological excavations carried out in Kafr Sabt in August, 2001, appears on the web site of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. According to the report, the village was built on ancient ruins identified as belonging to Kfar Shabtay or Kfar Shubti, referred to in the Talmud. Pottery fragments were found, from two main periods: the early bronze age and the Mamluk-Ottoman era. A few pottery fragments were also found from the middle bronze age, the Roman and the Byzantine periods. Nine coins were found: one each from the 4th century CE (Roman), the 8th century (Abbasid), the 8th/9th century (Abbasid), from 1360-1363 CE (Mamluk), from 1496-1498 CE (Mamluk), three from the 14th/15th centuries (Mamluk), and one from the 16th/17th century (Ottoman).

The village was laid out from east to west as a long, narrow rectangle. Its inhabitants made a living from cultivating grains and raising farm animals. The buildings were built of basalt and mud. At least one building, whose ruins are still visible, was built of reinforced concrete. It belonged to at-Tayyib as-Sa'di, the leader of the village. The first floor was open to welcome guests, and the second floor was the dwelling. A mosque with arches was built of basalt and dressed light-colored stones. There was no school in the village; the children attended school in nearby Kafr Kama. There were two springs next to the village, al-'Ein al-Sufla [the lower spring], which was nearby on the northeast, and al-'Ein al-Ba'ida [the distant spring] to the east. The village had 557 inhabitants in 1948, including the Bedouin tribe of al-Mashariqa.

Capture of the village

Israeli sources report that the villagers abandoned Kafr Sabt on 22 April 1948, after the capture of Tiberias. But refugees from the village told us (cf. the testimonies below) that most of the inhabitants left during April and May, but a few remained until it was captured in the summer of 1948. It was during the Ramadan fast, which in 1948 fell during July, Jewish forces entered the village before dawn and captured it. They killed two villagers and the others fled, most toward Lubya. According to the book, Biladuna Filistin, the village was captured on 11 July 1948.

There was no fighting when Kafr Sabt was captured, nor earlier. A report by the Haganah "Intelligence Service'' explains that "this village is located among Jewish colonies and adjacent to them; and they have no reports that it was involved in attacks on Jews.'' Most of Kafr Sabt's refugees went to Syria, but a few families remained within Israel's borders. Today they live in Nazareth, Kafr Kana, al-Reina, Tur'an and Lod. The Jewish localities near Kafr Sabt – Ilaniya, Sharona, Yavne'el and Sde Ilan – took over the village's lands and use them for agriculture and grazing.

Benny Morris, the Israeli historian, refers to a dispute over the village's lands between the Ilaniyya (Sejera) and Sharona. He writes that Ilaniya had been under siege during the initial months of the war and some of its buildings were damaged. As compensation, it was allocated 350 dunums of land belonging to Kafr Sabt "who destroyed us,'' but "on their own initiative, residents of Sharona plowed and sowed that land. Sharona, unfortunately, was very jealous, and took by force land that had been given to us'' – according to a letter quoted by Morris sent by Shmuel Zimmerman of the Sejera colony council to the Ministry of Agriculture in December, 1948. The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture intervened, ordering the Sharon farmers to vacate the land. In 1949 Sde Ilan, was established west of Kafr Sabt, but not on its lands.

The Israeli authorities completely demolished all the village buildings of Kafr Sabt, including the mosque. Today the piles of stones are scattered about. The village center and its cemetery are surrounded by barbed wire and used to graze cattle. Most of the Arab inhabitants of Kafr Sabt who were forced to leave in 1948 belonged to two large families: Sidi 'Issa and Sidi Umar or al-'Umirat, as they were called later. Both these families came originally from Algeria, so the villagers – and another similar community in the Galilee – are know as "Maghrebans.''

