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Deir al-Balah

Deir al-Balah
Other transcription(s)
 • Arabic دير البلح
 • Also spelled Deir el-Balah (official)
Dayr al-Balah (unofficial)
Skyline of Deir al-Balah, 2008
Skyline of Deir al-Balah, 2008
Deir al-Balah is located in the Palestinian territories
Deir al-Balah
Location of Deir al-Balah within Palestine
Palestine grid 88/92
Governorate Deir al-Balah
Founded 14th-century BC
 • Type City (from 1994)
 • Head of Municipality Sa'ed Nassar
 • Jurisdiction 14,735 dunams (14.7 km2 or 5.7 sq mi)
Population (2007)
 • Jurisdiction 54,439
Name meaning "Monastery of the Date Palm"

Deir al-Balah or Dayr al-Balah (Arabic: دير البلح‎ translated Monastery of the Date Palm) is a Palestinian city in the central Gaza Strip and the administrative capital of the Deir el-Balah Governorate. It is located over 14 kilometers (8.7 mi) south of Gaza City.[1] The city had a population of 54,439 in 2007.[2] The city is known for its date palms, after which it is named.

Deir al-Balah dates back to the al-Khidr. During the Crusader-Ayyubid wars, Deir al-Balah was the site of a strategic coastal fortress known as "Darum" which was continuously contested, dismantled and rebuilt by both sides until its final demolition in 1196; after this the site grew to become a large village on the postal route in the Mamluk era from the 13th to 15th-centuries and served as an episcopal see of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem in Ottoman times until the late 19th-century.

Under Egyptian control Deir al-Balah, whose population tripled through the influx of refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, was a prosperous agricultural town until its capture by Israel in the Six-Day War. After 27 years of Israeli occupation, Deir al-Balah became the first city to come under Palestinian self-rule in 1994. Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, it has witnessed frequent incursions by the Israeli Army with the stated aim of stopping Qassam rocket fire into Israel.[3][4][5] Ahmad Kurd, a Hamas member, was elected mayor in late January 2005.[6][7]


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • Ancient period 2.1
    • Byzantine period 2.2
    • Early Muslim period 2.3
    • Crusader and Ayyubid rule 2.4
    • Mamluk rule 2.5
    • Ottoman era 2.6
    • Modern era 2.7
  • Geography 3
  • Archaeology 4
    • Mosque of al-Khidr 4.1
  • Demographics 5
  • Economy 6
    • Agriculture and fishing 6.1
  • Education 7
  • Government 8
    • Mayors 8.1
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Bibliography 11
  • External links 12


The name of the site from the time of ancient Egyptian and Philistine rule is not known.

"Deir al-Balah," which in mosque of al-Khidr, the most venerated saintly person throughout Palestine,[9] inside the city which was locally believed to house his tomb.[10]

Up until the later Ottoman era, Deir al-Balah was referred to in Arabic as "Darum" or "Darun" which derived from the settlement's Crusader-era Latin name "Darom" or "Doron." That name was explained by the Crusader chronicler William of Tyre as a corruption of domus Graecorum, "house of the Greeks". More recently, the eighteenth century scholar Albert Schultens[11] supposed its roots are the Ancient Hebrew name "Darom" or "Droma", from the Hebrew root for "south", which referred to the area south of Lydda, i.e. the southern parts of the coastal plain and Judean foothills together with the northern Negev Desert. During early Arab rule, "ad-Darum" or "ad-Dairan" was the name of the southern subdistrict of Beit Jibrin.[12]


Ancient period

An Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus dating to the Late Bronze Age found in Deir al-Balah, on display at the Hecht Museum in Haifa

Deir al-Balah's history dates back to the mid-14th-century BC, during the Late Bronze Age of the Levant.[1] At that time it served as an outpost in the New Kingdom of Egypt at its frontier with Canaan.[13] During the reign of Ramesses II (1303–1213 BC) Deir al-Balah became the furthest east of six garrisoned fortresses in the Eastern Mediterranean,[14] beginning with the Sinai fort in the west, all built along the "Way of Horus" military road to Canaan.[15] The square-shaped building had four towers at each corner and included a reservoir.[14] Archaeological findings in Deir al-Balah revealed a large ancient Egyptian cemetery with graves containing jewelry and other personal belongings. The inhabitants of the fortress employed traditional Egyptian techniques and artistic designs in their architectural works.[15] The cosmopolitan aspect of the frontier site is proven by the rich Cypriot, Mycenaean and Minoan findings.

