THE MAIN ROAD BETWEEN Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the coastal area is especially
crowded on spring days between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot, when tens
of thousands – tourists and hikers, Jews, Christians and Muslims – make the
traditional pilgrimage to the holy sites in Jerusalem.
From Sha’ar Hagai
(“the Gateway to the Valley”), at the foot of the hills on the road to
Jerusalem, the winding highway climbs past Abu Ghosh, Ein Nakuba and Ein Rafa, a
bloc of Israeli Arab villages surrounded by both veteran and newer Jewish
neighborhoods. The Kastel, the highest point in the region, towers
The region has been important for millennia. For the
Canaanites, the kingdoms of Judah, the Greek and Roman conquests, early Islam,
the kingdom of the Crusaders, and the later Islam of the Ottoman Empire, this
has always been the road to Jerusalem, the capital.
In recent times, the
region has undergone remarkable development – hotels, restaurants, pubs and
coffee shops, commercial centers, parks and resorts have sprung up alongside the
historical antiquities and more recent archeological discoveries. There are two
impressive churches here, one ancient and one new, annual classical music
festivals – even a restaurant, located in a gas station, totally devoted to
statues, drawings and pictures of Elvis Presley.
developments are also nestled in these magnificent vistas. One might call this
“a microcosm of the Palestinian right of return.”
Tzova was once a small
Arab village located on the southern peak of the Kastel mountain; almost all of
its villagers fled in the War of Independence in 1948. Yet since then, despite
all of the talk about the right of return – or the lack of such a right – some
of the villagers have returned. Not to the site of their original village, but
rather to a small portion of their lands, located on the slopes of the mountain
as it descends from the ruins of their village in the direction of Abu Ghosh.
The refugees from Tzova have named their new village Ein Rafa.
to understand this unique phenomenon, we must go back 63 years in history to
April and May 1948, the days of Israel’s War of Independence. In those days, the
fate of the approaches to Jerusalem and of the city itself were
DURING THE WINTER MONTHS, in the beginning of 1948, the
Jewish forces faced heavy losses. The British were still in control, but their
Mandate was coming to its end and irregular forces on both sides conducted cruel
campaigns, focusing on travel on the roads. Jewish convoys were unable to
break through to isolated Jewish settlements. Jewish Jerusalem, with its
more than 100,000 residents, was under severe siege.
The main road to Tel
Aviv was blocked at the approach to the mountain, in the area known as Sha’ar
Hagai (Bab el-Wad, in Arabic); the water supply to Jerusalem had been cut off
and the city was suffering from a severe shortage of food and
Under siege, Jewish neighborhoods and settlements near and
within Jerusalem were about to surrender to local Arab forces and to the Arab
Liberation Army, composed of units of volunteers from Syria and Iraq, commanded
by Fawzi al-Qawuqji. Towards the end of the British rule, the settlements of the
Gush Etzion bloc, to the south of Jerusalem, had surrendered to the Arabs, as
had the settlements of Atarot and Neveh Ya’acov to the north. The Jewish Quarter
of the Old City had also fallen to the Arabs, as had the small Jewish
neighborhood of Shimon Hatzadik, north of the Old City.
The turning point
came at the beginning of April 1948, when the Jewish community received
significant military aid, including guns and ammunition, from Czechoslovakia (in
accordance with directives from the Soviet Union). David Ben-Gurion, head of the
Jewish community and soon to become Israel’s first prime minister, commanded the
Jewish forces to engage in a campaign to break the siege on Jerusalem. Known as
“Operation Nachshon,” the campaign involved bitter battles along the entire
mountainous road, and especially in one small area, the Kastel.
the villages near the Kastel had been captured by Jewish forces. Their residents
had fled. Only the Arabs in the large village of Abu Ghosh and the residents of
nearby Beit Nekuba, who had fled their village but were sheltered in Abu Ghosh,
remained. The residents of Tzova, built on the ruins of a Crusader castle near
the Kastel peak, had also fled, most of them to East Jerusalem and, from there to the north
and to eastern Jordan.
Only 18 members of the Barhoum family from Tzova,
who owned one or two houses on a plot of land in the valley at the slopes of Abu
Ghosh, not far from their village, remained. According to reports from those
days, the Barhoum family hid in their houses, and thus did not suffer the fate
of the “Nakba,” the defeat and exile of the Palestinians in 1948.
years ago, Muhammad Said Raman, who was born in the village, published (in
Arabic) his book, “Tzova, Recollections from a Jerusalem Village,” in which he
describes the events between April 7 and 8, 1948. Numerous historians have
written that if they were to set a specific date for the decisive moment in the
campaign for Jerusalem, they would choose that night, in which local Arab units,
known as the Holy Jihad (al-Jihad al-Mukadis) attempted to recapture the Kastel
from the Jewish forces.
They deployed near Tzova, under the command of
Abd Al-Khadar al-Husseini, the commander- in-chief of the Holy Jihad, and
attacked the Kastel. Al-Husseini was a highlyadmired commander, scion of a
venerable Jerusalem family, son of the head of the Arab Executive Committee and
a relative of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
A few hours before the attack
on the Kastel, al-Husseini had returned from Damascus, where he had tried to
convince the members of the military committee of the Arab League to provide him
with guns and ammunition. They refused, telling him that he should wait six more
weeks, until the British left the region and the regular Arab forces invaded
Palestine to defeat the soonto- be-established Jewish state. Enraged, al-
Husseini returned to take command over the attempt to retake the Kastel. “The
Kastel is Jerusalem,” he declared, meaning that whoever held the Kastel would
The attack was repulsed. Al-Husseini waited in the
command base near Tzova but, as dawn broke, he lost patience and climbed up the
mountain to see what had happened to his men. Near the peak, he was shot and
killed by Jewish soldiers. Initially he was presumed missing, but soon the news
of his death spread quickly through the region; thousands of Arabs rushed to the
Kastel, attacked the Jewish forces and killed dozens of the
His death engulfed the Palestinian Arab community in despair.
The next night, Jewish forces from the paramilitary Lehi and Irgun groups
attacked the village of Deir Yassin on the western outskirts of Jerusalem,
killing scores of villagers.
Those 24 hours, during which al-Husseini
died and the killings took place in Deir Yassin, determined the fate of the
DURING THOSE SAME HOURS, the 18 members of the Bahroum family stayed
in hiding near the small Ein Rafa stream, in the valley under their abandoned
village. After the establishment of the State of Israel, many of the homes in
Tzova were destroyed and Kibbutz Palmah-Tzova was established on the ruins and
on land that had belonged to the village.
On the slopes towards Abu
Ghosh, also near the Ein Rafa stream, refugees from the nearby village of Beit
Nekuba received plots of land and built a new small village, known today as Ein
And what happened to those 18 members of the Bahroum family?
Gradually, they managed to bring back many of the villagers who had fled in 1948
and lived in Jordan. Of course, not all of the refugees from Tzova have returned
and resettled with the family in Ein Rafa, yet today there are nearly 1,000
former refugees living there. Some of this number is due to natural growth, but
most of these residents have returned as a result of the permits given by the
Israeli authorities for family unification. That is, the children of refugees in
Jordan have married into families in Ein Rafa, moved to Israel and even obtained
This is an unusual case: Some of the refugees from
an Arab Israeli village, destroyed in the War of Independence, have managed to
return to Ein Rafa.
Ein Rafa, on the lands of Tzova, almost never makes
it into the news. There are almost never any untoward activities
There are no signs of antagonism towards Israel. Nor is there any
hostility in the nearby village of Ein Nekuba or in Abu Ghosh, on the other side
of the road to Jerusalem. This bloc of three Arab villages has a population of
close to 10,000 residents. Only a few of them engage in agriculture; most of
them work in Jerusalem. Many of them are academics, businesspeople, tradesmen
A few Jewish families have recently rented homes in
these villages and become partners in the restaurant and entertainment
businesses that are flourishing in Abu Ghosh.
Looking out from the car
window as you travel along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, the stately homes of
the three villages are clearly visible. Almost all of them are wellmaintained,
built of stone; the villages resemble the well-to-do neighborhoods in the
They encircle the Ein Hemed National Park, established at the
foot of the Kastel. On the ruins of the Kastel is a memorial to the battles of
1948; further down the slopes, to the west, the remains of the convoys of trucks
that tried to break the siege on Jerusalem are on display.
original village Tzova, only the ruins of a few homes that had been built on the
remains of the Crusader castle are still standing. An ancient olive tree and oak
tree mark the site where the village’s cemetery was once located, and hikers
love to stop by the small brook and ancient irrigation system.
are speculating that US President Barack Obama may be presenting a new peace
plan, according to which the Palestinians will give up on the right of return.
Yet, even as the Palestinian refugees from the war of 1948 continue to cast a
shadow over the possibility of peace, some refugees have managed to fulfill
their demands and return to their lands.