They reached Palestine and Syria in the mid-nineteenth century with their leader, 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi, the head of the Algerian rebels against French rule. After his surrender in 1847, he was allowed in 1852 to leave Algeria and chose to live in Damascus. Tribes who followed him settled in Palestine and Syria. Dr. Mustafa Abbasi, in his article, "The Algerian community in the Galilee from the end of Ottoman rule until 1948,'' writes the Ottoman state allotted land in Kafr Sabt to the new residents and, in order to assist them, exempted them from taxes for eight years and from military service for twenty years. The article notes that in 1875, Kafr Sabt was located on the hill and had 300 inhabitants and a mosque. The Algerians established ten villages in Palestine: four in the Tiberias sub-district – Kafr Sabt, Ma'thar, Ulam and Sha'ara; five in the Safed sub-district – Dayshum, Marous, 'Amuqa, al-Husayniyya and Tulayl; Husha in the Haifa sub-district. Other Algerians lived in Safed, Tiberias and Samakh.

Abbasi believes that, despite the fact that the land was given to the migrants themselves, some of the "Amirs'', descendants of 'Abd al-Qadir, were able to take over large portions of it and became joint owners. The Amirs took advantage of the migrants' dependence on them at the beginning of the period of settlement and were able to dispossess them of some of their lands. This was especially true of villages in the Tiberias sub-district. During the Mandate, as the Zionist movement continued seeking land and prices rose, the Amirs sold their portion in the lands, thereby causing great harm to the migrants. Abassi writes that they even caused one village, Sha'ara, to be uprooted as early as 1927.

In this manner, Jews purchased 5110 of the 9850 dunums in Kafr Sabt that had been owned by the inhabitants.

Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi

A political and religious leader, author and poet, born in the city of Muaskar in northwest Algeria in 1808 and died in Damascus in 1883. Led the Algerian rebellion against French rule in 1830. The French army defeated Abd al-Qadir's movement and imprisoned him in 1847. He was released in 1852. He went to Istanbul and to Bursa, in Turkey, then to Damascus in 1856, to the al-'Amara neighborhood in the old city of Damascus, in a house he received from the Ottoman authorities. The al-Jazairi family still lives there today. Abd al-Qadir also had a palace in west Damascus which was restored in 2008 and became a public cultural center as part of the "Damascus – Arab Cultural Capital'' project. Sites and institutions commemorating the heritage of abd al-Qadir, the "Amir,'' were also established in Algeria. Following Algeria's independence in 1956, his remains were transferred from his tomb in Damascus to the cemetery in Algeria reserved for national leaders. Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi published a number of religious and political writings. One of his books was translated into French in 1858 by the French consul in Damascus.

Kafr Sabt

The village – which its Arab inhabitants call Kufr Sabet – was located in the eastern lower Galilee, 11 kilometers southwest of Tiberias, until Israeli forces captured it in 1948 and later demolished all its buildings. The village stood on a moderate slope with a view to the north over Wadi al-fajjas (Adami in Hebrew), part of a plain that descended gently in the remaining three directions. Before the Nakba it was connected by dirt roads to the neighboring villages: Lubya to the north, al-Shajara to the west and Kafr Kama – the nearest, and still existing today – to the south.

This seems to have been the site of the Canaanite village of Shibtan, which during the Roman period was known as Shabtay. Kafr Sabt is first mentioned by the Arab geographer al-Maqdisi (d. 990 CE) as an inhabited village with a mosque next to the main road. The Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1225 CE) also referred to Kafr Sabt, which was “near Tiberias,’’ in his “Mu’jam al-Budlaan’’ (Catalogue of Localities). The Crusaders (1099-1260 CE) called it Kafrasset. Ibn Qudama al-Maqdasi (1147-1223 CE), the Arab writer, who had been a soldier in Salah al-Din’s army and participated in the liberation of Palestine from the Crusaders, noted in his war diary that Salah al-Din reached Kafr Sabt on Tuesday, 30 June 1187 CE, and departed on July 2. In 1596, during the Ottoman period, the village had 160 inhabitants who paid taxes on their wheat, oat and cotton harvest, as well as on goats and beehives. Jacotin’s French map from 1799 shows the village as Kafr as-Sit.

The village had about 300 inhabitants at the end of the 19th century. They lived in houses of stone and mud, surrounded by level agricultural land. ‘Arab al-Mashariqa, a Bedouin tribe, also lived on the village lands, in tents. The ruins of Umm al-’Alaq were nearby, and were part of the village. In 1930 there were a total of 340 inhabitants in Kafr Sabt, Umm al-Alaq and ‘Arab al-Mashariqa, living in 71 crowded structures of stone, mud and cement. In 1944-45 the village had 480 inhabitants; it had 9,850 dunums of land, more than half of which had been bought by Jews. Most of the Arab-owned lands had been sown that year with legumes, except for seven dunums of irrigated orchards.

