Deir (Dayr) Al-Balah

views updated


DEIR (Dayr ) AL-BALAH , Arab town in southern Ereẓ Israel, 8½ mi. (13.7 km.) southwest of *Gaza. It appears to have existed since Byzantine times, when it bore the name Darom or Kefar Darom and Jews were among its inhabitants. Under the early caliphates, a fortress was constructed there. It was also a crusader fortress and administrative military center. The castle was described by William of Tyre. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, the place-name was changed to "Deir" (Monastery) with the added designation "al-Balaḥ" ("of Date Palms"). Date palms still constitute the principal produce of the town, in addition to citrus fruits, almonds, pomegranates, and grapes. The town grew from 1,600 inhabitants in 1945 to 18,000 in 1967, of whom 7,000 lived in the local refugee camp. In 1997 the population increased to 42,839 inhabitants, two-thirds of whom were refugees. The original name was revived in 1946 by the religious kibbutz Kefar Darom, on the town's eastern outskirts, which had to be abandoned in the War of Independence but was reestablished further north in 1970 as *Benei Darom. From 1948 to 1967, it was in the *Gaza Strip under Egyptian control, coming under Israeli control in the Six-Day War and reverting to the *Palestinian Authority in 1994 under the terms of the Declaration of Principles initialed in Oslo and signed in Washington in 1993.

[Efraim Orni]