Barbara
District: Gaza
Population 1948: 2800
Occupation date: 05/11/1948
Military operation: Yoav
Occupying unit: Givati & Hanegev & Yiftah
Jewish settlements on village\town land before 1948: None
Jewish settlements on the built-up area of the village\town after 1948: Mavki'im
Jewish settlements on village\town land after 1948: None

The village was on the eastern periphery of the coastal sand dunes that ran parallel to the Mediterranean. The village center was situated on a relatively flat spot, but some village buildings were near dunes on uneven ground. Sand encroachment presented a serious problem until the 1940s, when the inhabitants were able to stabilize the dunes by building houses and planting trees in the appropriate places. Barara was located immediately to the west of the coastal highway and the railway line and so had access to the urban centers both north and south; secondary roads linked it to adjacent villages. A village with the same name (Barbara) appears to have existed on this site duing the Roman occupation of Palestine. The Arab geographer Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali (d. ca. 1522) said that the village was the hometown of al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Barbarawi, a local sage and a student of renowned Muslim scholar Ahmad ibn Dawud who died in 1323. In 1596, Barbara was a village in the nawiya of Gaza (liwa’ of Gaza), with a population of 402.

 In the late 19th century, the village of Barbara was rectangular in shape and surrounded by gardens and two ponds. The sand encroaching from the cast was stopped by the cactus hedges of the gardens. Olive groves were found in the east. Barbara’s adobe brick houses were separated by sandy streets. Its population was Muslim, and worshipped in an old mosque at the village center. This mosque was established during the reign of the Ottoman sultan Murad III (1574-1596); It contained the tomb of the above-mentioned al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Barbarawi. In addition to the mosque the village center contained a  umber of shops and an elementary school—founded in 1921—in which 252 students were enrolled in 1947.

Agricultural land ringed the village on all sides. Grapes, the chief crop and considered some of the best in Palestine, were solid in numerous coastal towns and villages. In addition, people cultivated almonds, figs, olives, oranges, guavas, watermelons, cantaloupes and grain. The fruit trees were concentrated n the westside of the village and grain on the east. In 1944/45, a total of 132 dunums was devoted to citrus and bananas and 9,613 dunums were allocated to cereals; 2,952 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards. Agriculture was primarily rainfed. A few wells with depths of 35-40 m were drilled to irrigate the orange groves and vegetable fields. Barbara was also known for it long rugs, al-mazawid, which were woven by women.

Occupation and Depopulation

Barbara had been the scene of skirmishes since the early weeks of the war. In the first half of January 1948, a Jewish bus passing through the village opened fire on villagers, without causing any casualties. On 12 January at 7:00am, according to a report in the Palestinian newspaper Filastin, the village was sprayed with gunfire and several windows were broken in the (empty) village school. Another attack, which took place in April 1948, was recorded by Tariq al-Ifriqi, the Sudanese commander of the irregular Arab forces in the Gaza area. As villagers ploughed their fields on 10 April, they were fired at by members of a nearby Jewish settlement; one villager was wounded. The village militias returned the fire and a two-hour-long battle ensued. No casualties were reported among the villagers, who said that Jewish forces were seen carrying their dead and wounded as they withdrew.

During the second truce of the war, the Israeli cabinet approved a plan to link Israeli forces in the Negev with those positioned to the north of them, in the area south of al-Ramla. Ts operation was first called Operation Ten Plagues but was later renamed Operation Yo’av. Barbara was captured during this operation.

In order to launch Operation Yo’av the Israeli army assembled the Giv’ati, Negev and Yiftach brigades in the inland area already in their hands, east of the coast between Isdud and Gaza. Egyptian units controlled the coastal strip as far north as Isdud. As soon as the second truce ended, on 15 October, the Israeli troops provoked Egyptian forces into firing on an Israeli supplies convoy and then began heavy bombing and strafing attacks. Israeli historian Benny Morris writes that, in order to “soften up” the villages before their occupation, the Israeli amy used artillery far more extensively than in any previous offensive, in addition to aerial attacks by bombers and fighter-bombers.

On 15 October, Unied Press International reported from Cairo that Israeli planes had bombed the village of al-Jura, along with Gaza and al-Majdal. Barbara was strafed and bombed on the same day. By the end of the operation, Israeli forces managed to defeat the Egyptian army on the southern front, occupying most of the villages in the Gaza district. By that time, Israeli military activities in the coastal areas had caused “despair among the local inhabitants,” according to an Israeli intelligence officer at the time. The bombing and strafing left its mark on the population in the region which was psychologically unprepared and hd no access to air-raid shelters.

Barbara was captured towards the end of the operation, on 4-5 November, soon after al-Majdal. The villagers were either expelled or fled under fire.

Israeli settlements on Village Lands

Two settlements were built on village lands. Mavqi’im was established on 12 January 1949, just south of the village, for the purpose of preventing the villagers’ return. Talmey Yafe, established in 1950, is southeast of the site. Ge’a, built in the same year, is northeast of the site and is close to, but not on, village lands.; it was built on the lands of neighboring al-Jiyya.

The Village Today

The crumbled walls and debris of houses are all that remains of the village buildings. The debris is overgrown with thorns and brush. Old eucalyptus and sycamore trees and cactuses also grow on the site. Some of the old streets are clearly identifiable. One area of the site serves as a garbage dump and a junkyard for old cars. The surrounding lands are planted by Israeli farmers in corn.

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Source: All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Walid Khalidi. Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992.

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