A report on archaeological excavations carried out in Kafr Sabt in August, 2001, appears on the web site of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. According to the report, the village was built on ancient ruins identified as belonging to Kfar Shabtay or Kfar Shubti, referred to in the Talmud. Pottery fragments were found, from two main periods: the early bronze age and the Mamluk-Ottoman era. A few pottery fragments were also found from the middle bronze age, the Roman and the Byzantine periods. Nine coins were found: one each from the 4th century CE (Roman), the 8th century (Abbasid), the 8th/9th century (Abbasid), from 1360-1363 CE (Mamluk), from 1496-1498 CE (Mamluk), three from the 14th/15th centuries (Mamluk), and one from the 16th/17th century (Ottoman).

The village was laid out from east to west as a long, narrow rectangle. Its inhabitants made a living from cultivating grains and raising farm animals. The buildings were built of basalt and mud. At least one building, whose ruins are still visible, was built of reinforced concrete. It belonged to at-Tayyib as-Sa’di, the leader of the village. The first floor was open to welcome guests, and the second floor was the dwelling. A mosque with arches was built of basalt and dressed light-colored stones. There was no school in the village; the children attended school in nearby Kafr Kama. There were two springs next to the village, al-’Ein al-Sufla [the lower spring], which was nearby on the northeast, and al-’Ein al-Ba’ida [the distant spring] to the east. The village had 557 inhabitants in 1948, including the Bedouin tribe of al-Mashariqa.

Capture of the village

Israeli sources report that the villagers abandoned Kafr Sabt on 22 April 1948, after the capture of Tiberias. But refugees from the village told us (cf. the testimonies below) that most of the inhabitants left during April and May, but a few remained until it was captured in the summer of 1948. It was during the Ramadan fast, which in 1948 fell during July, Jewish forces entered the village before dawn and captured it. They killed two villagers and the others fled, most toward Lubya. According to the book, Biladuna Filistin, the village was captured on 11 July 1948.

There was no fighting when Kafr Sabt was captured, nor earlier. A report by the Haganah “Intelligence Service’’ explains that “this village is located among Jewish colonies and adjacent to them; and they have no reports that it was involved in attacks on Jews.’’ Most of Kafr Sabt’s refugees went to Syria, but a few families remained within Israel’s borders. Today they live in Nazareth, Kafr Kana, al-Reina, Tur’an and Lod. The Jewish localities near Kafr Sabt – Ilaniya, Sharona, Yavne’el and Sde Ilan – took over the village’s lands and use them for agriculture and grazing.

Benny Morris, the Israeli historian, refers to a dispute over the village’s lands between the Ilaniyya (Sejera) and Sharona. He writes that Ilaniya had been under siege during the initial months of the war and some of its buildings were damaged. As compensation, it was allocated 350 dunums of land belonging to Kafr Sabt “who destroyed us,’’ but “on their own initiative, residents of Sharona plowed and sowed that land. Sharona, unfortunately, was very jealous, and took by force land that had been given to us’’ – according to a letter quoted by Morris sent by Shmuel Zimmerman of the Sejera colony council to the Ministry of Agriculture in December, 1948. The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture intervened, ordering the Sharon farmers to vacate the land. In 1949 Sde Ilan, was established west of Kafr Sabt, but not on its lands.

The Israeli authorities completely demolished all the village buildings of Kafr Sabt, including the mosque. Today the piles of stones are scattered about. The village center and its cemetery are surrounded by barbed wire and used to graze cattle. Most of the Arab inhabitants of Kafr Sabt who were forced to leave in 1948 belonged to two large families: Sidi ‘Issa and Sidi Umar or al-’Umirat, as they were called later. Both these families came originally from Algeria, so the villagers – and another similar community in the Galilee – are know as “Maghrebans.’’