Deir al-Balah remained in Egyptian hands until around 1150 BC when the Philistines conquered the southern coastal area of Canaan.[13] The Philistine settlement is thought to have been situated southwest of the excavation site, its remains hidden under large sand dunes. Five pits dug into the Late Bronze Age layers and containing Philistine pottery are among the few findings from that period.[16]

The archaeological excavations at the Egyptian-period site were executed under Israeli occupation between 1972 and 1982 and headed by Trude Dothan. After the conclusion of the excavations the area was used for farming purposes and is now covered by vegetable gardens and fruit orchards while the main findings can be seen in Israeli museums like the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Hecht Museum in Haifa.[17]

Byzantine period

During Byzantine rule, the first hermitage in Palestine was established by the early Christian monk Hilarion at the site of modern-day Deir al-Balah. Hilarion initially built a small hut there, but during the reign of Constantius II (337–361) he set up the hermitage. Towards the end of his life, the monastery grew and began to attract numerous visitors. Hilarion resided at the monastery for a total of 22 years until his departure for Cyprus where he died in 371 AD. The hermitage was divided into several small cells constructed of mud brick and palm tree branches.[18] According to local tradition and observations from Western travelers in the 19th-century, the prayer hall of the Monastery of Hilarion is currently occupied by the Mosque of al-Khidr. French explorer Victor Guérin noted that two marble columns in the mosque were possibly parts of the Byzantine-era monastery.[19]

Early Muslim period

In 632, during the early period of Islamic rule in Arabia, the Muslim commander Usama ibn Zayd launched a raid against the Byzantine-held Darum which referred not to Deir al-Balah specifically, but to the area south of Lydda which included modern-day Deir al-Balah.[20] The site was one of the first places in Palestine to be annexed by the Rashidun Caliphate following the conquest of Gaza by Amr ibn al-'As in 634.[21] Throughout early Muslim Arab rule and until the arrival of the Crusaders in the late 11th-century, "Darum" normally referred to the southern district of Jund Filastin whose capital fluctuated between the towns of Bayt Jibrin or Hebron.[20]

The Fatimid caliph al-Aziz granted his favored vizier, Yaqub ibn Killis, a fief in modern-day Deir al-Balah, as testified by an inscription dating to the 980s located in the city's al-Khidr Mosque. The fief included a large estate with date palms.[22]

Crusader and Ayyubid rule

Deir al-Balah was built on the ruins of the Crusader fort of Darom (also referred to as "Doron") which was built by King Amalric I.[1] The exact date of the fort's construction is unknown, although it was likely erected after 1153 following Amalric's capture of Ascalon to the north from the Fatimid Caliphate.[21] As described by William of Tyre, the fort was small (tantum spatium intra se continens quantum est jactus lapidis, containing inside as much space as a stone's throw) and square-shaped with four towers, one of which was larger than the others.[23] Amalric used Darom as a launching point for several unsuccessful military campaigns against Fatimid Egypt.[24] In addition to its role as a frontier fort on the border of Egypt, Darom also served as an administrative center charged with collecting taxes from the southern areas of the kingdom and customs from caravans and travelers coming from Egypt. It was deemed a permanent threat by the rulers of Egypt.[24]

Not long after its construction, a small suburb or village with a church was established by local farmers and traders just outside the fort. According to medieval chronicler William of Tyre, "It was a pleasant spot where conditions of life for people of the lower ranks were better than in cities."[25] The population of the village consisted of indigenous Eastern Christians allied to and protected by the Crusader administration and garrison based in the fort. The inhabitants were considered lower-class, but integral members of society by the Crusaders of European or mixed descent. Because Darom was absent of Greek bishops, in 1168 Pope Alexander III gave the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem direct jurisdiction over the dioceses, bringing the largely Greek Orthodox inhabitants under the authority of the Catholic Church.[26]

Following Amalric's withdrawal from his fifth offensive against Egypt in 1170, Muslim general Saladin, fighting on behalf of the Fatimids, attacked and besieged the fortress as part of his foray into the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Despite initial gains, Darom was not captured or destroyed.[24] It later became a stronghold of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller from Jerusalem, led by King Baldwin III.[27] After the Muslim army defeated the Crusaders in the decisive Battle of Hattin in 1187, their leader Saladin, now the independent sultan of the Ayyubid Empire, advanced south and captured both Ascalon and Darom by 1188. His first order was the fort's demolition, but he later decided against destroying it.[24] Instead, the fortress was substantially expanded and strengthened. "Darum", which the Muslims called it, was encased by a wall with 17 strong towers protected by a deep moat with stone-paved sides.[28] It hosted a garrison commanded by the emir ("commander") Alam ad-Din Qaysar and served as a store for supplies and ammunition.[24]

The Crusaders recaptured the fortress on 24 May 1191 after a short siege commanded by Richard the Lionheart.[24] Authority over Darum was assigned to Henry I of Champagne, but Richard later had the fortress demolished in July 1193 prior to withdrawing his forces from Ascalon.[29] The Ayyubids of Egypt rebuilt the fortress soon after in order to use it as a bridgehead to reconquer territories lost in Palestine during the Third Crusade. Nonetheless, in 1196 al-Aziz Uthman, the Ayyubid sultan, decided to have it demolished in case of its capture by the Crusaders. According to 15th-century historian, al-Maqrizi, this decision resulted in public resentment since travelers and merchants benefited greatly from the fort's protection.[24] In 1226 Syrian geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi visited Darum and noted it was one of the cities of Lot and contained a ruined castle.[30]

Mamluk rule

Following its demolition, it is not known how long Darum remained deserted, but it was eventually resettled during Mamluk rule which began in 1250.[9] For much of the Mamluk era, the town came under the administration of the politically important Niyabah of Gaza (Province of Gaza), part of the larger Mamlaka of Damascus ("Kingdom of Damascus.)[31] Along with Karatiyya and Beit Jibrin,[32] Darum was an amal ("district") of the Province of Gaza with its own wali ("governor.")[31]

It became a halting post along the newly introduced regular mail routes connecting Damascus and Cairo, which were run by mounted messengers with colored sashes.[27] Syrian historian Ibn Fadlallah al-Umari did not mention Darum in his list of the route's stopping points in 1349 (instead he wrote al-Salqah was the only post between Rafah and Gaza) suggesting that Darum was not a major settlement at the time. However, 14th-century Egyptian historian Ahmad al-Qalqashandi contradicts this, noting that Darum was the last halting post before Gaza.[9] Roads, bridges, postal stations and a khan were built in the town to accommodate the messengers. Pigeon mail service was introduced for which towers were built. Produce available in Darum during this time period included barley, wheat, grapes and grape leaves, olives, raspberries, lemons, figs, sweet melons, pomegranates and dates.[27] Surrounding the town were the encampments of the Batn Jarm, an Arab clan that also lived around Gaza.[33]

Ottoman era

Sometime prior to the Ottoman conquest of Palestine in 1516 or in the beginning years of Ottoman rule, Darum gained the additional name of "Deir" as in "Deir Darum" after its Byzantine-era monastery.[34] The village continued to thrive during the early Ottoman era in Palestine which is attributed to the urban infrastructure previously established by the Crusaders.[35] Its continued importance also stemmed from its close proximity to Gaza and its position on the former Via Maris trade route.[36] The first Ottoman tax census in 1525 revealed Deir al-Balah was a relatively large village with a religiously mixed population of 87 Christian families and 56 Muslim families.[28] In 1596 it was part of the sanjak ("district") of Gaza and had a Muslim majority with 175 Muslim families and 125 Christian families.[37][38] With an estimated population of 1,500,[8] it was one of eight villages at the time to have between 1,000 and 2,000 inhabitants.[36] Annual tax revenue from the town amounted to 17,300 akces.[8]

