Excerpts from the booklet:
About the Village of Hittin
Summary by Talia Fried
Information taken from Walid Khalidi (Ed.), "All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948," pp. 520-538. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992.
The village of Hittin is located in the district of Tiberias, about 8 kilometers west of the city of Tiberias itself. The village is famed as the site of the 1187 "Battle of Hittin," in which Salah al-Din defeated the Crusaders and thus succeeded in conquering the entire Galilee. In fact, the location of the village in the plain of Hittin, on a tract of land connecting between Lake Tiberias on one side and the Lower Galilee on the other, made it attractive both as a corridor of commerce as well as to military invaders throughout the ages.
The area of the village is notable for the many shallow streams that run through it and the aquatic plants that grow there. The village was blessed with numerous wells and plentiful groundwater, and together with the fertile soil of the region the residents enjoyed a strong agricultural economy. Residents grew wheat, barley, fruit, and olives, and tended goats and beehives. It is possible, but not certain, that the village was built over the site of what was once the Canaanite town of Siddim or Ziddim, in Hebrew "Kfar Hatin" ("village of grain").
Hittin was connected with various notable figures from the Muslim world. 'Ali al-Dawadari, the religious scholar, died there in 1302. The shrine of the prophet Shu'ayb, sacred to followers of the Druze faith, is located in the village and remains a pilgrimage site until today, visited yearly in April. The village was also a rabbinical seat in the 4th century.
Topographically, Hittin lies on the banks of a wadi at the base of Mount Hittin; the two slopes of this mountain are known as the "Horns of Hittin" and the village itself is shaped like a triangle.
The population of Hittin was entirely Muslim. There were 605 residents in 1596 and 931 residents living in 19 homes in 1931. By 1944-45 the population of the village had grown to 1,190 and the village contained a market, an elementary school (established around 1897 by the Ottomans) and a mosque.
In 1944-45 Hittin's lands amounted to 22,764 dunams, 97% of which were owned by Arabs, 2% by Jews, and the remainder constituting public lands.
The war came to Hittin for the first time on June 9, 1948, when Jewish forces attacked nearby Lubya. Some of the armed residents of Hittin positioned themselves in the slopes above the village and shot on the Israeli armored unit in the plain below as it was retreating. Although the Hittin militiamen were better positioned, they were far outnumbered and there was a fierce battle that lasted about 4 hours. The Jewish forces believed they were trapped and fled. The first truce came into effect soon afterwards.
The next attack was carried out by the Sheva Brigade after the first truce ended, as part of Operation Dekel.
When Nazareth fell on July 16, soldiers from the Arab Liberation Army who were stationed in Hittin, about 25 to 30 in number, left the village. The villagers fled on that same night to Salama (near Dayr Hanna and al-Mughar). One of the militiamen who stayed behind described what had happened: "We remained... until the last minute.
We saw the Jewish armored unit advancing... we were too few and had too limited a supply of ammunition to withstand the attack... During the first Jewish attack, many of the villagers used up all the ammunition they had...
We retreated to the village and with a few remaining villagers, we fled north." The second truce came into effect shortly after the village was conquered. In the days that followed, some villagers tried to return and assess whether the village could be saved, but they were fired upon by Jewish forces. One resident was able to return for his parents and take them out of the village safely. The villagers remained about a month in the areas just outside the village, thinking they may be able to return, but they eventually gave up and began making their way to Lebanon. Soon after the war the Israeli settlements Arbel (founded 1949) and Kefar Zetim (founded 1950) were built on the lands of Hittin. The settlements of Kefar Chittim (1936) and Mitzpa (1908) are near Hittin but not actually on village land.
Visitors to the site today will be impressed by the minaret of the mosque, which is still intact although its arches are crumbling, and by the numerous shallow streams that run throughout the site. The grassy hills around Hittin are used for grazing animals and on the surrounding land grow mulberry, fig, and eucalyptus trees, as well as cactuses. Stones remain scattered across the site.
Testimony: Siham Faleh Shabaita -Kna'ane, refugee of Hittin
Siham was born in the village of Hittin in 1939. She and her family moved to live in the village of Arabeh nearby in the Galilee. She recounted her story and the story of the village to Raneen Geries in March 2007
The roads in Hittin were paved. Don't know why. Its roads were from Acre. There were orderly water trenches that passed in the roads. They brought water from the wells. In Hittin there were many wells. The well was next to the gravesite of the Prophet Shayab [Jethro]. From there the water went down into the trenches all the way to the orchards below and some of the water created an additional well at the foot of the mountain.
