PLace

Bayt Jirja

Place
Bayt Jirja — بَيْت جِرْجا
District
Gaza
Subdistrict
Gaza
Average Elevation
50 m
Distance from Gaza
15.5 km
Population
Year Arab Total
1931 619
1944/45 940
Land Ownership (1944/45) in dunums
Year Arab Jewish Public Total
1944/45 8015 116 350 8481
Land Use (1944/45) in dunums
Use Arab Jewish Public Total
Non-Cultivable & Built-up (Total)
Use Arab Public Total
Non-Cultivable 27 350 377
Built-up 25
52 350 402 (5%)
Cultivable (Total)
Use Arab Jewish Total
Cereal 6911 6911
Plantation and Irrigable 618 18 636
Citrus and Bananas 434 98 532
7963 116 8079 (95%)
Number of Houses (1931)
115

The village was situated in a flat area on the southern coastal plain; a wadi crossed its western periphery. Bayt Jirja lay about 1 km east of the coastal highway―which afforded it access to Gaza, al-Majdal, Jaffa, and other areas―and was at a similar distance from the coastal railway line. A number of secondary roads and dirt paths linked it to adjacent villages. The Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1228) called it Jirja, and said that it was the birthplace of Abu al-Fadl al-Jarji, at one time the major authority in Palestine on hadith (the body of reports about the prophet Muhammad's life, an authoritative guide for the pious). In 1596 Bayt Jirja (erroneously named 'Bayt Kharja' in the Ottoman records) was in the nahiya of Gaza (liwa' of Gaza) and had a population of 468. It paid taxes on wheat, barley, fruit trees, goats, and beehives. The Ottoman village disappeared at one point; an inscription on its mosque indicated that the modern Bayt Jirja was founded in 1825 (or perhaps somewhat earlier). In the mid-nineteenth century the village was described as small, with gardens, and supplied with water from cisterns and a pond.

The shape of the village resembled a trapezoid; the longest side (where most expansion took place) was on the northwest, along the road to the neighboring village of Barbara. Its mud brick houses were separated by narrow streets. The villagers were Muslims; they maintained a shrine which they believed to be the tomb of the 'prophet' (nabi) Jirja, located on the eastern edge and overlooking Wadi al-Abd. An elementary school, established in the center of the village in 1932, had an enrollment of 67 students in the mid-1940s. The village center also contained some small shops. A number of wells, ranging in depth from 30 to 80 m, supplied drinking and irrigation water. The community cultivated grain, vegetables, and fruits. In 1944/45 a total of 434 dunums was devoted to citrus and bananas and 6,911 dunums were allotted to cereals; 618 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards. The remnants of the pre-nineteenth-century village, including the foundations of old houses and a well, were still visible in Bayt Jirja. Several of the nearby khirbas yielded a variety of ancient relics; Khirbat Amuda, known by the Crusaders as Amouhde, contained pottery fragments, cisterns, and a pool.

It is very likely that Bayt Jirja was occupied towards the end of Operation Yoav  in late October or early November 1948. The circumstances are not given, but Israeli historian Benny Morris indicates that it was captured along with al-Majdal on 4–5 November, if not a few days earlier. The fate of the villagers is also unknown, but Morris states that during the operation almost all inhabitants of the area either fled or were expelled, usually to the Gaza Strip. This was effected by the Israeli commander of the southern front, Palmach chief Yigal Allon, in accordance with the Haganah's Plan Dalet.

There are no Israeli settlements on village land. However, the lands of the destroyed village of Barbara, nearby, appear to have interpenetrated those of Bayt Jirja, which means that the three settlements on Barbara's lands (Mavqi'im, Ge'a, and Talmey Yafe) are quite close to the lands of Bayt Jirja.

The site is encircled by barbed wire fencing, with only the streets and scattered rubble still visible. One house on the northern edge of the village remains, along with some sycamore trees and cactuses. Some village lands are cultivated, while others are covered by woods.