Tiberias

Tiberias

Tiberias is located on Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and has the distinction of being the lowest city in Israel – literally – some 200 meters below sea level. The modern Tiberias, “Tverya” in Hebrew, is a great vacation draw, including camping on the beaches, though there are over 30 hotels proper as well as bed and breakfast and youth hostel facilities. Still a fishing town as it was in the days of yore, there is a marina and a bevy of fisherman head out to the middle of the lake every morning, returning every evening with fresh fish for sale at the local market. The nightlife includes pubs and discos for all kinds of entertainment preferences.

For the historians among us, there are many well-preserved buildings and ruins from various periods in Tiberias. Among them is the Daher El-Amar fortress from the 18th century, the Church of St. Peter and a Jewish ritual bath, all coexisting in the Old City. Not surprisingly the stained glass windows of the church depict fish as well as holy figures. A more modest structure is the Church of Scotland, built by Dr. David Watt Torrance who also founded Tiberias’s first hospital. With Tabgha being not far away, the fish symbol is prominent in Tiberias in all its forms, in the sea, on the plate and in mosaics.

Nearly every historic site in Israel changed hands a number of times and Tiberias is no exceptions. By 1842 there were about 4000 inhabitants in Tiberias, one third of them being Jews. The town contained three synagogues by then and it was reported that the Jews enjoyed more peace and security than in Safed. Nonetheless, things went sour.

Though Arab militants murdered 20 Jews in Tiberias as part of the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine, by the middle of the 20th century, the ratio of the populations had reversed. According to British census data, in 1945 there were 6000 Jews, 4540 Muslims, 760 Christians, and 10 others.

A tragedy was in the making which started over a period of ten days. After sporadic shooting broke out between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods between April 8 and 9, 1948, the Haganah launched a mortar barrage which killed some Arab residents. The British refused to intervene but were the overseers of the evacuation of nearly 48% of the Arab population on April 18, 1948, though there had been no order to expel them. The Haganah and Jewish police had to suppress widespread looting of the Arab areas by the Jewish population.

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