It was called "Ayn al-Kastel," it was next to the mosque. I used to go up to the roof of that mosque in order to pick figs from the fig tree that was located in our garden next door to the mosque and to Ayn al-Kastel. Our garden was called the Jew's garden because my father bought it from a Jewish man. He purchased forty dunams two or three years before we departed from the village. We had an olive orchard . My father left half of the olive trees and in place of the second half he sowed tomatoes and so on. The land is there until today. Women would bring water from the wells. I remember that a few months before the occupation the men said that soon we would have water in pipes all the way to the houses.
We departed the village before the pipes were installed.
The residents of the neighboring villages such as Arabeh, Deir Hana, Sakhnin, Nimrin and Lubya would rest at Ayn al- Kastel on their way to Tiberias. They would rest in our village with their animals and later would continue on their way.
Near al-Kastel was an orchard that belonged to my family. My father dug a pool there that was four meters long, two meters wide and one and a half meters deep, in order to collect surplus water. Because there was an allocation of water among the farmers of Hittin.
For example today it is my father's turn to water the garden, after he finishes watering he would save the leftover water in the pool. Near the pool was a large nut tree. When I returned to visit Hittin after the expulsion I saw that the tree had fallen into the well.
My family had a large guest room. In each house there was a guest room.
In my family's house there were four rooms, one for guests and one to store food and provisions. Provisions for the summer. When guests would come they were served from these provisions.
Taberiyya [Tiberias ]
One of my uncles came to live in Taberiyya. He opened a shop and sold the village wares there, vegetables and cheese... everything. The women worked the land, sowed and harvested and did everything. I would join my family in the valley. The women would grow tired, rise in the morning to bake and prepare provisions for the plowers and also to work the land. We sowed wheat, garbanzo beans, vetch, lentils and corn.
That was in addition to the orchards that had everything. In Hittin there were many olive trees. Every family had its own oxen. People were assisted by the oxen in order to make pilgrimage, a journey of two months by oxen.
There were women who would milk the cows. From my family they would go to Taberiyya to sell the milk. The women carried the milk on their heads and went to sell it in Taberiyya. The path we took from Hittin to Taberiyya exists until today.
We bought our provisions in Taberiyya. Even the sick went to the doctor in Taberiyya. In Taberiyya there was a hamam [bath house]. I went to the hamam with my mother. The hamam exists until today but it is locked. It is built deep in the ground in the shape of an arc. Inside there is a pool to which the women descended by set of stairs.
Next to us lived Jews in al-Katab [near Mitzpa]. I don't know what their origins were, our lands were 'neighbors.' Relations with them were good. I remember that once some youth from Hittin stole a sheep from al-Katab, so the people of Hittin returned the sheep to its owner.
In Hittin there was a school. It was above our house. It was only for boys. The teacher was from Safad, his name was Salah. He lived with us for rent with his sister. Only one girl from Hittin attended the school, Azaleh Rabah, the daughter of the mukhtar [the village head]. She studied in Taberiyya. Today she lives in Abu Dhabi. The people of Hittin told her father that he sent her to study so that later she could write letters to her boyfriend.? He told them, 'Better that she write herself than have someone else write for her.'
Weddings were held in the main square of the village. In the evenings they lit a bonfire so that the people could see each other. All of Hittin would attend the wedding. The girls married at a young age. There were folk poets.
Young boys and girls danced. My aunt was a seamstress. My father Mahmud would bring fabric from Taberiyya for the women. He would bring fabric for the girls and fabric for the mothers. We would sit and sew. Every woman sewed for her family, but my aunt also sewed for the brides in exchange for money.
We held all the events in the main square. Once they brought a cinema to the square, and sometimes the gypsies would arrive at the square. I don't understand how they were able to walk on the rope. They would praise the people of the villages and take money.
I was afraid of them. They would steal from the houses. They would set up their tents by the granary.
The young people took turns guarding the village. They purchased weapons. The Arab army constructed forts above our homes. I went to see how they dug into the ground and built the fortifications.
