KHĀN YŪNIS, town 14 mi. (23 km.) S.W. of Gaza. This may be the town ʾΙήνυσος which Herodotus lists among the Philistine towns (3:5). During the period of *Mamluk rule, Khān Yūnis served as an important market for the caravan trade between Ereẓ Israel and *Egypt. At that time the sultan Barqūq ordered an inn (khān) to be built there. There are remnants of this inn with Arabic transcriptions and architectural fragments. Almost all the population was Muslim, except for 316 Christians. The 1931 census indicated 3,811 inhabitants in Khān Yūnis (and another 3,440 then living in its vicinity); among these were three Jews and 40 Christians. In 1944, the population figure stood at 11,220. Before 1948, Jewish institutions and private persons repeatedly attempted to buy holdings, particularly Jiftlik (i.e., lands in public ownership), but legal difficulties precluded the final transfer. In 1948, the town was in the Gaza Strip, which remained under Egyptian rule. It was briefly in Israeli hands after the Sinai Campaign in 1956 and again from the Six-Day War of 1967. In 1994 it was transferred to the jurisdiction of the *Palestinian Authority. Its economy was based almost exclusively on farming (citrus groves, date palms, other fruits, vegetables, and irrigated and unirrigated field crops). In 1967 its population was 52,997 inhabitants, nearly half (23,475) living in refugee camps. By 1997 its population had reached 123,056, nearly two-thirds of whom were refugees. A stronghold of the Hamas terrorist organization, Khān Yūnis was hit by Israeli forces during the al-Aqsa Intifada (see *Israel, State of: Historical Survey) and buildings have been razed after providing cover for terrorists firing at Israeli settlements in *Gush Katif.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.