the full report as PDF
The Palestinian villages of Al Wallaja and Battir
Location (See the map at the end)
Refaim Valley is located between the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Malha
(former Palestinian village of Malha) and Katamon on its northwest end and the
Palestinian village of Battir on its southern end, and between the Palestinian village of
Al Wallaja on the eastern side and the Israeli villages of Ora (former Palestinian
village of Al Djora) and Aminadav (where the old Al Wallaja used to be) on the
western side. A railway from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv runs through the valley.
The village of Al Wallaja on the eastern slopes of the Refaim Valley
Uniqueness of the area
The ancient agricultural terraces of the Refaim Valley, some of them still in
use, bear witness to thousands of years of human activity centered around water
springs which dot its slopes. A wealth of archeological remains can be found in the
Palestinian villages of Al Wallaja and Battir, around the springs and along the ancient
roads winding through the valley and its slopes. Most of them haven't been excavated
yet, nor harmed by modern development. In order to preserve this unique cultural
landscape, the Israel World Heritage Committee has recommended recently that the
terraced fields in the area be classified as a protected UNESCO site.
The agricultural terraces of Battir
Based on the few excavations carried out in the area, the Refaim Valley was
first settled in the Chalcolithic period, about 4,000 BCE. Numerous finds from later
periods were found as well, for example, remains of settlements from the Middle
Bronze Age II (the 17th and 18th century BCE), a village from the 7th and 8th century
BCE, and graves from the 2nd Temple Period (1st century BCE to 1st century CE). The
valley had been settled extensively in the late Roman Period (2nd and 3rd century CE),
and in the Byzantine Period up to the early Arab Period (the 7th and 8th century CE).
The Palestinian villages in the area, including those destroyed in 1948, date back
hundreds of years.
Roman nymphaeum in Ein el Hanniya, located below Al Wallaja
There are no sites in the area that could be identified with historical or Biblical
sources, nor with other ancient traditions, except for Khirbet al Yahud and Ein el
Hanniya. The better known Khirbet al-Yahud, located in the village of Battir, has
been often identified with the historical Betar, a settlement during the Bar Kochba
revolt where the Jewish rebels suffered a crushing defeat by the Romans. The water
spring of Ein el Hanniya, located on the slopes of Al Wallaja village, is regarded by
the Ethiopian Christians as the baptism place of the minister of the Ethiopian queen
Candace who became the first Ethiopian Christian (see Acts 8:26-39). Groups of
Ethiopian pilgrims visit the place every year in order to undergo a symbolic baptism
ritual and drink from the holy water.
Ethiopian pilgrims in Ein el Hanniya
The Archeological Importance
The Refaim Valley is known for its multitude of springs, the most frequented
of which are Ein Levan, Ein Yael, Ein el Balad, Ein el Hanniya, Ein al Goz, and Ein
el Hadaf. People have settled around them since Prehistoric times. The terraced fields
of Al Wallaja and Battir date back 2,000 years and some of them are still in use today.
They were part of the ancient agricultural method developed over centuries in the
rocky-hilly areas of the Judean Hills and attest to continuous human activity
throughout different historical periods in the area.
Spring of Ein Balad and the ruins of Al Wallaja in its pre-1948 location
The railway running through the Refaim Valley follows an ancient road which
used to lead from Jerusalem to Bet Guvrin and from there to Gaza. Bet Guvrin
(Eleutheropolis) was a major city in the Judean Plain during the Roman Period (app.
200 CE) and its prosperity also had an impact on the Refaim Valley, as the
archeological finds attest to a heightened human activity in the area during the late
Roman and Byzantine periods.
The water pool in Ein el Hanniya located below the contemporary Al Wallaja
The Archeological Excavations and their Main Finds
The most extensive excavations of the Refaim Valley were carried out by the
Israel Antiquities Authority in the area of the Malha shopping mall and the Biblical
Zoo. At both sites, a village was exposed dating back to the Middle Bronze Age II B
(1,700 – 1,800 BCE), and below this village, remains of an earlier village were found
from the Early Bronze Age IV (2,200 – 2,100 BCE).
The excavations at Khirbet el Yahud in Battir exposed a large fortified site,
most probably a settlement from the Middle Bronze Age II B. A layer from the
Roman Period, identified with the 2nd Temple Period, was also exposed there.
However, no remains attesting to the Bar Kochba revolt were found at the site.
At Khirbet Abu Shawan, at the southern edge of Al Wallaja, there are remains
from the Early Bronze Age III (2,800 – 2,500 BC) and from the Iron Age (8th and 7th
centuries BCE). The site is located on the top of the hill and has not been excavated
yet. During the salvage dig along the route of the Separation Wall, currently under
construction in Al Wallaja, remains from a settlement from Middle Bronze Age II B
were found at a number of places. Antiquities from the 7th and 8th century BCE were
found at the A-Ras site, on the slopes of the Malha neighborhood located at the
northwest edge of the Refaim Valley.
