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6. Palestinian Nomads
We Palestinians are attached to the soil of our beloved filastin like no other people. The Palestinians who truly know their homeland the best are the Bedouin or desert nomads. These people have traversed this land for thousands of years, moving from one region to the next in search of food and water for their goats, sheep and camels. It is very possible that some 4,000 years ago the Prophet Ibrahim (A) came to Palestine (from the area of today’s southern Turkey) guided by Bedouin nomads.
Unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder for the Bedouin to lead their nomadic way of life. Here in Palestine, the occupiers of our land are forcing the free roaming nomads into permanent settlements. The traditional life of the Bedouin, the real “men of the desert”, is, therefore, slowly becoming a thing of the past.
Last year, in early spring, I saw a small tribe of Bedouin who had temporarily encamped outside our village, just off the road leading to Jericho. This was an opportunity for me and many of my village friends to meet Bedouin children our own age. Al-Hamdulillah, my father took us to the Bedouin camp where we were welcomed by the shaikh, or tribal chief, in his bayt sha'ar, or black goat-hair tent.
These hand-made goat-hair tents are extremely practical shelters. Bedouin women are excellent weavers. To make a tent, they first take the rough, dark hair of their goats and spin it into yarn. This is then woven on ground looms (like the one in the illustration) into long bands of black hair fabric. Panels of this material are assembled to form the very light, yet durable “houses of hair”. The tents permit even the slightest breeze to pass through them. If it ever rains, the moisture will cause the goat-hair threads to expand, thus making the tent waterproof.
The Bedouin tent is usually divided into three sections: a guest area on the left, a family area in the middle, and a kitchen on the right. Goat-hair tent dividers are also woven by the Bedouin women. Masha' Allah, because the desert nomads are always on the move, their possessions-mainly carpets, blankets and kitchen items—are few. But a visitor is an honoured guest and we were thus offered small cups of coffee made from freshly roasted and crushed coffee beans.
The Bedouin of Palestine—like all Palestinians, descendents of Ismail Jsui—are deeply religious, al-Hamdulillah. As they do not live in villages or towns, their masjid is the open air! A very simply constructed musallah is made with a low semi-circular wall of rocks that forms a mihrab indicating the direction of Holy Makkah (see illustration).
Before we left for home, we prayed salah al-maghreb with the Bedouin. Our imam who led the prayer was the tribal leader. He recited in the most beautiful tajwid ayahs from surah al-'imran:
Without doubt, the people who have the best claim to Ibrahim are surely those who follow him—as does this Prophet (SM) and all who believe [in him] and Allah is the Protector of those who have faith.
7. The Traditional Market
The illegal occupation of our land in 1948 has changed Palestinian society forever. In the past, villagers like my father could easily transport their harvests of olives to nearby markets in Jericho, Jerusalem (al-quds) and Ramallah. Today, because of frequent checkpoints and roadblocks, it is sometimes very difficult to ship our olives, fruits and vegetables to the towns and cities of Palestine. Even in Bayt Zaytun, some villagers have reverted to bartering when they can not get their produce to market. Last year, for example, it was almost impossible to travel anywhere outside of our area near the Dead Sea. When my uncle could not sell his olive harvest in local towns, he traded his olives for meat, eggs and other necessities.
The Aaab souq, or traditional market, is a basic part of our Islamic way of life. On special days of the week or month, lively, outdoor markets offer a wide range of goods for sale. Until very recently, I used to go with my father to the old covered marketplace in Jericho. It is called the khan al-tujjar, or “traders’ market” (see illustration). Villagers from all around would come here to sell their fresh vegetables, fruits, garden-grown herbs and delicious Palestinian sesame seed “ring bread”. Visiting the souq was also an opportunity to meet and chat with old friends from neighbouring villages.
For centuries, Palestinian women have sewn beautiful traditional costumes whose designs varied from region to region. My mother, at the age of six or seven, learned from her grandmother how to embroider delicate patterns using a needle and thread. Al-Hamdulillah, these traditional dresses (thawbs) have become a symbol of pride in our rich Islamic cultural heritage. Such costumes are sold in the souq and are eagerly bought by Palestinians of all walks of life. Al-Hamdulillah, our cultural heritage is a rich one. Our occupiers, however, have a shameful habit of “stealing” our heritage and calling it their own. For example, even our traditional food, such as falafel (deep-fried chick-pea paste balls), they like to call their “national snack”!
The khan al-tujjar is an old trading centre that has served many generations of Palestinians under its roof. It has known good times and bad. InshaAllah, this market like all others in Palestine, can once again be a bustling and thriving centre of local commerce.
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