Al Jish, Gush Halav was a Jewish village for about 1,'700 years / DR.R.S.Lissak

Today, Gesh is a Christian- Maronite village with a Greek Orthodox minority, with a few Muslim residents. The Maronite Christians arrived in Israel in the 18th century and settled in Gush Halav and Bir’am. At that time, there were still Jewish towns and villages in the area, such as Meyron, Safsufa, Bir’am, Sasa, and others. Jews lived in Gesh continuosly until about the middle of the 19th century .

The name Gesh is a blunder of Giskala, the Helenistic name of Gush Halav, mentioned in Josephus Flavius’ writings. The name has several explanations: Halav (fat), for Gush Halav was famous for the choice olive oil produced from the local olive groves, or for the milk yield of its herds, or because it was established on a white rock. The town’s olive oil was so famous that a merchant from Lattakyia in Syria came to Gush Halav to buy olives.

Excavations in 2004 and 2006 revealed that the site was inhabited from the Bronze Age continuously until today.

The site of Gush Halv was inhabited from the Bronze Age (3000 – 1200 BCE) and maybe even before. The village is not mentioned in the bible, but it is mentioned in the Mishnah (a collection of oral laws compiled in 200 CE) that at the time of Joshua Ben Nun as a city surrounded by a wall ( 12th century BCE). Excavations revealed remains of pottery from the Middle Bronze Age (2000 – 1550 BCE).

The Second Temple period (538 BCE – 70 CE)

Jewish Gush Halav reached its climax during the Second Temple period. Gush Halav is mentioned in Josephus Flavius’ writings as a participant in the Great Revolt against the Romans (66 CE – 70 CE). It was led by Yohanan Ben Levi, known as Yohanan of Gush Halav. Yohanan collected some 400 warriors from the Galilean settlements, comprising the military force which protected the Jewish settlements and also attacked the foreign settlements in the area.

When Josephus was made Commander of the Galilee on behalf of the rebel government, Yohanan asked him to build a wall around the city. When his request was turned down, Yohanan used the money for the Roman taxes to build the wall. In his book “The Jewish Wars” Josephus claims that the city was fortified under his command. Gush Halav was the last Galilean city to withstand the Roman conquest of the Galilee.

Aspasianus sent his son Titus to conquer Gush Halav. He arrived on the Sabbath, but delayed his attack at Yohanan’s request to respect the holy day. Yohanan and about 2000 warriors and residents, who were affiliated with the Zealots, slipped out of the city at night. The city surrendered on Sunday. Discovering that Yohanan and his forces escaped, Titus chased and killed many of them, but Yohanan managed to escape to Jerusalem.
Excavations in 1994 discovered ruins of the fortifications of the city, similar to those discovered in Gamlah and Yodphat.

The rabbis Shma’ya and Avtalyon are buried in Gush Halav. Avtalyon was the Presiding Judge in the Jewish Law Court and Shma’ya was President of the Sanhedrin (assembly of 71 scholars) in Jerusalem at the end of the Hasmonean period. They descended from a family of converts that is traced back to Sanherib, King of Assyria. They were members of the “pairs” period in the Jewish spiritual leadership, preceding Hillel and Shamay, the last pair. Shma’ya and Avtalyon are buried at the entrance to Gesh, in a double sarcophagus placed in a small structure.

The Roman and Byzantine periods (70 CE – 640 CE)

Despite the cruel suppression of the Great Revolt in the Galilee, Gush Halav was not destroyed by the Romans and continued to be a large and important city with 2 synagogues throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods. Evidence that it continued to be a Jewish city at that time is found throughout Gush Halav. Excavations discovered that the village spread out along the southern slop of the hill. Ancient stones, such as door posts, thresholds, parts of columns, etc. have been incorporated into the village houses.

The British Fund conducted excavations during 1871 – 1878 and discovered the remains of a synagogue under the Greek- Catholic church.
Some of the synagogue's stones were used in building the church. The synagogue was a grand building, and some of its columns survived.

The remains of another synagogue were found on the Eastern slope, of the hill were Gush Halav was situated, in an olive grove. This is a square building, opening towards Jerusalem, built in the style recognizable from other Galilean synagogues, with rows of columns standing parallel to the walls.

An inscription in Aramaic on one of the columns reads: “Yosseh Ben Nachum who made this column, may he be blessed.” The building includes the remains of a stage, on which, apparently, stood the synagogue’s holy ark. In 1905 and 1977/78 excavations were held and archaeologists discovered that the synagogue was rebuilt 4 times. The first synagogue was built in the 3rd century, rebuilt after the 306 earth crack, and after the 363 earth crack. It was renovated during the Byzantine period and was ruined in the 551 earth crack. The synagogue was used from the 3rd to the 6th century CE.

An ancient graveyard in Gush Halav has five burial caves branching off either side of a central courtyard. A sarcophagus containing 15 skeletons was found above the entry hall, together with ancient utensils made of glass, gold, and bronze. Archaeologists date the graveyard to the 2nd or 3rd centuries CE. Ritual offerings, dated to the 4th century CE, were also found there.

Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohay’s father are buried in Gush Halav as well. Rabbi Meir, a student of Rabbi Akiva (one of the leaders of the Bar Kokhba revolt) was one of the greatest teachers of the generation following the revolt.

Excavations also discovered caves and secret passages between them under some houses in the village. It seems that the soldiers of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132 -135CE) found refuge there.

The Arab- Muslim Period (640 – 1099)

Al-Mukdassi, the Arabic geographer and historian who lived in Jerusalem in the 10th century, writes that Gush Halav was a large city in his time.
The Cairo Genizah Records (an archive of letters from Jews) reveal that Gush Halav continued to be a Jewish village during this period.

The Crusades Period (1099-1260)

Travelling in the Galilee at the end of the 12th century, the Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudella (in Spain) wrote in his book “Benjamin’s Travels” about his visits to Gush Halav, Tzipori, Meyron, Alma, and Tiberias, all Jewish towns and cities in those days. He found about 20 Jewish families in Gush Halav. Shmuel Ben Shimshon travelled in the Galilee in 1210 and visited the graves of Shma’ya and Avtalyon in Gush Halav. The Genizah records show that the jewish village still existed.

The Mameluke Period (1260 – 1516)

Jews lived in Gush Halav throughout this period, making their living in farming and commerce. A 13th century letter from Galilean Jews, found in the Cairo Genizah, mentions Gush Halav by its Arabic name, El Jish. Eshtori Haparhi, a member of a Sephardic family from Florence who settled in Bet Shean, visited Gush Halav in 1340. Rabbi Yitzhak Hilou visited Gush Halav shortly after and tells of a rich Jewish community and a Torah School with many students.

Excavations discovered remains of an house and its yard, fragments of pottery and remains of another building from this period

The Ottoman Period (1516 – 1918)

Excavations in the north-east of the village revealed remains from the 19th and 20th centuries. Among them was the remains of a building, that still was in use until the middle of the 19th century, according the testimony of one of the villagers. Some broken vessels from the days of Pasha Al- Pahar were also found.

Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (founder of a new school in Kabbalistic thought) who lived in Saffed, made a pilgrimage in 1609 to the graves of Shma’ya and Avtalyon. He did not mention Jews, but the traveler A. Roger, who travelled in Israel between 1629 and 1634, reports a Jewish settlement in Gush Halav.

In 1672 a Turkish tourist visited Gush Halav and found 100 houses and Druze settlers. But due to Bedouins' invasion, the Druze left by the end of the 17th century. The village was unpopulated for a short time.

In the beginning of the 18th century the village was resettled by Christian- Maronites from Lebanon, Greek Catholic and Muslims. After the village was resettled Jews came back. In 1837 an earth crack hit the village and 235 of its people were killed. Still, in the mid 19th century Jews were still living in Gush Halav and owned land there.

In 1885 Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver purchased land for Hovevey Zion(a pre-Zionist group) near Gush Halav with funds donated by Polish Jews, but the deal was cancelled.

What Happened to the Jews of Gush Halav?

At some point after the middle of the 19th century the Jews left Gush Halav. The Ottoman Government’s heavy taxes put great pressure on the Jewish land owners. Those who could not pay were arrested, and their chances of surviving the Turkish jail were slim. The economic pressures caused many Jewish farmers to abandon their lands. Illan Thoma of Peqiin tells that Jews from many Galilean settlements, were unable to pay taxes, including Gush Halav, and were forced to leave. They moved to Tiberias and Haifa.

In the second half of the 19th century, Sir Moses Montefiorri (a rich Sephardic- Jew from England) renewed the Jewish settling of Israel, and was followed by the arrival of Jews from Russia (the B.Y.L.U. group), creating new work opportunities in other parts of the country. Galilean Jews moved to places where work was available.

The British Mandate Period (1918 – 1948)

According to the Palestinian web site, 731 people lived in Gush Halav in 1922 and their number grew to 1,091 in 1945. According to British records 52% of them were Muslims.


During the War of Independence the "Rescue Arabic army" established its base in Gush Halav from which it attacked Jewish villages. The village was conquered by the Israeli army in October 29, 1948 and some of its people, mostly Muslims, who took part in the war activities ran away to Lebanon. Israel settled in the village Christian-
Maronites, from other villages.

Today most of the 3,000 citizens of Gush Halav are Christians, mosly Maromite and 13% are Muslims. The villagers are doing very well. In my visit to the village I was told by a local teacher, that the Maronites are not Arabs, but Syrian- Aramean. They have a web site called the "Aramaic Maronite Center".

Gesh is a village in north Israel

Gush Halav(Gesh)is a maronite village. They claim to be Syrian- Arameans , not Arabs. The people are doing well,and some of them even volonteer to serve in Israeli army.

where does gesh is nowadays?

where does gesh is nowadays? Is it an palestine city?

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