Today's Yafa was An Israeli/Jewish Town for About 2,000 Years / Dr.Rivka Shpak Lissak

Note:the article was translated to English by Dafna O'Neill
Yaffa, formerly the Jewish Yafia, is today an Arabic village in the lower Glilee, south-west of Nazareth, with a population of about 16,600. Nowadays the village is included in the municipality of Nazareth. Two-thirds of its population are Muslim, the rest Christian.
The Hebrew name Yafia means a place of magnificence. This was also the name of the king of Lakhish in Joshua’s time (the Book of Joshua, chapter 10, verse 3).
Excavations in the ancient mound of Yafia (near where the village churches are located) show that the site has been populated since the Middle Bronze Age (2000 – 1500 BCE).
A settlement called Yafu is mentioned in the El Amarna letters (the correspondence between rulers in Canaan and the rulers of Egypt. Canaan was under Egyptian control at that time, 14th century BCE). The letters indicate that Yafu (Yafia) was part of the territory of the kingdom of Meggido. One letter tells that workers were brought from Yafu to the Valley of Jezreel to work the land.
Yafia is mentioned in Joshua, chapter 19, verse 12, as part of the territory of the tribe of Zebulon: “And it turned from Sarid eastward toward the sunrising unto the border of Kisloth-tabor; and it went out to Dobrath, and went up to Yaphia”. In “The Land of Israel during Biblical Times” (1963), p. 222, Yohanan Aharoni explains that Kisloth-Tabor is the modern Ikksal, Dobrath is Dabouriye, and Yafia is Yafa.
Yafia was part of the kingdoms of David and Solomon. No information exists about it from that time, but in excavations carried out by Zvi Gal in the early 1990s in the ruins of Rosh Zeit (near Yafia) a fortress from the 10th century (King Solomon’s time) was discovered. The fortress was constructed in a similar way to Phoenician structures. Mordechai Aviam, an archaeologist and director of the Institute of Galilean Architecture determined it served as a Phoenician administrative and military center which was built on the remains of 11th century BCE private residences. Aviam considers this as evidence for the Biblical mention of King Solomon’s gift of 20 Galilean cities to Hiram King of Tyre, in return for cedars used in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Following the Kingdom’s division, in the time of Rehavam son of Solomon (930 BCE), Yafia was included in the northern Kingdom of Israel. Nothing more is mentioned about Yafia in the Bible while the Kingdom of Israel existed.
Archaeological findings, however, indicate that settlement in the lower Galilee increased in the 10th century BCE. Five or six major cities (one of which was Yafia) as well as 15 fortified towns, existed then. Scholars are undecided whether this growth in settlement began during the time of King David and King Solomon, or after the Kingdom was split. The proliferation of settlements continued into the mid 9th century BCE. Then 19 of the 36 settlements were destroyed, perhaps during the 841 BCE military campaign of the Assyrian king Shalmanesser III, during which he crossed the lower Galilee, reaching as far as Ba’al Rassi (the top of Mt Carmel, or Rosh Hanikra). Settlement in the region recovered by the end of the 9th century, and during the 8th century BCE ten new settlements replaced the 19 that were destroyed.
Tiglat Pilesser III conquered the lower Galilee in 732 BCE. The Book of Kings and Chronicles I state that “In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Iyon, and Abel-beth-maacah, and Yanoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria” (Kings II, 15:29). This is confirmed by an Assyrian inscription. The Assyrian king deported the population’s upper echelon to Assyria. Nothing is known about those who remained behind. Yafia was destroyed during Tiglat Pilesser III’s campaign. Under Assyrian occupation the Galilee and the northern valleys comprised the district of Meggido.
Archaeological findings indicate that most of the settlements in the lower Galilee stood in ruins between the end of the 8th century BCE to the 6th century BCE (732 BCE – 538 BCE), and that the remaining population – Israelites belonging to the lower classes which had not been exiled – concentrated in the western lower Galilee.
The Book of Kings II (Chapter 21, verse 19) describes ties that existed between the Kingdom of Judea and the Israelite population in the lower Galilee: Menasseh, King of Judea, had a son, Ammon, from Meshulemet, daughter of Harutz from Yotva. Yotva is identified with Yodphat.
Following the edict of Cyrus (538 BCE), permitting the Jewish exiles in Babylon (modern Iraq) to return to Judea, Jewish settlement in the lower Galilee was renewed at some time in the late 6th century BCE, and grew throughout the 5th century BCE. It is likely that Yafia was resettled at the same time. The lower Galilee settlements prospered during the Persian Period (538 BCE – 332 BCE).
During the Second Temple period, Yafia was a large village.
As part of his preparations for the Great Revolt (66 CE), Josephus Flavius fortified Yafia and surrounded it with a double wall. Flavius described the battle in Yafia in his Jewish Wars (II, ch. 20, section 6; III, ch. 7, section 31). The defenders came out of the town to engage the approaching Roman 10th legion and were defeated. The Roman soldiers followed the fleeing rebels and managed to enter the area between the external and internal walls. The inhabitants of Yafia shut the inner wall gates, preventing the Romans from entering the town, but trapping their fellow fleeing rebels with the Roman soldiers between the two walls. It is estimated that 12,000 fighters were killed in the battle. At the call of the legion’s commander for reinforcement, Titus arrived with 1,000 soldiers and 500 cavalrymen. On the 13th July 67 CE the Romans managed to climb their ladders into the city, where a bloody battle ensued. The victorious Romans killed most of the men (about 15,000), and sold the remaining men, women and children (about 2,130) as slaves. Yafia was then razed to the ground.