Khirbet al Yahud in Battir
The excavations at Ein Yael (Ein Yalo) exposed a magnificent Roman villa
from the 2nd – 3rd century CE containing a few unique mosaics and a bathhouse used
until the early Arab Period. Nearby, remains from the Crusader Period were found.
One of the most impressive structures from the late Roman Period is a
nymphaeum (adorned Roman fountain) the remains of which are still standing in Ein
el Hanniya located below Al Wallaja. Until recently, the water running through it was
clean and drinkable. In the 1920s, a church with a colorful mosaic floor was
excavated close to the nymphaeum, dating back to the Byzantine Period. After the
excavations, the remains were covered by soil and their exact location is not known
today. Remnants of ancient arches and ruins of buildings can be seen nearby as well
as plenty of pottery shards. The pottery shards are also scattered around Al Wallaja
and Battir. All these ancient remains attest to extensive human activity in the area
throughout the ages.
Shepherd from Al Wallaja sitting on top of the Roman nymphaeum in Ein el Hanniya
Summary and suggestions
A number of factors turn the Refaim Valley into an unusual area in the local
landscape. It is located along the Green Line between Jerusalem and the Palestinian
villages, it has remained almost untouched by modern construction, and it conceals a
wealth of ancient remains from many different periods. Unfortunately, the current
massive construction works on the Separation Wall, which is going to enclose the
village of Al Wallaja, have turned part of the unique landscape into a scarred one.
The route of the Separation Wall cutting through the terraces around Al Wallaja
The fact that no major historical or religious traditions are related to the past of
this area could offer a fresh perspective on the contested region. Visitors coming to Al
Wallaja, Battir or other parts of the Refaim Valley could learn about the local history
in a novel way: not through religious texts or conflicting national narratives, but as a
story of the development of human society, a story of the multitude of human cultures
which have shaped the local landscape in the course of thousands of years.
The Refaim Valley has a tourist and educational potential that has not yet been
explored. Offering insights about the different cultures that inhabited the area in the
course of thousands of years, archaeology could open the way to learning about the
other - the other who lived here in the past and the other who lives here today as our
neighbor. The visitors could enjoy its unusual cultural landscape, learning not only
about its past but also about the daily life of its current residents. The local school
children, both Palestinian and Israeli, could learn more about the unique area they live
in and deepen their connection to it, a connection which is inclusive of the other rather
The Refaim Valley offers the possibility of learning about archaeology which
is not identified with any national narrative, and, as such, could encourage a dialogue
between Israelis and Palestinians, based on the understanding that the local landscape
and its past does not belong to either, but that they are both integral parts of the
continuous human activity that has shaped the area over thousands of years.
The report was written by Emek Shaveh, a non-profit association of archaeologists, local
residents and human rights activists working to change the role of archaeology in the IsraeliPalestinian conflict and within Israeli society. We believe that archaeology can be used as a
bridge between peoples and cultures and that it has the power to influence the dynamic of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that can benefit the future of all the peoples in this region.
Baramki, D. C. "An Early Christian Basilica at Ein Hanniya", QDAP III,
London, 1934, Pp. 113-117.
Conder C. R. & Kitchener, H. H. The Survey of Western Palestine, Vol. III,
1883, Pp. 59-60.
Dagan, Y. & Leticia B., "Waladje (East), Survey", HA, 122, 2010
Gath, J and Rahmani L. Y., "A Roman Tomb at Manahat, Jerusalem, IEJ 27,
1977, Pp. 207-214, Pls. 27-29
Gibson, S. and Edelstein, G. "Investigating Jerusalem's Rural Landscape",
Levant 17, 1985, Pp. 139-155.
Mizrachi Y. "Ein el Hanniya", HA 117, 2005
Tsafrir, Y. Di Segni, L. and Green, J. Tabula Imperii Roman; Iudaea –
Palestina; Eretz Israel in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Periods; Maps
and Gazetteer, Jerusalem, 1994.
Weksler-Bdolah, Sh. "‘En Ya‘el", HA 119, 2007
.91-98 ' עמ,7899 , ירושלים, צ"ב, ח"א,"7891- "עין יעל,' ג,אדלשטיין
.77:-778 ' עמ,7889 , ירושלים,709-70: קדמוניות," "וילה רומית בעין יעל,' ג,אדלשטיין
קדמוניות," "נחל רפאים – כפר מתקופת הברונזה בדרום מערב ירושלים,' ע, אייזנברג
.98-9; ' עמ,7889 ,ירושלים,709-70: