גִ’שׁ, גּוּשׁ חָלָב, Gush Halav or Jish, الجش is a local council in Upper Galilee, located on the north eastern slopes of Mount Meron, 13 kilometres north of Safed, in Israel’s Northern District. In 2015 it had a population of 3,078, which is predominantly Maronite Catholic and Melkite Greek Catholic Christians (55% and 10% accordingly), with a Sunni Muslim Arab minority of around 35%.
Archaeological finds include two historical synagogues, a mausoleum and ancient burial caves. According to Roman historian Josephus, Gischala was the last city in the Galilee to fall to the Romans during the First Jewish–Roman War. Sources dating from the 10th-15th centuries describeit as a village with a strong Jewish presence. In the early Ottoman era it was wholly Muslim. In the 17th century, the village was inhabited by Druze. In 1945, under the British rule it had a population of 1,090 with an area of 12,602 dunams. It was resettled by Maronite Christians, who were expelled from the razed villages Kafr Bir’im.
The village is a centre for the Aramaic revival, an initiative by local Maronites, now officially funded by the Israeli Ministry of Education until 8th grade in the local school.
The name el-Jish is a variation of the site’s ancient name Gush Halav in Hebrew. During the classic era the town was known as Gischala – a Greek transcription of the Hebrew name Gush Halav, lit. “abundance of milk”. Other believe the name Gush Halav refers to the light colour of the local limestone, which contrasted with the dark reddish rock of the neighbouring village, Ras al-Ahmar, lit. “Red Cape” in Arabic.
Settlement dates back 3,000 years. The village is mentioned in the Mishnah as Gush Halav, a city “surrounded by walls since the time of Joshua Ben Nun” (m. Arakhin 9:6). Caananite and Israelite remains from the Early Bronze and Iron Ages have been found there.
Both Josephus and later Jewish sources from the Roman-Byzantine period mention the fine olive oil for which the village was known. According to the Talmud, the inhabitants also engaged in the production of silk. Eleazar b. Simeon, described in the Talmud as a very large man with tremendous physical strength, was a resident of the town. He was initially buried in Gush Halav but later reinterred in Meron, next to his father, Shimon bar Yochai.
After the fall of Gamla, Gush Halav was the last Jewish stronghold in the Galilee and Golan region during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-73 CE). Gischala was the home of Yohanan of Gush Halav, known in English as John of Gischala, a wealthy olive oil merchant who became the chief commander in the Jewish revolt in the Galilee and later Jerusalem. Initially known as a moderate, John changed his stance when Titus arrived at the gates of Gischala accompanied by 1,000 horsemen and demanded the town’s surrender.
In addition to Jewish burial sites and structures dated to 3rd – 6th centuries, Jewish-Christian amulets were discovered nearby. Christian artefacts from the Byzantine period have been found at the site.
Historical sources from the 10th-15th centuries describe Gush Halav as a large Jewish village. It is mentioned in the 10th century by Arab geographer Al-Muqaddasi. Jewish life in the 10th and 11th centuries is attested to by documents in the Cairo Geniza. In 1172, the Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela found about 20 Jews living there. Ishtori Haparchi also attended a megilla reading when he visited in 1322.
In 1596, Jish appeared in Ottoman tax registers as being in the Nahiya of Jira of the Liwa of Safad. It had a population of 71 Muslim households and 20 Muslim bachelors. It paid taxes on goats and beehives, but most of its taxes were in the form of a fixed sum, total taxes were 30,750 akçe.
In the 17th century, the village was inhabited by Druze. The Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi, who passed by the village in 1648, wrote:
Then comes the village of Jish, with one hundred houses of accursed believers in the transmigration of souls (tenāsukhi mezhebindén). Yet what beautiful boys and girls they have! And what a climate! Every one of these girls has queenly, gazelle-like, bewitching eyes, which captivate the beholder—an unusual sight.
The Galilee earthquake of 1837 caused widespread damage and over 200 deaths. Three weeks afterward, contemporaries reported “a large rent in the ground…about a foot wide and fifty feet long.” All the Galilee villages that were badly damaged at the time, including Jish, were situated on the slopes of steep hills. The presence of old landslides has been observed on aerial photographs. The fact that the village was built on dip slopes consisting of soft bedrock and soil has made it more vulnerable to landslides. According to Andrew Thomson, no houses in Jish were left standing. The church fell, killing 130 people and the old town walls collapsed. A total of 235 people died and the ground was left fissured.
At the end of the 19th century, Jish was described as a “well-built village of good masonry” with about 600 Christian and 200 Muslim inhabitants.
A population list from about 1887 showed El Jish to have about 1,935 inhabitants; 975 Christians and 960 Muslims.
At the time of the 1922 census of Palestine, Jish had a population of 721; 380 Christians and 341 Muslims. The Christians were classified as 71% Maronite and 29% Greek Catholic (Melchite). By the 1931 census, Jish had 182 inhabited houses and a population of 358 Christians and 397 Muslims.
In 1945, Jish had a population of 1,090; 350 Christians and 740 Muslims, and the village spanned 12,602 dunams, mostly Arab-owned. Of this, 1,506 dunums were plantations and irrigable land, 6,656 used for cereals, while 72 dunams were built-up (urban) land.
Israeli forces captured Jish on 29 October 1948, in Operation Hiram, after “a hard-fought battle
In December 2010, a hiking and bicycle path known as the Coexistence Trail was inaugurated, linking Jish with Dalton, a neighboring Jewish village. The 2,500 meter-long trail, accessible to people with disabilities, sits 850 meters above sea level and has several lookout points, including a view of Dalton Lake, where rainwater is collected and stored for agricultural use.
Today Jish is known for its efforts to revive Aramaic as a living language. In 2011, the Israeli Ministry of Education approved a program to teach the language in Jish elementary schools. Maronites in Jish say that Aramaic is essential to their existence as a people, in the same way that Hebrew and Arabic are for
According to Christian tradition, the parents of Saint Paul were from Jish. Other churches in Jish are a small Maronite Church that was rebuilt after the 1837 earthquake and the Elias Church, the largest in the village, which operates a convent.
The tombs of Shmaya and Abtalion, Jewish sages who taught in Jerusalem in the early 1st century, are located in Jish. According to tradition, the prophet Joel was also buried there.
Remains of Gush Halav synagoguge
Eighteen archaeological sites have been excavated to date in Jish and vicinity.Archaeologists have excavated a synagogue in use from the 3rd to 6th centuries CE. Jewish-Christian amulets were discovered nearby.
Coins indicate that Jish had strong commercial ties with the nearby city of Tyre. On Jish’s western slope, a mausoleum was excavated, with stone sarcophagi similar to those seen at the large Jewish catacomb at Beit She’arim. The inner part of the mausoleum contained ten hewn loculi, burial niches known in Hebrew as kokhim. In the mausoleum, archaeologists found several skeletons, oil lamps and a glass bottle dating to the fourth century CE.
A network of secret caves and passageways in Jish, some of them located under private homes, is strikingly similar to hideaways in the Judean lowlands used during the Bar Kokhba revolt.