This is the full transcript of the first podcast episode of the trilogy from Jerusalem to Jaffa
We are going to make a tour from Jerusalem to Jaffa. And I want you to imagine that we’re on a bus, it’s like a virtual tour. You can’t see what I’m talking about, but I’m going to try and be as descriptive as possible. Now we’re going to leave Jerusalem on the Western side. And if you would leave the old city of Jerusalem, you would go out from the old city Gate.
[00:00:34] But West Jerusalem was built only after the State of Israel was created in 1948. And therefore it doesn’t have hardly any buildings that predate 1948. So leaving Jerusalem from the Western side, there is no city gate, but we are passing under a bridge that kind of gives you the idea and symbolizes the entrance and exit of Jerusalem in its most modern form, a bridge that was made in 2008.
[00:01:09] By a Spanish architect called Santiago Calatrava. And the bridge reminds me of the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, my home country. I don’t know if you know it, but it is the same idea. It’s a very long bridge it is 360 meters long and it crosses over the main road, the road that we are going to take towards Jaffa.
[00:01:36] It connects Kiryat Moshe, a neighborhood of West Jerusalem, with the central bus station and the rest of Jerusalem towards the old city. It is made for the tram and for foot passengers for pedestrians. And it consists of a very high arm in the middle of steel, going up 118 meters. And from the top, there are 66 strings or chords,
[00:02:03] that’s why it’s called the chords bridge, that are holding up the weight of the bridge. The architect himself says that this all symbolizes the harp of David. And David was the second King of the Israelites, of the Jewish people when they were living in the land about thousand years before Christ.
[00:02:26] Their first King was called Saul. And now if we continue under the bridge, we will see on our left-hand side, a neighborhood called Givat Shaul. And that is the first King before King David became the King. And when we talk about Givat Shaul, we have to talk about part of the history of Palestine that is very difficult, and that is something we can never avoid because Palestine has been going through all these different phases of occupation, of different empires ruling the country and the people of Palestine, the native people,
[00:03:02] they have seen them coming and going and they’ve been working their land, they’ve been trying to make a living. They’ve been building their families. But in 1948, that is the last big atrocity that happened. On this location there was the village of Deir Yassin and Deir Yassin is known to many people as the place where a horrible massacre happened.
[00:03:25] Deir Yassin was a small Palestinian village of about 700 people. And the villagers had actually signed a non-aggression pact with Zionist movement. They also knew that in the United Nations partition plan of 1947, that was giving a State to the Jewish people and a State to the Palestinian people, that they would be part of the ‘Corpus Separatum’ of Jerusalem, which meant that Jerusalem and the surrounding villages would be governed by a special international regime.
[00:04:00] So the villages of Deir Yassin would never have expected what was about to happen. On Friday, the 9th of April 1948, about a hundred Zionist militants from the Irgun and from the Stern Gang, came into the village. They killed at least 107 people. They paraded a lot of the men around Jerusalem before killing them.
[00:04:27] There are many accounts of women who escaped and told about rape. There’s an account of a pregnant woman who was shot from a close range and people were asking for help from the British, because in that time, Palestine was still under the British rule, under the British mandate. But the British commander, Sir Gordon McMillan, he did not want to get involved in anything that didn’t directly serve the British interests and he didn’t want to face the Jewish militias.
[00:04:59] Now it’s important to realize that the leader of the Irgun was Menachem Begin and the leader of the Stern Gang was Yitzhak Shamir, and both of them became later prime ministers of the State of Israel. According to Begin, they had sent a truck into the village and on a loudspeaker; they had announced that people should leave the village.
[00:05:24] They had warned them. But many witnesses say that the truck had an accident and never managed to get into the village to spread the word. And also the people did not expect anything like this could happen. It was the first big massacre. And it was a warning to all the Palestinian villages around because people who fled from Deir Yassin came to the villages close by and told them run for your lives because the Zionists are coming to kill you.
