Arabic Fassouta Was Once A Jewish Village /DR.Rivka Shpak Lissak

The Arabic village of Fassouta is located in the western Galilee, North-East of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, about two kilometres from the Lebanese border. Most of its 3000 residents are Greek-Orthodox Christians. The village was founded during the Ottoman period, about 150 years ago, at the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th century, by immigrants who, most likely, came from Lebanon.

Fassouta’s ancient Hebrew name was Mafshata.

The Israel Antiquities Authority carried out rescue excavation in Fassouta during February-March, 2004, and March, 2005. They discovered an ancient mound, a man-made cave (the ceiling of which collapsed shortly after it was made), and graves. Based on ostraca found on-site, it appears the place was settled alternately from the early Bronze Age (3150 BCE) to the Middle Ages.

THE BRONZE AGE (3150 – 1200 BCE)

The ancient mound discovered in the rescue excavations contained two graves and a layer from the Middle Bronze Age (2150 – 1550 BCE), indicating a wealthy population. A cave, containing pottery from the Early Bronze Age (3150 – 2150 BCE) and the Late Bronze Age (1550 – 1200 BCE) was also found. This, apparently, was a Canaanite settlement.

THE IRON AGE : The Israeli Period (1200 – 587 BCE)

The excavations uncovered pottery from the Iron Age, indicating the existence of a Israeli settlement during the Israelite Period. This settlement was probably deserted or destroyed during the Assyrian conquest at the end of the 8th century BCE.


Level 1 of the excavated site contained ostraca from various periods, including the Persian period. Based on the ostraca found in the man-made cave, archaeologists determined the cave was made during the Hellenist period. Other ostraca found in fillings that used older refuse belonged to earlier periods. Pottery, stoneware, and jugs from the Hellenist period indicate the site was settled during that time.
Following Cyrus’ declaration in 538 BCE, the Jewish exiles returned from Babylon, and some resettled in the Galilee. The Hellenist pottery and jugs may indicate that the Jewish settlement, established during the Persian period, existed throughout the Hellenist period, as there is no mention of a Hellenistic settlement there.


The Jewish village of Mafshata existed throughout the Roman period. Excavations uncovered the remains of cooking vessels, indicating the place was populated. Beit Harrim, one of the 24 priestly families that served in the Temple, settled in Mafshata following the Great Revolt (66 – 70 CE).
A 4-chamber cave, popularly known as the “Temple Cave”, is located near Fassouta. Ostraca from the Iron Age and the Hellenist period were found in it. A stone relief of a man-sized figure can be seen at the cave’s opening. The figure resembles a Roman soldier wearing a pleated garment in the Hellenistic style, his one hand raised and the other bent over some kind of weapon. Archaeologists have not yet solved the mystery of this site.


The Jewish village of Mafshata was still standing during the Byzantine period. Christians settled in it at some time during this period and built a church.
Many Christians chose to settle in the western Galilee during the Byzantine period. Some may have been local Phoenicians who converted to Christianity, others Byzantine Christians and pilgrims who migrated in order to settle in the Holy Land. Ancient architectural items can be seen to this day in the existing church, Mer Elias, and the village houses.

Nothing is known about the fate of Mafshata’s Jewish population.In 628 CE the Byzantines massacred many Jews in the Galilee because they helped the Persians to conquer the country in 612 from the Byzantines. The Jews organized a 20,000 army to help the Persians because they suffered of persecution during the Byzanine occupation. Maybe this was the fate of the Jews of Mafshata.

Mafshata is mentioned in the elegy of Eliezer Hakallir (6th or 7th century CE) which notes the priestly families who settled in the village following the destruction of the Temple.
A Byzantine pot and bowls were uncovered during excavation.

THE ARABIC PERIOD (640 – 1099)

Nothing is known about Mafshata during this period. The only hint to the existence of the village is its name in Arabic, mentioned in a Crusader document.There is evidence that the Western Galiee was still mostly Christian during the Arabic occupation.


The place is mentioned in a Crusader document from 1183 as a beautiful site named Fassouba by the Muslims. In another crusader document, from 1220, its name is given as Fassoula and its residents are said to be Christians who make their living from farming and from working in neighbouring towns.

There is evidence that the Western Galiee was still mostly Christian during the Crusader occupation.

The Knights’ Stronghold is located west of Fassouta. This is an archaeological site containing the remains of a rectangular building made of hewn stones, with a lintel at its entrance. Victor Guerin, a French archaeologist who visited the site in the 19th century, wrote that he found the remains of an ancient tower with a side 12 meters long, built of enormous stones. Guerin believed the building was built in ancient times. Scholars are divided over the identification of the site as a Crusader military stronghold. [in it is mentioned that Mordechai Aviam and Dinna Shalem think there is no evidence for military use, and suggest this was a mausoleum from the Roman-Byzantine period). The Crusader fort Chateau du Roi stood not far from there , in the village of Maeelia.