They reached Palestine and Syria in the mid-nineteenth century with their leader, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi, the head of the Algerian rebels against French rule. After his surrender in 1847, he was allowed in 1852 to leave Algeria and chose to live in Damascus. Tribes who followed him settled in Palestine and Syria. Dr. Mustafa Abbasi, in his article, “The Algerian community in the Galilee from the end of Ottoman rule until 1948,’’ writes the Ottoman state allotted land in Kafr Sabt to the new residents and, in order to assist them, exempted them from taxes for eight years and from military service for twenty years. The article notes that in 1875, Kafr Sabt was located on the hill and had 300 inhabitants and a mosque. The Algerians established ten villages in Palestine: four in the Tiberias sub-district – Kafr Sabt, Ma’thar, Ulam and Sha’ara; five in the Safed sub-district – Dayshum, Marous, ‘Amuqa, al-Husayniyya and Tulayl; Husha in the Haifa sub-district. Other Algerians lived in Safed, Tiberias and Samakh.

Abbasi believes that, despite the fact that the land was given to the migrants themselves, some of the “Amirs’’, descendants of ‘Abd al-Qadir, were able to take over large portions of it and became joint owners. The Amirs took advantage of the migrants’ dependence on them at the beginning of the period of settlement and were able to dispossess them of some of their lands. This was especially true of villages in the Tiberias sub-district. During the Mandate, as the Zionist movement continued seeking land and prices rose, the Amirs sold their portion in the lands, thereby causing great harm to the migrants. Abassi writes that they even caused one village, Sha’ara, to be uprooted as early as 1927.

In this manner, Jews purchased 5110 of the 9850 dunums in Kafr Sabt that had been owned by the inhabitants.

Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi

A political and religious leader, author and poet, born in the city of Muaskar in northwest Algeria in 1808 and died in Damascus in 1883. Led the Algerian rebellion against French rule in 1830. The French army defeated Abd al-Qadir’s movement and imprisoned him in 1847. He was released in 1852. He went to Istanbul and to Bursa, in Turkey, then to Damascus in 1856, to the al-’Amara neighborhood in the old city of Damascus, in a house he received from the Ottoman authorities. The al-Jazairi family still lives there today. Abd al-Qadir also had a palace in west Damascus which was restored in 2008 and became a public cultural center as part of the “Damascus – Arab Cultural Capital’’ project. Sites and institutions commemorating the heritage of abd al-Qadir, the “Amir,’’ were also established in Algeria. Following Algeria’s independence in 1956, his remains were transferred from his tomb in Damascus to the cemetery in Algeria reserved for national leaders. Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi published a number of religious and political writings. One of his books was translated into French in 1858 by the French consul in Damascus.

Pierre Jacotin, 1764-1829

A French mapmaker and colonel in Napoleon’s army. In 1799, on Napoleon’s orders, Jacotin and a staff of engineers prepared 47 maps of Libya, Egypt, Sinai and Palestine. Six of those maps (nos. 37 - 43, and an index map) describe portions of Palestine, in particular the areas through which Napoleon’s army passed. These are the first topographical maps of the country prepared using 19th century surveying instruments. These maps, at a scale of 1:100,00, show both permanent and temporary topographical features. The permanent features are shown in an innovative manner, such as dotted contour lines to indicate elevation, and place names in French and Arabic. The preparation of the maps took a number of years, and continued even after the French withdrew from Egypt and Palestine. The maps, known as the “Jacotin Atlas,’’ were published in 1826 and are an important source of information about the country.

A French mapmaker and colonel in Napoleon's army. In 1799, on Napoleon's orders, Jacotin and a staff of engineers prepared 47 maps of Libya, Egypt, Sinai and Palestine. Six of those maps (nos. 37 - 43, and an index map) describe portions of Palestine, in particular the areas through which Napoleon's army passed. These are the first topographical maps of the country prepared using 19th century surveying instruments. These maps, at a scale of 1:100,00, show both permanent and temporary topographical features. The permanent features are shown in an innovative manner, such as dotted contour lines to indicate elevation, and place names in French and Arabic. The preparation of the maps took a number of years, and continued even after the French withdrew from Egypt and Palestine. The maps, known as the "Jacotin Atlas,'' were published in 1826 and are an important source of information about the country. 

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