RAMLEH (Heb. רָמְלָה, Ramlah ), city in Israel, situated on the Jerusalem–Tel Aviv highway, approximately 28 mi. (45 km.) from Jerusalem.
The Old City
Ramleh was founded in 716 by the Umayyad caliph Suleiman ibn ʿAbd al-Malik and is the only city in the country established by Arabs. The name means "sand" in Arabic and refers to the sandy ground on which the city arose. Ramleh was the administrative capital of the country under the *Umayyads and the *Abbasids. Although originally founded as a town for Muslims, it had from the beginning a large population of Christians, Jews, and Samaritans. Hārūn al-Rashīd, the Abbasid ruler in the late eighth century, increased the Samaritan farming population. Due to its advantageous location on the crossroads of the Egypt–Damascus and Jerusalem–Jaffa highways, the city prospered until the time of the Crusades.
Among the Jewish community, Ramleh was called Gath or Gath-Rimmon or Ramathaim-Zophim, after the biblical towns with which it was identified. The temporary transfer of the Jerusalem academy to Ramleh in the tenth century greatly strengthened the Jewish population. At that time, a Karaite and a Rabbanite community, the latter divided into Palestinians and Babylonians, existed in the town; there were also synagogues for the Jerusalemites and the Damascenes. In the 11th century the flourishing communities of Ramleh suffered from a series of blows: a disastrous Bedouin raid in 1025 and two devastating earthquakes in 1033 and 1067 (in the latter, 25,000 people reportedly perished). During the Crusader occupation, beginning in 1099, the Jewish and Samaritan communities were dispersed. When Benjamin of Tudela visited there in 1170–71, he recorded a Jewish population of only three dyers, living in the midst of extensive cemeteries.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, the city was often attacked by Muslims. It was finally captured by the *Mamluk sultan Baybars and as the capital of a province, it regained some of its former importance. By the 14th century, it was again the largest town in Palestine and a Jewish community was reestablished there. With the Ottoman conquest, it once more declined, although most pilgrims passed through the town, at the time called Rames, on their way to Jerusalem. The tax records for 1690–91 show no Jews living there. The main buildings of the early city which still stand are the Cathedral of St. John (now the Great Mosque), the White Mosque and its minaret (completed in 1318) and the ʿUnayziyya cistern (dating from the eighth century).
The New Town
In 1890 Ramleh had 9,611 inhabitants, the majority of whom were Muslim Arabs, with a sizable minority of Arab and non-Arab Christians, and a small Jewish community of 66 people. Under the British Mandate (1917–48), the town's economy benefited only slightly from its location near a principal highway. Christian institutions helped raise the local educational level. In the 1930s Ramleh still had five Jewish families; they left, however, in 1936, with the outbreak of the Arab riots.
During the Israel *War of Independence, when Ramleh was occupied by Israel forces in July 1948, most of the town's Arabs abandoned it, causing the population to shrink to 1,547 persons by the November 1948 census. At the beginning of the 1950s the town absorbed a large number of Jewish immigrants from various countries, raising the population to 20,548 in 1961. Initially the newcomers were housed in three ma'barot ("immigrant transit camps"); but, with housing construction proceeding rapidly, Ramleh's built-up area expanded, principally to the west and southwest, until it covered an area of about 4 sq. mi. (10 sq. km.). In 1969 about 4,200 families lived in the new sections, compared to 3,000 in the town's older areas, where numerous structures were earmarked for leveling and reconstruction. Of its 30,800 inhabitants in 1970, 27,000 were Jews and 3,800 Arabs. In the mid-1990s the population was approximately 55,000, including 9,020 non-Jews. By 2002 the population of Ramleh increased to 62,800, consisting of 80.5% Jews, 15.4% Muslims, and 4% Christians. A third of the population consisted of immigrants from the former Soviet Unions. In earlier years the Arabs were for the most part well integrated in the city's economy and cultural life and satisfactory social relations existed between the Jewish and Arab communities, with a Jewish-Arab Friendship League in operation. However, in the course of time, relations became tense. Most Arabs remained in the old city, nicknamed the Ghetto, while the Jews lived in the new areas of the city. When the "al-Aqsa" Intifada erupted in 2000 a few synagogues were set on fire and Jews tried to burn a mosque.
The city's economy was based mainly on industry, which benefited from its location at one of the country's major highway and railroad junctions and its relative proximity to the port of Ashdod. In 1969, 23 of the larger industrial enterprises employed about 2,000 workers. Products included cement (in the country's largest cement factory), wood products, metal pipes, motors, refrigerators and miscellaneous metal products, prefabricated houses, and canned foods. There were two industrial zones. Until June 1971, the Tel Aviv–Jerusalem traffic artery intersected the town from northwest to southeast, with the number of vehicles passing through Ramleh averaging 17,000 a day. The local market mainly serviced rural settlements around Ramleh, and provided an outlet for its farm produce. The city also provided health services to the villages in the vicinity. During the 1980s the city became known for its various disco clubs. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, income in Ramleh was much lower than the national average in 2002 and a third of the population was on welfare
[Shlomo Hasson /
Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]
B. Segal, in: Zion, 5 (1933), 12–18; S. Klein, Toledot ha-Yishuv ha-Yehudi be-Ereẓ Yisrael (1935), index; S. Assaf and L.A. Mayer (eds.), Sefer ha-Yishuv, 2 (1944), 56–63; Mayer-Pinkerfeld, Principal Muslim Religious Buildings in Israel (1950), 25–30; J. Braslavski, Le-Ḥeker Arẓenu (1954), index; Hirschberg, in: Yerushalayim, 4 (1953), 123–8; Shapira, ibid., 118–22; J. Kaplan, in: ʿAtiqot, 2 (1958), 106–15; Z. Vilnay, Ramleh (1961); I. Ben-Zvi, She'ar Yashuv (1965), 316–21; Ben-Zvi, Ereẓ Yisrael, index; M. Rosen-Ayalon, in: iej, 16 (1966), 148–50. website: www.ramla.muni.il.