THE MAMLUK PERIOD (1260 – 1516)

A pot from the Mamluk period which was found during the March 2005 excavation indicates the site was occupied during the Mamluk period. However, nothing is known about the population.There is , however, evidence that the Western Galilee became mostly Muslim during the Mamluk occupation.

Many Christians were killed/murdered during the cnoquest, many ran away, some converted to Islam and many died during the Black Death plague.

THE OTTOMAN PERIOD (1516 – 1918)

Today’s village of Fassouta was established about 150 years ago, in the late 18th century or early 19th century. During the Ottoman period it was settled by Christians and Muslims who grew mostly olive trees and tobacco.
Fassouta’s residents numbered about 750 during the Mandate period. They continued to grow olives and tobacco.
Following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, refugees from neighbouring villages settled in Fassouta, increasing its population to 1100 within two years.
Tobacco cultivation ended in the 1970s, when the tobacco company began importing tobacco from overseas. Elderly villagers remember how, as children, they helped to interweave tobacco leaves into bundles that were hung from hooks in the ceiling to dry.


The Co-Existence View

Priest Emile Shoufani’s family came from the Christian village Eilaboun. The village’s residents were suspected of the murder of Israeli soldiers during the War of Independence, and were therefore deported to Lebanon. Emile’s uncle and grandfather, along with 12 other villagers, were killed. Following the intervention by the Pope, the deported were allowed to return. Emile’s grandmother was among them.
In an interview, Priest Shoufani said that his grandmother refused to entertain hostile feelings or wishes for revenge. She used to say that she was living for the living and not for the dead.
Priest Shoufani is a peace activist, working for Jewish-Christian-Muslim co-existence and educating Israeli Arabs about the Holocaust. In 2003 he participated in a joint Jewish-Arabic visit to Auschwitz, and was awarded the UNESCO award for peace education.

The Alienated View:

Preferring to Stay Apart Anton Shamas, born in 1950 to a Christian family, is a poet and author, and recipient of the Levi Eshkol Prime-Minister’s Literary Works Award. His family immigrated to the Land of Israel at the beginning of the 19th century from Khabab, a village in Syria’s south-west.
Shamas wrote an autobiographic novel, Arabesques, in which he recalls his youth in the village and explores his identity as an Israeli Arab. His family moved to Haifa when he was 12. He attended a mixed (Jewish and Arabic) high school there. During the late 1960s he studied History and English Literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In his book he describes his feelings of alienation being an Israeli Arab, which may be why he preferred to stay long in the USA, as a visiting lecturer in Literature at the University of Michigan. Shamas has published two other books: No-man Zone, and The World’s Best Liar – An Arabic Folk Tale (a children’s book in Arabic).

The Third View: Denying the Right of the Jews for the State of Israel

Fassouta is one of the 10 economically most established Arab settlements in Israel, with a highly educated population. In his article (2007), Azami Bashara and Israeli Democracy, Dr. Guy Bekhor writes that Bashara, head of the *Balad Party, was not the first in trying to destroy the ideological foundations of the Jewish state. Dr. Bekhor emphasised that both attempts were led by Christian Arabs: In 1959 – 1965 the Arabic-nationalist group, Al Ard, which tried to gain a political status and run for election to the Knesset (Israeli parliament), had members from Fassouta. The group was not allowed to participate in the election because its platform included a refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and called for action against Israel’s Jewish identity. The group appealed to the Supreme Court but the judges Shimon Agranat, Joel Zussman, and Hayim Cohen (three of Israel’s greatest jurists) disqualified the group, stating that “no free government will recognise and co-operate with a movement that seeks to undermine its very existence”. The group was outlawed, and in the 1970s some of its members signed agreements with the Israeli internal security agency, left Israel for good and joined the PLO. Sabri Jiryes joined the PLO in Lebanon, was caught by the IDF in August 1982 but was released in a prisoner- exchange deal. His wife was killed when a car bomb exploded in Beirut. Jiryes returned to Israel following the signing of the Oslo agreement and settled in Fassouta.
In November 2006, Jiryes Jiryes, former chairman of the municipality of Fassouta, admitted having contacts with a foreign agent and was sentenced to 34 months in prison.

Sergeant-Major Louis Balout from Fassouta was arrested in March 2008. He was convicted of spying for Hizballah and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

The Christians are Arabs. The Israeli- Arab minority has equal civil rights, but, Arabs suffer of discrimination, due to their complicated situation being Israelis in their citizenship, but Palestinians in their nationality. Their state is in state of war with their people. While the Christians in Israel has not attained full civil equality, Christians in Israel enjoy much better conditions than Christians in other Arabic countries or those in Gaza or the Palestinian Authority.

* The Balad party does not recognize the right of Jews for self- determination or their historical connection to Palestine. The Jews are considered European colonists who took an Arabic land fron its indigenous people- the Palestinians.The party demand to put an end to the Jewish state, and settle the Palestinian refugees in Israel, thus turning the Jews into a minority and the country into another Palestinian state besides the one on the Western Bank.

Bshara escaped from Israel a few years ago, after being charged for spying for Hizballah.

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