[00:05:53] And that was the catalyst for many Palestinians to flee their homes. And they ended up in refugee camps in countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, but also in the West bank and in the Gaza strip. From the Deir Yassin there are three buildings left. The rest is completely ruined. The three buildings that are left are two houses and a school.
[00:06:18] And the school is now used as a Yeshiva, a Jewish religious school. The buildings are inside a complex that is now used as a Mental Health Center called the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center that was established in 1951.
As of revenge for the Deir Yassin massacre, four days later, the Arab fighters attacked a medical convoy that was on its way to Hadassah and killed 78 Jews.
[00:06:50] And here it’s important to realize what was going on in that time. Palestine had been part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years until 1917, when the Ottoman Empire fell. And from that time, Palestine was under British rule, the British mandate.
[00:07:10] And even from before 1917, the Palestinians had started to see more and more Jewish immigrants from different parts of the world coming and immigrating to Palestine. And at some point they started to realize that these people were not coming to live WITH them, but to replace them.
[00:07:30] And when they realized that they started to organize themselves into Arab resistance,
[00:07:35] And especially the road that we’re driving on now, the main road towards Jaffa was an important road because it connected Jerusalem to Jaffa, to the sea port. So it was the road over which all the supplies to Jerusalem were being transported. And that’s why a lot of the Palestinian resistance in that time happened in this area.
And about two or three kilometers north of Deir Yassin, we are now passing by Al Qastal. Al Qastal was a small village of not more than a hundred people in 1948 that was named after a Crusader fortress. And the Crusader fortress was called the Belvere or Beauverium, the good view. And it was a castle. And that’s why the Palestinian village got the name Qastal, from castle.
[00:08:32] So you can see that already the crusaders in the 11th century, they recognized that this was an important strategic place. Now the small village with only about 40 people and stone houses, had about 200 dunams of land for agriculture. That’s about 20 hectares or two square kilometers. And it was a key position from where the Arab forces were attacking convoys of the Zionist movement to prevent them from reaching Jerusalem.
[00:09:04] The leader of the Palestinians was Abdelkader al Husseini. And on the 3rd of April, 1948, the Zionist militias attacked Al Qastal in the battle of Al Qastal or what is also called operation Nachshon. And it’s interesting that most of the operations of the Israeli forces are named after biblical figures or biblical events, just like they often call the settlements in the West bank after biblical names and Nachshon is according to biblical tradition, the person who was the first one to enter into the sea when God split the water so that they could flee from the Egyptian forces.
[00:09:51] So he was a biblical hero and this operation was named after him. It was the Palmach troops that occupied the village of Al Qastal. But in the night, the Palestinians under leadership of Abdelkader al Husseini, they came back to the village and they re-conquered it. Only the next day, the Palestinian fighters realized that their leader had been captured and killed.
[00:10:19] And that is when they lost their morale. And they also did something that is very typical I would say for Palestinians or for Arabs in general, they all went to the funeral to pay their respect to their leader. So they all went to Al Aqsa mosque and the Jewish militias took advantage when the village turned out to be empty and they re-took it and that’s how Al Qastal came into the hands of the Zionists again.
[00:10:48] And on the lands of Al Qastal, the settlement of Mevaseret Zion was built. A third story related to this part of the history of 1948 is the story of Lifta, a town that we will see on our left-hand side. And what is special about Lifta is that Lifta was also depopulated in 1948, just like about 530 other Palestinian villages
[00:11:17] that were attacked and its people forcibly displaced. But this is the only town in Palestine that was neither repopulated nor completely destroyed. So that means that when we pass by, we can see on our left-hand side, on the slopes of the Hill, the ruins of the houses of this Palestinian village. And it was a very beautiful and rich village.
[00:11:44] The lands of Lifta were about 8.7 square kilometers in size. They used to reach up from Lifta all the way to the old city wall of Jerusalem, to the Gates of Jerusalem. And about three square kilometers of that land was cultivated. There is an account of at least 1500 olive trees, belonging to people in the village.
[00:12:11] It was a rich village. People are talking about the women used to wear gold. People were very rich. They were highly educated. About 3000 people lived in the village. The name Lifta derives from biblical times. When it is written that someone called Nephtoah opened a fountain here on the border of the area of Judah and Benjamin.
[00:12:37] And when you visit the ruins of Lifta village today, you can still see the spring and the basin that was built to collect the water from the spring. Orthodox Jews come there to bathe because they believe that it’s biblical waters. And they believe that you should purify yourself in running water, but the water has been used for centuries by the people in Lifta to irrigate the agricultural terraces.
[00:13:06] And until today you can still see the irrigation system running down the Valley. So what happened to Lifta? It was already in December 1947, that six people of the village were gunned down in the coffee house, in the village by members of the Stern Gang and Irgun, the same militias that committed the massacre in Deir Yassin.
[00:13:30] The militias has kept being active in this area and kept harassing the villagers so that some of them decided to leave. Some of them sold their lands to find a better future in other places, but many of them remained. And then in February 1948, Lifta was depopulated. People were put on trucks and brought to other parts of East Jerusalem and the members of the Irgun and the Stern Gang, they went and made holes in the roofs of the houses so that if the Palestinians would return, they would find their houses destroyed an unlivable. Of the original 450 houses in the village, 55 still stand until today. In the late 1940s in the early 1950s, the Jewish agency settled Jewish immigrants from Yemen and Iraqi Kurdistan here.
[00:14:28] Some of them left in the sixties when they were financially compensated. About 13 families still live in the outskirts of Lifta. In 2006 a new redevelopment plan was halted by some architects, planners, environmentalists and descendants of Lifta. They demanded that a heritage survey would be done because investors wanted to build 268 luxury units and a hotel and commercial areas on the remains of Lifta, integrating some of the ruins into their plan, but without respecting the history of the place and without respecting the fact that Palestinian refugees are still waiting for the implementation of their right to return to the villages where they fled from.
[00:15:24] Lifta can be visited. And the best way to visit it is probably with a guided tour organized by the organization, Zochrot.
[00:15:33] They are specialized in taking people to the destroyed Palestinian villages and elaborating on the history of those villages. Often with people who are originally from the village.
[00:15:48] And as we are heading towards the West, we are now entering into a Valley, in Arabic, known as Wadi es-Sarar and in Hebrew known as Nahal Sorek.
[00:16:00] It is a beautiful Valley. It is full of springs. There is also a river or stream called the Sorek and it is here that the Ottomans laid out the first railway from Jaffa to Jerusalem in 1892. And the railway connected Jaffa with Jerusalem through Lud and Ramla, that we will speak about in future episodes, through Beit Shemesh and Battir, and Battir we will also speak about in a future episode and through Beit Safafa that we talked about in episode number three. And this Valley is known for a quite well-known Bible story that anyone of you who is a little bit familiar with the Bible will probably have heard about.
[00:16:54] It is the story of Samson and Delilah. So for this story, we are going back to around the 12th century before Christ. And it is the time in which the Israelites have entered into the land of Canaan and have started to conquer the land and divide it between their tribes. And they didn’t have a King like the nations around them, but they had what they called judges.
[00:17:23] And these were people that they thought were inspired or appointed by God to lead them. And one of them, actually, the last one before they had King Saul was Samson. And Samson was a Nazarite. And that meant that he did not drink alcohol that he would never touch or be in contact with a corpse, that he would spend all his life in the service of God.
[00:17:51] And that he had an amazing strength and power, because he never cut his hair as a sign of his obedience to God. Now he did have human feelings and he fell in love with a beautiful woman who was not of his tribe, who was not even of his people. She was part of what was considered the enemy and she was part of the Philistines.
[00:18:18] And the Philistines were sea people that had arrived, from probably the Greek islands, to the coast. And they had settled on the coast in the area that is now known as the Gaza strip. And it was probably the Egyptian pharaohs who had made sure that these Philistines did not go more inland, but stayed in an enclave on the coast, on the Mediterranean.