Deir al-Balah's mortality rate suffered in 1862 because of stagnant drinking water originating from the town's swamps. The swamps were seasonal, forming each winter as a result of flooding which failed to breach the sandstone ridge.[18] A year later, on 29 May 1863, French explorer Victor Guérin wrote that Deir al-Balah was a small, partly ruined village with a population of 350. Date farming was the principal economic activity the inhabitants engaged in.[39] In 1878 the Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine noted Deir al-Balah had grown to become a large village of mud houses "with wells and a small tower." At that time, it served as a See of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.[9][40][41][42]

Modern era

A battery of the Honourable Artillery Company outside Deir al-Balah, March 1918
Deir al-Balah Commonwealth War Cemetery, 1918

Deir al-Balah was captured by the British Army following the surrender of Khan Yunis on 28 February 1917. By April an aerodrome and an army camp were established there and Deir al-Balah became a launching point for British forces against Ottoman-held Gaza and Beersheba to the north and northeast, respectively.[43] Of the 25 British war cemeteries dating from World War I, one of the six largest was built in Deir al-Balah in March 1917.[44] It continued to be used until March 19 and contains a total of 724 graves.[43] It became a part of the British Mandate of Palestine starting in 1922. A municipal council to administer the town was established by the British authorities in 1946, but it had limited jurisdiction over civil affairs and provided a few basic services.[45]

In 1945 Deir al-Balah had a population of 2,560, all Arabs, with 14,735 dunams of land, according to an official land and population survey.[46] Of this, 327 dunams were for citrus and bananas, 472 plantations and irrigable land, 14,438 used for cereals,[47] while 39 dunams were built-up land.[48] In the lead-up to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, residents of Deir al-Balah participated in a local attack against the nearby kibbutz of Kfar Darom, despite being discouraged by Egyptian Army officers, but they were repelled and suffered casualties.[49] Egypt captured the town along with the rest of the Gaza Strip during the war and later established a sharia court system that held jurisdiction over personal affairs.[50] Egyptian rule introduced relative prosperity to Deir al-Balah. The town witnessed a booming citrus industry made possible by the discovery of a substantial reservoir of ground water in the vicinity.[51]

During the

  • Welcome To The City of Dayr al-Balah
  • Survey of Western Palestine, Map 19: IAA,
  • Laborers in Deir al-Balah Governorate.
  • Map of the Deir-al Balah Governorate

