After praying dhuhr in the Old City at al Aqsa, as we always do, we headed to Bethlehem today. It was harder to find the checkpoint than in Ramallah. We had to go through a checkpoint with a don’t enter sign. We still don’t know if we legally entered, as we entered through what seemed to be an exit road, but if Ramallah taught us anything about driving in the West Bank, it’s that anything goes…
Bethlehem is actually named, Beit-lehem in Arabic: “the house of meat.” And though one would believe it has a lot of Palestinian Christians in it, the majority of people there are actually Muslim. Bethlehem houses the Church of Nativity (where the Christians say Isa/Jesus (as) was born), and it also houses another Mosque of Omar (yep, he prayed here too), though its not nearly as nice as the one in Jerusalem. I actually did not enter either place as my daughter was sleeping in the car, but inshAllah I’ll upload pictures from what I could see from the outside later.
Bethlehem is actually about 5 minutes away from Jerusalem and the checkpoint is smack dab in the middle of the main road that leads from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.
In Bethlehem, we met ‘Ala, a very jovial merchant who gave us a great deal on everything in his store and hooked us up with his cousin to buy a jilbab at the family connections rate :). I would’ve loved to spend more time in this city. It is more slow-paced and less crowded than Ramallah, which by the way, means “the height of Allah” (perhaps because Ramallah is so hilly?!).
After wandering around the souk, we headed over to the Palestine Heritage Center, where I hoped to meet Maha Saca, an expert on tatreez. As every thobe tells a story through it’s symbols, I wanted to ask Maha, “What does my thobe say? What story does it tell?” But unfortunately she wasn’t there, so I just ooh-ed and aah-ed at all the fine embroidery work and took a couple of souvenirs to take back home.
Tatreez designs have been traced back to 1500 B.C., and with tatreez being distinctly Palestinian, this means the Palestinian culture is over 5,000 years old. You can see some of the typical Palestinian embroidered dresses on ancient Egyptian paintings. Thobes narrate daily life and appreciation for Allah’s gifts through symbols found in nature. It’s a mother-daughter practice that has been passed on from generation-to-generation, but now instead if being done leisurely, tatreez is now a means for family income. Many men suffer from unemployment and curfews under the occupation, leaving a lot of the family’s financial burden on the women. To learn more about the center’s activities, check out this interview with the Director of the Palestine Heritage Center, Maha Saca.