My Palestinian Village (Part-1)

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1. My Lovely Village
My name is ‘Abd al- Salaam and I am a thirteen year old Palestinian boy. I am a Muslim, al-Hamdulillah and live in a very ancient part of the world. “Welcome to my beloved country of Palestine”, or, as we say in Arabic: ahlan bikum fi baladi al-aziz filastin. A sign in three languages (Arabic, English and Hebrew) also welcomes you to our village.  

We learn in our history books that Palestine (filastin ) was the birth- place of agriculture. In fact, the very first communities of settled farmers lived right here in the region around Jericho. That was almost 9,000 years ago!

Today, the climate is much harsher than it was all those years ago. Still, underground sweet water reservoirs and water diverted from the River Jordan help us irrigate our small gardens. My village is called Bayt Zaytun because for hundreds of years my Palestinian ancestors have grown olives on the sloping hills in the area. My father tends our olive trees just as his father and grandfather had done before him.

My house is on the edge of the olive grove, just behind our mosque. Can you see the Palestinian flag my brother and I made that is proudly flying from our rooftop? For years, it was forbidden to fly our flag and many people were imprisoned for carrying it. Each morning, I go to the village mosque and read the Holy Qur’an before prayers. Arabic is my language and alHamdulillah, reading kitab Allah fills me with strength. It helps me understand what is really true {haqq) and what is false (batil) in this world.  

When I return home from the mosque, I see my flag fluttering in the crisp morning air and sometimes I begin to sing our national anthem: baladi, baladi, baladi, ardhi, ya ardh al-judud. “My country, my country, my country, my land, land of my grandfathers."

I am a young Muslim boy, but even I know that history neither lies nor forgives. In Palestine, we have many meaningful proverbs, one of which is the following: “He who doesn’t ask questions of the elderly is guideless.” I have spoken to the knowledgeable elders in our village and have listened to their wise words ever since I was a small child. I now know the true history of my country, al-Hamdulillah.

2. My Village House
Here is my beautiful village home in Bayt Zaytun. It is one of the oldest houses in our village and is made of blocks of honey yellow limestone. Such stone is hard to come by in our part of Palestine, so for centuries most villagers have used the traditional building material — mud and straw—to construct their homes, mosques and schools.

Bayt Zaytun is not far from the Dead Sea which is 400 metres below sea level. It is, therefore, not only the lowest point on Earth but is also the world’s saltiest body of water. For our crops, we depend mainly on cisterns that collect the infrequent rain water to irrigate our crops and to supply water to our livestock. Occasionally in winter, it will get very cold and for a day or two we might even see snow! Fresh drinking water is always a problem in our part of the world. AlHamdulillah , in our village there are several old wells from which we can still take water from deep underground. But the number of wells are fewer than in the past. We live under occupation and since 1967 have not been permitted to dig any new ones. We, therefore, value every drop of fresh water and of course waste none.

A fig tree and a variety of herbs grow near the well in front of our house. Fresh nanah (mint), baqdoonus (parsley) and kuzbarah (coriander) are all used in Palestinian cooking. Palestine is the land of the fig and olive. Allah has selected these two trees in particular as symbols and has mentioned them in surah al-tin. Both are very special trees which provide us with not only a succulent fruit, but also a nutritious food that yields the most healthful of all cooking oils, masha’Allah.

We are fortunate here in Bayt Zaytun. AlHamdulillah, with the careful use of water, our villagers are able to grow lemons, melons, grapes and even bananas on very tiny plots of land. Other villages have suffered more from the occupation and have even had their mature olive and fruit trees uprooted! This must be considered yet one more inexcusable crime, surely punishable on yawm al-hesab (the Day of Judgement).

3. Our Palestinian Food
We Palestinians are people of the earth. This beloved homeland we call filastin is one of the few really sacred places on Earth. It is the land of Prophets, many of whom are mentioned in the Qur’an. My father, uncles and cousins all till this ancient land. However, our farms and gardens can not compare in size with those of neighbouring countries. Still, each year we sow our crops and give thanks to Allah for all His bounty. Just as an attentive shepherd knows each and every sheep in his flock, our villagers are equally familiar with every single olive tree in their groves. Only a farmer or a shepherd can fully understand how attached we are to the earth; our roots lie deep.

Today, we have guests for lunch and my mother has prepared some delicious Palestinian dishes. Insha ’Allah, we will sit in our majlis, or sitting room and eat off a sini (a large round tray) covered with an old kajfiyah (Palestinian head-covering) which we use as a table cloth. In the centre of the table is a very famous Palestinian favourite: maqlubah or “upside down” rice and eggplant casserole. The tomato, cucumber, mint, onion and lettuce salad with small squares of toasted flat bread is the very tasty fattoush. All the ingredients come from our small vegetable garden, al-Hamdulillah. My aunt came this morning and baked the round flat bread you see here. She covered the dough before baking with a blend of dried thyme, sumaq, sesame seeds and spices mixed with our own olive oil. This “herb bread” called zaatar is incredibly delicious; we believe it makes one strong and helps clear the mind! I always eat zaatar before I enter any major exams at school. The wonderful fresh buttermilk drink called laban is made from the milk of our neighbour’s cow.

Hanging on our wall you can see a photograph of al-qubbah al-sakhra (the Dome of the Rock), an important symbol for all Muslims, and a reminder, especially to us, that al-quds (Jerusalem) is the eternal capital of Palestine. Next to this picture is a large key. This is yet another symbol. It belongs to my grandfather’s brother (great uncle) who was forced to leave his house in the western part of Palestine when his land was occupied in 1948.

For as long as I can remember, I have seen this key, hanging unmoved on our wall. As a child, I used to ask my father about it: “Ya, Baba! Will this key ever be used again to open a door?” I am still asking this question today!

To read the next part of this story, click here.


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