External links

  • Barron, J. B., ed. (1923). Palestine: Report and General Abstracts of the Census of 1922 (PDF). Government of Palestine. 
  • Bitton-Ashkeloni, Bruria (2004). Christian Gaza In Late Antiquity. BRILL.  
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  • Burgel, J. Christoph (1985). Islam in the Mirror of Contemporary Literature of the Islamic World. BRILL Archive.  
  • Caridi, Paola (2012). Hamas: From Resistance to Government. Seven Stories Press.  
  • Department of Statistics (1945). Village Statistics, April, 1945. Government of Palestine. 
  • el-Eini, Roza (2006). Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine, 1929–1948. Psychology Press.  
  • Ellenblum, Ronnie (2003). Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge University Press.  
  • Hütteroth, Wolf-Dieter; Abdulfattah, Kamal (1977). Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late 16th Century. Erlanger Geographische Arbeiten, Sonderband 5. Erlangen, Germany: Vorstand der Fränkischen Geographischen Gesellschaft.  
  • Lesch, Ann Mosely (1980). Political Perceptions of the Palestinians on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Middle East Institute.  
  • Lipinsky, Edward (1985). The Land of Israel: Cross-roads of Civilizations. Peeters Publishers.  
  • Mills, E., ed. (1932). Census of Palestine 1931. Population of Villages, Towns and Administrative Areas (PDF). Jerusalem: Government of Palestine. 
  • Morkot, Robert (2003). Historical Dictionary of Ancient Egyptian Warfare. Scarecrow Press.  
  • (p. 53)  
  • Orni, Efraim (1973). Geography of Israel. Jewish Publication Society of America.  
  • Page, Kogan (1993). Middle East Review. Kogan Page Publishers.  
  • Petersen, Andrew (2005). The Towns of Palestine Under Muslim Rule. British Archaeological Reports.  
  • Pringle, Denys (1993). The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: A–K (excluding Acre and Jerusalem). Cambridge University Press.  
  • Schick, Robert (1995). The Christian Communities of Palestine From Byzantine to Islamic Rule. Darwin Press.  
  • Shahin, Mariam (2005). Palestine: A Guide. Interlink Books.  
  • Shahwan, Usama Salim (2003). Public Administration in Palestine: Past and Present. University Press of America.  
  • Sharon, Moshe (2004). Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, D–F 3. BRILL.  
  • Socin, A. (1879). "Alphabetisches Verzeichniss von Ortschaften des Paschalik Jerusalem". Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 2: 135–163. 
  • le Strange, Guy (1890). Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500. Committee of the  
  • Ziadeh, Nicola A. (1953). Urban Life In Syria Under the Early Mamluks. Greenwood Press. 


  1. ^ a b c d Sharon, 2004, p. 11
  2. ^ a b c d Table 14: Localities in Deir al Balah Governorate by Type of Locality and Selected Indicators, 2007. Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). 2009. p. 62.
  3. ^ a b "US Calls on Israel to Withdraw".  .
  4. ^ a b "Fresh incursion in Gaza".  .
  5. ^ a b "A New Role for Hamas: Running Gaza's Cities".  
  6. ^ "Hamas Dominates Local Vote in Gaza".  
  7. ^ a b Scott Wilson (2005-09-05). "Israeli Pullout Creates Political Opportunity: Shift of Gaza Land and Assets to Palestinians Sharpens Hamas-Fatah Rivalry".  
  8. ^ a b c d Petersen, 2005, p. 143.
  9. ^ a b c d e Sharon, 2004, p. 14
  10. ^ Sharon, 2004, p. 15
  11. ^ cited in Guérin, 1869, p. 224. Retrieved 2013 12/28.
  12. ^ Sharon, 2004, pp. 11–12
  13. ^ a b Bunson, 2002, p. 96.
  14. ^ a b Morkot, 2003, p.91.
  15. ^ a b Bunson, 2002, p. 97.
  16. ^ Negen, Avraham; Gibson, Shimon (2001). Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. Continuum. p. 139. 
  17. ^ "Deir el-Balah: Uncovering an Egyptian Outpost in Canaan from the Time of the Exodus. By Trude Dothan. Reviewed by Carol A. Redmount, 15.1.2012". Biblical Archaeology Society. Retrieved 2014-10-13. 
  18. ^ a b Bitton-Ashkelony and Kofsky, 2004, p. 68.
  19. ^ Bitton-Askhelony and Kofsky, 2004, p. 69.
  20. ^ a b Schick, 1995, p. 280
  21. ^ a b Sharon, 2004, p. 12
  22. ^ Sharon, 2004, p. 16. According to Moshe Sharon, it is possible the inscription was found in the vicinity of Deir al-Balah and was later relocated to the mosque in a later period.
  23. ^ Ellenblum, 2003, p. 137; William of Tyre, XX, xix.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g Sharon, 2004, p. 13
  25. ^ Ellenblum, 2003, pp. 137 –138.
  26. ^ Ellenblum, 2003, p. 139
  27. ^ a b c Shahin, 2005, pp. 421–423.
  28. ^ a b Ellenblum, 2003, p. 140
  29. ^ Pringle, 1993, p. 195
  30. ^ le Strange, 1890, p. 437
  31. ^ a b Ziadeh, 1953, p. 24.
  32. ^ Ziadeh, 1953, p. 13.
  33. ^ Ziadeh, 1953, p. 45.
  34. ^ Orni and Efrat, 1973, p. 397.
  35. ^ Petersen, 2005, p. 44.
  36. ^ a b Petersen, 2005, p. 42.
  37. ^ Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, 1977, p. 144.
  38. ^ Petersen, 2005, p. 140.
  39. ^ a b Guerin 1869, 223 ff
  40. ^ Conder and Kitchener 1883, SWP III, p. 234
  41. ^ Conder and Kitchener 1883, SWP III, p. 247
  42. ^ Conder and Kitchener 1883, SWP III, p. 248
  43. ^ a b "Deir El Balah War Cemetery". Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  44. ^ El-Eini, 2006, p. 62.
  45. ^ Shahwan, 2003, p. 41.
  46. ^ a b c Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 45
  47. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 86
  48. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 136
  49. ^ Gelber, p. 57.
  50. ^ Burgel, 1985, p. 31.
  51. ^ a b c d e Helm, Sarah (1994-05-15). "A future of orange juice and justice: Gaza town aims for prosperity".  
  52. ^ a b Mattar, 2005, p. 171.
  53. ^ Page, 1993, p. 164.
  54. ^ "ARIJ Monthly Report on the Israeli Colonization Activities in the West Bank". Volume 66.  
  55. ^ "Qassam Brigades fighter dies of wounds sustained in recent factional clashes".  
  56. ^ "Fatah man found dead in central Gaza and young boy killed by an explosion".  
  57. ^ "Death toll reaches 43 in the past 48 hours as the conflict intensifies in Gaza".  
  58. ^ "Day seven: 430 killed, over 2,200 injured since Saturday".  
  59. ^ a b Agha, Salah R. (2006). "Optimizing Routing of Municipal Solid Waste Collection Vehicles in Deir al-Balah" (PDF).  
  60. ^ "Gaza Strip Mapping Movement and Access" (PDF). Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. July 2011. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 
  61. ^ "Deir al-Balah Profile".  
  62. ^ a b Conder and Kitchener, 1883, SWP III, pp. 247–248
  63. ^ Socin, 1879, p. 152
  64. ^ Barron, 1923, Table V, Sub-district of Gaza, p. 8
  65. ^ Barron, 1923, Table XIV, p. 44
  66. ^ a b Mills, 1932, p. 3
  67. ^ Department of Statistics, 1945, p. 31
  68. ^ Roy, 1986, p. 144.
  69. ^ a b "Palestinian Population by Locality, Sex and Age Groups in Years".  
  70. ^ Caridi, 2012, Chapter 2.
  71. ^ "Palestinian Population by Locality and Refugee Status".  
  72. ^ a b "Deir al-Balah Governorate Fact Sheet" (PDF).  
  73. ^ "Economics of Biodiversity in Palestine". Middle East News Agency. 1999. 
  74. ^ a b al-Baba, Mohammed (2003-11-17). "Palm Trees Under Fire".  
  75. ^ El-Eini, 2006, p. 498.
  76. ^ Orni, 1973, p. 397.
  77. ^ "Gaza Fishing: An Industry in Danger" (PDF).  
  78. ^ "Palestinian Population (10 Years and Over) by Locality, Sex and Educational Attainment".  
  79. ^ "The Administrative Divisions of Governorates: Deir al-Balah Governorate".  
  80. ^ "Profile of Palestine Technical College".  
  81. ^ "About Palestine Technical College" (in Arabic). Palestine Technical College Official Website. 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  82. ^ Sareen, 2004, p. 252.
  83. ^ a b c Erlanger, Steven (2005-05-26). "Abbas's Gamble: Pulling a Foe Into Palestinian Politics".  
  84. ^ "Local elections (Round One)—The Winners According to Local Authority, Gender and No. of Votes Obtained" (PDF). The Higher commission for Local Elections. Central Elections Committee–Palestine. 2005-01-27. Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  85. ^ Lesch, 1980 p. 98.