Yafia was resettled during the Roman Period. Archaeological excavations uncovered a synagogue and remains from Roman times. The Archaeological findings indicate that Yafia was populated throughout the Roman Period up to the early Byzantine Period.
Cave Dwelling
A cave that had served as a dwelling was discovered in 1995. Its two rooms were in use since the late 2nd century CE. One of the rooms contained a ritual bath (Mikveh).
Burial Caves
In an excavation in 1992, another cave was discovered in the south-eastern part of the village. It contained 8 burial crypts. Glass beads, 7 candles from the Roman Period, and broken cooking utensils were found as well. The archaeologists determined the cave was used in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.
Another burial cave was discovered in 1995. Six burial crypts were found in it, as well as fragments of pottery, glass, and lamps, and the skeletal remains of 22 adults and 11 children. Coins minted by Constantine II, Caracalla, and Elagabalus were also discovered in the cave, dating its use to the 2nd to 4th centuries CE.
A third cave, containing 8 crypts and pottery remains, was discovered in 1997 and was dated to the 3rd century CE.
The Synagogue
Stone blocks from a Jewish synagogue were first discovered among the stone blocks of the Greek-Catholic church by Louis Vincent, who published his findings in 1921. Vincent discovered a block from the synagogue’s lintel, carved with a 7-branched Menorah, embedded in the church wall. Another lintel he discovered had a carving of two eagles. Vincent estimated that the synagogue from which the stones were taken was in use during the 4th century CE.
Dr. Eleazar Sukenik excavated the site in July-August 1950 and discovered the remains of the ancient synagogue near the Greek-Orthodox church in Yafia. Sukenik determined that the synagogue was in use during the 3rd-4th centuries CE. Parts of the synagogue’s southern wall and mosaic floor survived. In the mosaic Sukenik identified an ox and a ram, symbols of the tribes of Menasseh and Ephraim. Several column-bases were discovered in the prayer hall.
Unlike other contemporary synagogues in the Galilee, which were built along a North-South axis, the Yafia synagogue was built on an East-West axis.
Fourth-century Galilean pottery shreds from the residential cave excavated in 1995, and other findings from the burial cave excavated the same year, indicate that Yafia continued to be settled during the Byzantine period. While up to the Byzantine period Yafia was larger than its neighbour Nazareth, this was reversed when Nazareth became an important Christian site.
THE ARABIC PERIOD (640 – 1099)
Ceramics from the Arabic period were discovered underneath the floor of the residential cave excavated in 1995. This indicates that Yafia was settled during that period, but no information is available about the population’s ethnicity or religion.
No archaeological findings exist from this period in Yafia. It may be that the village was deserted during this time.
THE MAMELUK PERIOD (1260 – 1516)
Ceramics from the Mameluk period were discovered in the residential cave, indicating that Yafia was settled during this time. Because there is a gap in population between the Arabic period and the Mameluk period, it is reasonable to assume that Yafia was resettled with a different population. No information is available regarding its ethnicity or religion.
THE OTTOMAN PERIOD (1516 – 1918)
The residential cave was in use during the 19th century, and stone tiles discovered in one of its rooms are from the Ottoman period. According to the Nakbah site, 252 residents lived in Yafia in 1912. They were most likely Christian, as in 1972 Christians were still the majority in the village.
According to the 1922 census there were 615 residents in the village. The 1931 census counted 833 residents, including members of the Bedouin tribe Al Razalin who were camping near the village. According to the Nakbah site there were 1,070 residents in the village in 1945. In 1948 the village population numbered 1,578.
Yafia was taken during the Dekel (palm tree) operation (9 – 18 July 1948). The lower Galilee settlements were taken by the 7th, Carmelli, and Gollani bridages. People from the deserted villages of Ma’alul and Mugidal moved to Yafia after the war.
In 1961 the village population numbered 2,370, increasing to 4,932 in 1972, when Christians still formed the majority. Nowadays Christians comprise 21.8% of the population, and the rest (78.2%) are Muslim.
The Israel Land Administration prepared an expansion plan in December 2002 to provide housing for Yafia’s increasing population. According to the plan, a new suburb with 1,300 residential units will be built south-west to the suburb of Marrah Aljazlan (Panorama and Al Ammal are the two other suburbs of Yafia).
Amran Kanana, Yafia’s council chairman, points out that Yafia is a peaceful city that aims to have good relations with all its neighbours, Jewish and Arab. Yafia and its neighbouring Jewish towns hold joint events and carry out a dialogue for mutual respect and cooperation.
The first joint event was initiated by the author Udda Basharat from Yafia in January 2011, with members of the Kibbutz Sha’ar Hagollan. Two educators from Sha’ar Hagollan, Ehud Shamir and Hillel Halevi, emphasised the need for coexistence and a dialogue between Jews and Arabs.
The second event took place in Sha’ar Hagollan.
Yafia Council Chairman Amran Kanana invited Offer Ben Eliezer, chairman of the council of Ramat Yishai, with members of the “A New Way” association (president of the association is Res. General Amos Lapidot). In the meeting the two councils decided to collaborate in the area of education.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters (without spaces) shown in the image.