Bayt Jibrin Before 1948
Placed 21 km from Hebron in the western foothills of the Hebron Mountains, Bayt Jibrin had a strategic position south of the valley bearing the same name - Wadi Bayt Jibrin, at the intersection of roads leading to Hebron, al-Ramla, and al-Faluja. Part of a rich history which first mentions it as a village in the heart of Idumea, Bayt Jibrin became a Roman colony in A.D. 200 under emperor Septimius Severus, renamed Eleutheropolis, and granted the largest tract of land in the country at that time. Further captured towards the end of the reign of the first caliph, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (d. A.D. 634), later by the Crusaders, and then by the Mamluk sultan al-Zahir Baybars (1233-1277) who put an end to the Crusaders' control of the village, Bayt Jibrin was referred to at the beginning of the thirteenth century as one of the most important towns in Palestine due to its strategic position. It was refortified by the Ottomans in 1551, and also later during the British Mandate.
Although only having a population of 275 in 1596, in the late nineteenth century, Bayt Jibrin was a large village of an estimated population of 900-1000 consisted entirely of Muslims, built of stone and mud, sheltered in the slope of a valley. In 1912, it was reported to have occupied about one-third of the ancient site. During the Mandate, Bayt Jibrin served as a commercial and service centre, it had two schools, a clinic, a bus stop, and a police station, and a weekly market attracting neighbouring communities.
Agriculture was mainly rainfed. The villagers cultivated grain and fruit, and planted olive trees. Archeological work on the site recovered formerly inhabited caves, burial places, and pigeon towers, as well as mosaic floors from two churches from the fourth and sixth centuries
Occupation and Depopulation
At the beginning of the war, due to the village's location on the front lines separating Israeli and Egyptian forces, the First Battalion of the Egyptian army had been ordered to take positions in Bayt Jibrin. The New York Times correspondent had reported in early May 1948 that thousands of Jaffa's inhabitants had fled inland to the Hebron area, where vast numbers became 'cave dwellers in the historic caves of Bayt Jibrin.
According to Israeli sources, the occupation of the village took place during the last stage of Operation Yo'av which, even though operating mainly in the southern coastal area, was pushed by the Giv'ati Brigade into the Hebron hills. Furthermore, after 18 October, Operation Yo'av was coordinated with Operation ha-Har, which was aiming to occupy the southern area of the Jerusalem corridor. Yigal Allon, known for not having had left any 'Arab civilian communities in his wake' (Benny Morris), commanded both operations.
Strafes taking place at the beginning of the Operation Yo'av on either 15-16 October [according to Benny Morris], or 18 October [New York Times], and further attacks over the next few days generated a 'panic flight' from the village. Benny Morris writes that an initial attack took place during the night of 24 October 1948, and later occupied on the 27. The 'History of the Haganah, however, records the initial raid on 26 October, and states that it was occupied the following day. Considered to be an important military advance on the southern front, the capture of Bayt Jibrin enabled the creation of the 'Faluja pocket'. After the completion of most of Operation Yo'av, some Israeli units advanced further eastwards.
In 1949, the settlement of Beyt Guvrin was established on village lands, north of the village site.
The Village Today
All that's left from the village today are a stone structure mosque surrounded by wild vegetation, an unidentified shrine, and a number of houses. Some of the houses are inhabited by Jews, while others are deserted, and one of them has been converted into an Israeli restaurant and outdoor cafe bearing the name al-Bustan ('the garden'). Near the deserted shrine are now prefabricated Israeli houses, and the surrounded area has become a tourist attraction due to its rich antiquities.
Source: al-Khalidi, Walid (ed.). All that remains: the Palestinian villages occupied and depopulated by Israel in 1948. Washington DC: 1992.