See also


A 15-member municipal council currently administers Deir al-Balah. Although thought to be a stronghold of Fatah, Hamas members defeated Fatah's candidates in the 2005 Palestinian municipal elections by a large margin, taking 13 seats. Despite their political affiliations, all candidates ran as Independents. Two female candidates also gained seats. Local sheikh, school operator and Hamas member Ahmad Harb Kurd garnered the most votes making him the current head of the municipality.[84]

Deir al-Balah's first village council was established in 1946 and an elected local government continued to administer the city until 1982 when the Israeli military authorities dissolved the council and appointed a mayor. In 1994 Deir al-Balah gained the status of a city by the Palestinian Authority (PNA). The Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, appointed Samir Mohammed Azayiza as mayor until 2000 when he replaced him with Sami Abu Salim, a wealthy businessman from the city.[83] The services and functions of the municipality include city planning, infrastructure maintenance and repair, providing utilities, school administration and garbage collection.[7][83]


The Palestine Technical College, a vocational and technical college founded in 1992, is located in Deir al-Balah.[80][81] A library was added to the campus in 1998.[82]

Educational services in Deir al-Balah are under the jurisdiction of the Khan Yunis Directorate of Higher Education.[79] There were a total of 85 schools in the Deir al-Balah Governorate in 2007-08 according to the PNA's Ministry of Education and Higher Education. The Palestinian government operated 39 school while four were privately owned. The remainder were run by UNRWA and were mostly located in refugee camps in Deir al-Balah's vicinity. The total number of students in the governorate was 67,693, of which 50.3% were male 49.7% female.[72]

According to the 1997 PCBS census, 87.7% of residents in Deir al-Balah over the age of 10 were literate. The number of people who finished elementary education was 5,740, while 5,964 finished primary education and 5,289 completed secondary school. In higher education, 1,763 people attained associate degrees, 1,336 attained bachelor's degrees and 97 attained higher degrees.[78]


The city has a small fishing industry and is the site of one of four wharfs in the Gaza Strip. In 2007 there were about 76 active fishing vessels employed by 550 fishermen. From 2000 to 2006, during the Second Intifada, income from fishing was halved. In order to alleviate losses resulting from a 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) fishing limit off the coast imposed by the Israeli Navy following Hamas's victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections, the Palestinian Authority Department of Fisheries has sought to construct eight artificial reefs in both Deir al-Balah and Gaza City.[77]

Deir al-Balah is well known for growing date palms, an estimated 20,000 of which covered the landscape south and west of the city in the 1990s.[73] However, some 3,550 trees were uprooted or bulldozed by the Israeli Army in the early years of the Second Intifada beginning in 2000. There were an estimated 16,500 palms in Deir al-Balah in 2003. In addition to being a local delicacy, date cultivation constitutes one of the principal sources of income for many of Deir al-Balah's residents.[74] The particular type of date that is cultivated in the area is known as "Hayani."[75] It has a distinctly red color.[74] Other leading agricultural products cultivated in Deir al-Balah include citrus, almonds, pomegranates and grapes.[76]

Agriculture and fishing

The Deir al-Balah Governorate's principal economic activity is services, accounting for 67.4% of the labor force. Commerce, hospitality and retail account for 12.9%, agriculture and fishing 10.1%, transportation and communication 5.4% and manufacturing 3.4%. In 2009 the unemployment rate in the governorate was 35.2% while the labor force participation rate was 38.7%.[72] In 2007 there were 1,108 business establishments in the city.[2]


Deir al-Balah's entire population is Muslim. A sizable Greek Orthodox Christian population existed until the mid-19th-century.[9] In the 1931 British census of Palestine, there were only 10 Christians in Deir al-Balah out of a population of 1,587.[66] Today, refugees make up the majority of the population, accounting for over 66% of the city's inhabitants in 1997. However, this figure also included the Deir al-Balah Camp.[71]