They slept in the school. After Lubya was conquered we felt the danger. The people decided to leave, even the Arab army. All the young people of Hittin fought at Lubya. There was resistance at Lubya. Two young people from Hittin fell in Lubya on the day of its conquest. I remember that they brought their bodies to the village on their shoulders through al-Nabi Shayab [Jethro's tomb].
We left the village in the harvesting season. The wheat was still in the granary. The Jews of Taberiyya told us not to leave Hittin, but the people were afraid. We heard about Deir Yassin and how they slaughtered the women and the girls. We were afraid and therefore we left. The [Israeli] military entered Hittin after the people had left. We left during the daytime. My sister and I packed our belongings and our clothes in a sack.
When our mother came to us from the valley we mounted the horses and left.
All the people went in the open fields. Some of them packed their belongings on the oxen and some of them carried them on their heads. Everyone went in a different direction. We heard about someone who forgot her daughter under an olive tree, someone from Arabeh found her and adopted her. We went to Wadi al-Limon, that is Wadi al-Hamam [between Kefar Zeitim and the Sea of Galilee], we stayed there and the airplanes were above us. Later we went to Wadi Salame [the Tzalmon river]. We were there about a month. We slept among the olive trees. My father would return at night from Wadi Salame with my cousins to Hittin in order to collect more items from the house. When he returned each time he would say that the Jews had entered Hittin, because each time the Jews heard noises coming from the houses they would fire on us.
Afterwards we went to Faradeh. We rented a house and lived there for two months. When we felt that Faradeh was going to be conquered we went to Bint Jbail [in Lebanon]. We sold our oxen, our animals and our sheep, more than forty head of cattle. Later we lived in Ayn al-Hilwe [a refugee camp in Lebanon] for three years. There the U.N. gave us tents and food.
My father was not able to live in Ayn al- Hilwe. He continued to work in Palestine as a gardener for a Jewish man from Taberiyya. His name was Nachmani. My father would visit us in Ayn al-Hilwe only once every few months. My uncles on the my mother's and father's side were also in Ayn al-Hilwe. Only my father decided after three years that we were to return to Palestine. He did not succeed in making a life in Lebanon.
This Nachmani asked my father to return with our family to Hittin, and that he would arrange identity cards for us. Initially he was able to acquire an identity card for my father, later for my mother. That way we returned in 1952 from Ayn al-Hilwe to Bint Jbail, from there to al-Jish [within the borders of Israel – Gush Chalav] by foot. My mother's uncles lived there.
We arrived in the village of al-Jish in the morning. We stayed in the fig orchards until nightfall because we were afraid of the military. By chance, the military governor [perhaps the reference is to the military commander in the area] came by to eat some figs. My uncle's wife said that the better figs were higher up, not there. That way she sent him away and we were saved.
The following day my sisters Fatme and Adaleh and I, together with our father, took the bus to Acre. From Acre we took a truck to Arabeh with my aunt. The following day my father drove back to al-Jish and brought my mother and my younger brothers Tareq and Sa'ed.
When we had lived in Arabeh, my father had continued to work for Nachmani in Taberiyya. He would return on foot from Taberiyya to Arabeh. One day Nachmani told my father: "Peasant, I want you to give me your land, and if not there won't be any job left for me to give you." My father refused and left the job with Nachmani. Later the General Security Services would come to my father and offer him to give up his land in Hittin in exchange for land in any other place he wanted.
My father refused to relinquish his land.
My brother Saber decided to study overseas. That was in 1976.
Father and mother drove him to the airport. On the way back they had a car accident and both of them were killed.
My husband and I visited Hittin when the houses were still standing. People from Tara'an had torn down the houses and taken the stones. I went walking among the brush, I was not afraid. I went to look for the al-Mirdifeh garden, the garden that was the fig orchard my father planted before we left Hittin. The fig trees had become large, and offshoots grew beside them. So the roots hadn't died.
Later I went to see the site of the Rabah house. The concrete floor was still there.
We had cast it before the expulsion in order to build an oil press. I continued on my tour and I saw partially destroyed houses, I saw the ventilation openings of the houses. The trees are there until today. My father had the hope until his last day to return to Hittin. He would go to Hittin every Friday with my brother Tareq and would explain to him where our lands were. We still visit Hittin. When I go there I sing to myself, "My land, my land. I will redeem you with my blood.
Hello, land of my forefathers, in you it is good to live and a pleasure to sing."