[00:18:42] So Samson fell in love with Delilah. And her people told her that they would give her money if she could find out what was his strength, how could they beat him? Because he was so strong that he could easily kill tens of people at the same time. So she asked him, what is it? What is your secret and what is your weakness?
[00:19:05] And at first he told her, well, if you tie me with seven ropes, then I will not be able to release myself. So she tied him with seven ropes, but when the people came to capture him, he immediately broke loose and he managed to defend himself. And then she said to him, but Samson, why did you lie to me, please tell me, what is it? What is your strength? And he said, well, if you tie me with ropes that have never been used before, then I will not be able to release myself. And so she tried again. And again, when the people came at night to capture him, he broke loose and then she kept asking and she kept whining and she kept pushing him to tell her the secret.
[00:19:48] And eventually, you know, men, he couldn’t resist. And he told her his secret. He said, no razor has ever touched my head. So in that night she cut his hair and he lost all his strength. And then when they came to capture him, they managed to capture him. They tortured him. They even made him blind. And if you know the end of the story, you know, that what they did to him, they brought him to the temple of one of their gods and they tied him to the pillars and he asked God for one more time, a last strength and power.
[00:20:26] And he managed to pull down the pillars and he died, but he died with all his enemies around him. And so this is according to the biblical tradition, the place where this story happened in Nahal Sorek or in Arabic Wadi es-Sarrar.
[00:20:44] We are about 20 minutes into this podcast episode. And if we had really been on a bus, we would have been at the location that I’m going to speak about right now. And this will be our last story, because we will take a break at the Latrun monastery, maybe have a glass of wine there and walk through the vineyards and then you’ll have to wait for the second part of this trilogy to continue the way to Jaffa.
[00:21:12] But we are still on our way to Jaffa and we are entering now into what is called the Ayalon Valley. And Ayalon was already the name of a Canaanite city. And it was mentioned in the 14th century before Christ. So that is about 3,400 years ago, in the Tell el Amarna letters. These letters were not written on paper, as we do today, they were written on clay tablets. There were about 400 of these clay tablets found in Egypt in a place called Amarna, and that’s why they are called the Amarna letters. This was correspondence between the Pharaoh of Egypt and the vassal kings in Canaan, the vassal kings of the city States. Those were usually diplomatic correspondence and very often also requests for help.
[00:22:05] It is in these Amarna letters that we for the first time can read the name of Jerusalem and the name of Bethlehem Ursalim and Beit Lahmu, the house of Lahmu, which was one of the Canaanite fertility gods. It was the vassal King of Jerusalem of Ursualim, his name was Abdi Heba, who asked the Pharaoh to come and support him against the invasions by the Abiru people.
[00:22:31] And the Abiru people were lawless nomads that were continuously attacking the Canaanite city States. So Abdi Heba is asking the Pharaoh to come and help, and he mentions Ayalon as one of the Canaanite cities. But Ayalon is also famous from the book of Joshua of the Bible. We are still in the Holy land, always a lot of Bible stories.
[00:22:56] It is known from the story where Joshua defeats the five Amorite kings. Now Joshua was the leader of the Israelites when they entered into the land and their main aim was to conquer the land and it was not their aim to make peace with the nations. One of the peoples called the Gibeonites, from Gibeon, they heard that the Israelites were very fierce people and they decided to go and try and make a peace treaty. But they also knew they will not have a lot of chance to make a peace treaty with the Israelites because they were there to conquer the land. So they pretended that they were from a nation that was living far away out of the borders of Canaan.
[00:23:37] And they sent a delegation to ask Joshua for a peace treaty and Joshua thought to himself, well, that may be a good idea. If we have conquered the land, then at least we will have good connection with our neighbors. So he signed a peace treaty with them, and then he found out that the Gibeonites were living only a few kilometers away from where he was setting up his camp.