In 2004 the PCBS estimated the population to be 46,159. In the 2007 census by the PCBS, the population of Deir al-Balah city alone was 54,439, making it the largest municipality in the Deir al-Balah Governorate. The camp's population was 6,438. However, Nuseirat combined with its refugee camp has a larger population than Deir al-Balah combined with its camp. There were a total of 8,395 households and the average family size consisted of between six and seven members. The gender distribution in the city was 50.3% male and 49.7% female.[2]

With a population of 2,560 in 1945, Deir al-Balah was a relatively large village.[46] The influx of Palestinian refugees from nearby areas captured by Israel during the 1948 War drastically increased the population thereafter.[70] In the 1997 census by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) Deir al-Balah's population was recorded as 42,839, a figure which included the adjacent Deir al-Balah Camp (the smallest refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.) Nearly 75% of the population were below the age of 30.[69]

Year Type Population
1596 Census 1,500[8]
1863 Estimate 350[39]
1870 Census 792 (396x2)[63]
1922 Census 916[64][65]
1931 Census 1,587[66]
1945 Survey 2,560[46][67]
1982 Census 15,100[68]
1997 Census 42,839 (with Camp)[69]
2007 Census 54,439[2]


The main mosque in the city measured 24.3 feet (7.4 m) by 53.4 feet (16.3 m) and was built on the site of Byzantine monastery. The northern and southern walls were buttressed and the eastern wall has three apses. The Survey of Western Palestine related in 1875 that there were Greek inscriptions on one of the steps leading to the door at the southern wall while on the floor was a broken stone slab marked by two [62]

Mosque of al-Khidr

White marble pillar shafts were built into the walls of some houses in old Deir al-Balah. They resembled the medieval-era pillars in the Temple Mount ("Haram ash-Sharif") in Jerusalem.[62]


The city has absorbed the coastal Deir al-Balah Refugee Camp although it remains outside of Deir al-Balah's municipal administration. While the total land area was recorded as 14,735 dunams (14.7 km² or 1,473.5 hectares) in 1997,[61] the total built-up areas of the city consist of between 7,000 to 8,000 dunams (7–8 km² or 700-800 hectares.) Deir al-Balah is divided into 29 administrative areas.[59]

Nearby localities include Nuseirat Camp and Bureij Camp to the north, Maghazi Camp to the northeast and Wadi as-Salqa to the south. Khan Yunis is 9.7 kilometers (6.0 mi) to Deir al-Balah's south and Gaza City is located 14.6 kilometers (9.1 mi) to the north.

Deir al-Balah is situated in the middle area of the Gaza Strip, along the coastline of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.[59] Its city center is about 1,700 meters (5,600 ft) east of the coast while the ancient site of Darum was uncovered 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) to the south of central Deir al-Balah.[1] While the city's municipal borders stretch eastward close to the border with Israel, its urban area does not extend beyond the main Salah al-Din Highway to the east.[60]


During factional clashes across the Gaza Strip in June 2007 which ended with Hamas gaining control over that territory, at least four paramilitaries from Hamas and Fatah were killed in Deir al-Balah.[55][56][57] On 2 January 2009, Deir al-Balah was shelled by the Israeli Army as part of the month-long offensive Operation Cast Lead.[58]

The city has been frequently targeted in Israeli military incursions since the Second Intifada in 2000, in part due to Qassam rocket-strikes by Palestinian militants.[3][4][5] The areas surrounding the city have also been frequent targets of razing. On 4 January 2004, Israeli authorities bulldozed around 50 dunams (5 hectares) of land in the Abu al-Ajen area east of Deir al-Balah's center. Later on 7 January, the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) reported that "Israeli bulldozers staged into al-Hikr area south of Deir el-Balah city under heavy barrage of gunfire and razed 70 dunams (7 hectares) of land planted with guava and orange groves owned by the Abu Holy and Abu Reziq families."[54]

When the Palestinian National Authority as a result of the Gaza–Jericho Agreement.[53]


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