Deir Hanna Was the Jewish Kfar Hanun(or Kfar Yohanna) / DR.Rivka Shpak Lissak

Deir Hanna is situated in the Sakhnin Valley in the lower Galilee, close to Sakhnin and Arabbe. Nowadays it is a large Arabic village with about 9,100 residents, 90% of whom are Muslim and the rest Christian. Bedouins have also settled in it.
The name Deir Hanna has several origins:
After Hanna, the commander of the Crusader force that conquered the village.
Deir – meaning ‘monastery’ – and Hanna, the name of a Christian saint;
Kfar Hanun, or Kfar Yohanna – the Jewish village that existed on this site during the period of the Mishna and Talmud.

The Lower Galilee was settled by Israeli villages from the 12th century BCE. In 732 BCE the Lower Galilee was conquered by the Assyrian king Tiglath Pealeser the third. He destroyed all the villages, killed many of its residents and expelled to Assyria the upper class. The survivors of the Assyrian conquest resettled mainly on the western part of the Lower Galilee.
The area remained mostly unsettled until the end of the 6th century BCE. From the end of the 6th century BCE, on, Jews who returned from exile in Babylonia, started to resettle the area. According to archaelogical survey, 55% out of the 70 villages that had been settled until 732 BCE, were resettled. Out of the 50 Jewish villages settled during the Persian Period, 20% were new villages.
During the Hellenistic occupation and the Hashmonait kingdom Jews from the district of Judea settled in the Lower Galilee.

Deir Hanna sits on the ancient site of the Jewish village from the Mishna and Talmud period, Kfar Hanun (or Kfar Yohanna). Archaeological remains, burial caves and water cisterns date from that period. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the priestly clan of Yakhin settled in the village. The Tannas (Mishnaic period teachers) Rabbi Tanhum Bar Hayyah, Rabbi Yaakov Dikfar Hannan, and Rabbi Yossef Dikfar Hannan also lived there as well as the Talmudic sage Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nahman. The village’s synagogue was mentioned by mediaeval travellers.

The village was renamed, apparently during the Byzantine period when Christians settled in it. It is possible that, incited against “Christ’s murderers”, the Christians settlers made life difficult for the village’s Jewish residents, who left at some time during this period. Historical sources document the Christian anti-Jewish legislation and harassment of Jews by their Christian neighbours. These Christians were not Arabs, but rather descendants of Greeks, Macedonians, and Aramaean-Syrians who began settling in the Land of Israel at the time of Alexander the Great, joined later by Byzantine pilgrims.

The Persians conquered the Land of Israel in 614. The Galilean Jews, who had suffered much under Byzantine rule, drafted a 20,000-strong Jewish army to aid the Persians in their fight against the Byzantines. When the Byzantines defeated the Persian army and pushed it off the land in 628, they settled their score with the Jews. Many were tried for harassing Christians and destroying churches, others fled abroad or hid in the mountains, and many more were massacred by Christians incited by their church leaders. The Jews of Kfar Hanun may have met the same fate.

All three villages in the Sakhnin Valley – Sakhnin, Arabe, and Deir Hanna – were previously Jewish villages which, at some time during the Byzantine period, were populated by Christians.

THE OTTOMAN PERIOD (1516 – 1918)
At the beginning of the Ottoman period Deir Hanna was a Christian village. Muslims began settling in it at a later date, and gradually became the majority of the village population.

Dahar Al Omar, the Bedouin Sheikh of the Zeidani tribe, was the son of Omar Al Zeidani, a tax collector appointed by the Ottomans. Dahar Al Omar benefited from the weakness of the Ottoman government and the rivalry between the Damascus and Tyre prefectures, and gradually took over the Galilee from the 1730s on. Deir Hanna, where his father was buried, became his first Capital.

The 18th century, under Dahar Al Omar, was Deir Hanna’s Golden Age. Al Omar’s time was marked by security and economic prosperity, and he constructed significant buildings in the Galilee, including a wall around Deir Hanna. Vaulted rooms seen in the northern and western walls were used as residence, and cisterns were used to collect rain water.

A palace surrounded by an inner wall was also built in Deir Hanna, and was known as The Fort. A two-story building, it had thick walls and a vaulted ceiling. The lower story was apparently a weapons store while the residential quarters were in the upper story. The two stories were connected by a staircase which has since collapsed. Pipelines collected rain water into a cistern, and a chimney rose from a stove in the lower story through the upper story. A bath house was built outside in the yard.

Al Omar also built a mosque in Deir Hanna, and his name and the date of construction were inscribed above the entrance. A domed prayer hall with a pulpit for the Mouazin collapsed in 1870 and was later rebuilt. The remains of the palace and mosque are representative of the architectural style of the period.
The Turks removed Al Omar from the area in 1775.
A Greek Orthodox church was built in the village in 1801.
The traveler Victor Guerin visited Deir Hanna at the end of the 19th century and found 30 families there. He saw a tower-fortified defensive wall that surrounded crumbling storerooms and stables. He climbed up Al Omar’s crumbling fort as well.
Some of Deir Hanna’s Christian residents resented the Muslim settlement in their village. At some time during the 19th century, Christians from Sakhnin, Arabbe, and Deir Hanna left their villages (or were driven away) and settled in the ruined Jewish Eylabu, known as Eylabun in Arabic.

By 1938 Christians were only one third of Deir Hanna’s population. During the period of the British Mandate Deir Hanna’s residents made a living from farming and jobs outside the village.

Deir Hanna was taken during the Dekel (Palm tree) operation in July 1948. Hayim Laskov, who latter became chief of staff, commanded the operation, and the lower Galilee, including Deir Hanna, was conquered by the IDF 7th Regiment.

Deir Hanna’s population was not expelled, in accordance with the principles drafted by the IDF regarding the treatment of Arabs in the Galilee, which were based on the following considerations:
The religion of the population in the conquered area;
The extent of the population’s resistance;
Previous fighting against the IDF, the Palmah or the Haganah ;( the Palmah and Haganah were part of the Jewish underground who faught against the British occupation)/
The presence in the village of soldiers from Kaukji’s Rescue Army;( volunteers from Arab countries)/
The number of armed locals and the Mufti’s fighters.
(Saggi Levi, Residents of the Galilee Enclave during the Hiram Operation in October 1948, March 2004, p. 56)
In 1976 the Israeli government requisitioned about 5,000 acres from the villages of Sakhnin, Arabbe, and Deir Hanna for military use. Villagers rioted, six rioters were killed in clashes with the police and seven were wounded. The date has since been marked and observed as the Day of the Land. On the 30 September 2009 it was held in Deir Hanna.

In 1978 Deir Hanna’s population numbered 3,100, 13% Christian and the rest Muslim. In 2006 the village’s population numbered 8,600, mostly Muslim.
The Council of Deir Hanna, aware of the tourism potential of the ancient archaeological remains in the village, organises tours and has invited Israelis to visit them. Deir Hanna’s residents encourage tourism in their village and have converted the ancient oil press into a museum, where it is also possible to purchase olive oil produced in the village. A 2000-years old olive grove has been preserved in the village. It is assumed it dates to the period when Deir Hanna was Jewish. Recently, Al Omar’s mosque was renovated.
The Israel Antiquities Authority considers the ancient part of Deir Hanna as a valuable cultural and historical asset and supports the plan to conserve the remains of the crumbling palace, the wall, and other structures. Some work began in 2007, but so far only the Al Omar Mosque has been renovated.

Deir Hanna’s success, the result of the allocation of government funds, is exceptional among its neighbouring villages of Sakhnin and Arabbe.

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