[00:24:02] He was a little bit annoyed and he did make them into slaves. But he had made a promise to them and he did not attack them. And sometime later they came to him, the Gibeonites, and they said, we are being attacked by a coalition of five Amorite kings, the Amorites were yet another tribe, and we wanted your help and Joshua, because he was a man of his word, he gathered his army and he came and defeated the five Amorite kings. He not only defeated them. He also chased them away and he chased them down South through the Ayalon valley, the valley that we are driving through right now. And it’s very interesting because in the Bible, in the book of Joshua, it says that, and I quote,:
[00:24:49] “Then Joshua spoke to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered the Amorites before the children of Israel. And he said in the sight of them, sun stand still upon Gibeon and you moon in the valley of Ayalon.”
[00:25:05] And this has always been explained as the sun stood still and the moon stood still and the day was prolonged so that they could defeat the Amorites. Now, recently researchers have found out that what probably happened in that time was a solar eclipse.
[00:25:23] And with a solar eclipse, the moon passes in between the sun and the earth, and then blocks the sunlight. And that would mean that it became dark. And maybe that was helpful to Joshua to defeat the Amorite kings. Maybe they didn’t realize that there were not that many of them because their army wasn’t that big. Whatever happened exactly, and if this story is a true story or not, we will never know. But according to the scientists, it is so that in that exact timeframe, there was a solar eclipse and it doesn’t happen very often.
[00:26:00] The valley of Ayalon in general has seen quite a lot of battles. And this is of course, because it’s such an important connection between Jaffa and Jerusalem. But also there is a North South route.
[00:26:14] There is the Via Maris, which is the way of the sea. This is a road that goes parallel to the coast of the Mediterranean and then around Megiddo it goes more towards the East towards Damascus. That was for a long time, the official postal road and trade route between Cairo and Damascus. And then there was another road that connected Gaza and Ashkelon to Ramallah and the exact junction of these two roads was very important.
[00:26:44] And this Valley has seen many battles. There is a lot of historical and archeological evidence in this area. For example, of the Greeks fighting the Jewish revolters, of Romans building fortresses of the Muslims setting up fortifications, of the crusaders building fortresses. And also in later time, the Mamluks, the Ottomans, the British. For example, we are now arriving in the area called the Latrun.
[00:27:12] And this comes from the name of a Crusader fortress, and it was called in that time Le Toron des Chevaliers, the tower of the Knights in old French. The crusaders built up many fortresses in the country. And we know from the episode about Beit Safafa, that a lot of Palestinian villages started to exist around the existing fortresses or the remains of the fortresses of the crusaders.
[00:27:40] This Crusader fortress that gave the name to the area, Latrun, was destroyed by Salaedin. And it was in this area that Salaedin, the leader of the Muslim army, fought Richard Lionheart during the third crusades when Richard Lionheart and his army came to re-conquer parts of the Jerusalem Crusader kingdom that they had lost to the Muslims.
[00:28:07] Part of this 12th century Crusader fortress can still be seen in ruins, in this area. Very famous here is the Latrun monastery. The Latrun monastery was set up in 1890 in the late 19th century and is a French Trappist monastery. It follows the Benedictine rules, which means there are very strict rules and a very sober life.
[00:28:33] And the order of Trapists were set up in France in the 17th century. And they are known to support themselves with artisanal work, mainly beer brewing, but here in the local context, they make wine because vine yards are plenty available in the area. So when you visit the Latrun monastery, you have a beautiful view over the Ayalon valley and you can buy delicious wine. You can also buy homemade lemon juice, homemade jam, pickled olives, olive oil, and other local and artisanal products.
[00:29:10] And I think this is a perfect place to have a break on our podcast tour in the garden of the monastery, where they have set up picnic tables, where you can chill and relax.
[00:29:22] Take a lunch and then we will continue in another episode for the second part of the tour, in which we will speak about Abu Ghosh, El Lod and Ramle.
[00:29:34] I don’t promise you that that will be next week because I have some other podcast episodes and interviews lined up, but keep following Palestine podcast for the continuation of this trilogy from Jerusalem to Jaffa.
If you want to hear an additional story about the Tegart forts built by the British and still in use today by both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, then go to the K0-fi website https://ko-fi.com/storiesfrompalestine for unique material that you won’t find anywhere else!