Badour ‘Issa al-Dirbas (‘Alma)



I am from ‘Alma. I was twelve years old when we left Palestine.


We used to work with olives and figs, and we were firm believers in religion.


The Jews used to come at 2 o’clock at night to search the house. There was one time when they came at night and my daughters were praying, and the Jew came and wanted to come in to search. He kneeled and moved the prayer mat and entered inside. Some of them were good.[1]


Weddings: The women of the village would sew kaniva,[2] and the bride would take five outfits with her. The wedding hospitality was laban immo and yakhneh with rice, meat, slaughtered lamb, with green beans and okra.


The slaughtered sheep were served to the entire neighbourhood with rice. The bedouin ate with their hands, but we used spoons and plates. And whoever did not have money, the neighbors would cook and bring them food. The night of preparation — before the wedding — there was henna for the bride, as well as the dabkeh and songs. The next day they would dress her, and a woman would come to the house to do the bride’s hair and her maquillage. The party would sometimes last three days between her home and that of the groom’s family. And the family of the groom would come and take her to the orchards, where everyone went to dance and do the dabkeh. The girls danced alone and young men alone, though there was a village where young men and girls would do the dabkeh together, holding each other’s hands even though they knew it is not allowed by the shari’a. When his family came to take her, she would come out with her head covered with a silk veil that would be wrapped around her hands, and her brother would let her ride a horse and hold her hands. He would take her along with the young girls to the house of the groom’s family. The second and third day they would make breakfast for the bride, and parties, drumming, and singing.


We didn’t have chocolate, or hard sweets, or chips. There were only biscuits [biskweet]. There were only two shops in the neighborhood though the village was large. They used to make soap and olive oil, and there was hand-based industry. They had a mill.  But there weren’t citrus fruits such as oranges or lemons because there wasn’t much water. In winter they would go to an old well which would dry up in summer, so then they would go to Wadi ‘Owja between two mountains.


‘Alma was famous for its olives, figs, grapes, apricots, plums, pomegranates, courgettes, and eggplant. Cultivation was only rain-fed. We had cows and sheep as well.


I used to go and pick figs of several kinds, and we sent them in baskets we made with our own hands. All kinds of ripe and long figs, and gazelle figs.[3]


The mukhtar of the village, Abu Sa’eed, was always cheerful and unassuming.


My mother was very religious, and she didn’t allow us to gossip with people.[4]


They didn’t marry girls young, they had to be twenty or more. But there were early marriages.


The feasts were the same as now, for three days, every woman in her house baked cakes for the ‘Eid, and the yellow cakes (al-‘Abaas cakes), made of dates, walnuts, and almonds. They didn’t ever buy manufactured oil, it was always olive oil. And we had an olive mill.


Children would play, but the young girls wouldn’t go out of the house because it was shameful. Two days after the ‘Eid, girls would go to some of their friends.


The families of the village were intertwined. Everyone visited everyone else.


There was a saying that went: Don’t ever eat cows of the Gholan or cows in spring, for all of them are fat and full of lard.


They used to bring citrus fruits from the market of Safad.


Preparations for the hajj: There were songs of blessing and special clothing for the hajj. It cost a lot, and took three months. They would go to Safed on foot, and then to Haifa by car, and from there by boat to Jordan, and then to Saudi Arabia.


Ramadan: People would invite each other, relatives would gather together. We would decorate the quarter only on the day of the ‘Eid.


For funerals and mourning, the neighbors would usually cook for the family of the dead person for three days. Make-up was forbidden even at home [during the time of mourning]. It was forbidden for everyone because they adhered to religion — except at the time of weddings. For weddings the bride would put on kohl, lipstick, and powder. But she would cover everything with a shawl, even at home.


There were no Jews, only Muslims and bedouin [in ‘Alma].


Sometimes we would buy clothes from Haifa, but mostly cloth. There weren’t any poor people. If people didn’t have a craft, they would mostly work in agriculture.


There weren’t any jewelry shops. They used to bring gold from Bint Jbeil in Lebanon. The people of Bint Jbeil were poor. The first part of the dowry for a bride used to be in gold liras and bracelets.


As to visiting the sick, a young girl wouldn’t go with her family to visit a sick person, it was the older women who went. They were so generous that they would send a dish of food every day to the sick person or the poor one.


They went to sell their produce in the markets of Safed. They sold leban there.


All the families of the village loved one another, and neighbours loved each other.


Circumcision: They would gather in the house, and sing songs and play the daff .[5]


There was no travel by airplane.


Giving birth: There were Arab midwives.


Health clinics: There were clinics, but they were simple – enough if someone was wounded or needed stitches. But they didn’t distribute medicine or anything.


Entertaining: [Guests were served with] tea and coffee.


Shi’ites would come in search of provisions, they would seek a livelihood. For example they would come from Lebanon to sell clothes — sewing and embroidery and kaniva for hand work, abayas and qumbaaz, and underwear.


It was forbidden to stay out late or sleep outside the house.


When a woman became a widow, when her husband died, she would stay in the house to bring up her children. If a widow sought to marry, most people would not be willing.


The lunar eclipse: The sheikhs would go and glorify God and praise Him in the mosque.


Sometimes the rain would be slow in coming, and the men would go to the threshing floor, and they would pray “Let rain come, provide for us! And cover us when we are unclothed”. And God be praised, our Lord would respond to their appeal and it would rain.


When people were invited to a wedding, young girls would embroider long trousers to wear underneath their abayas.


The Thursday of the Dead: They would feed the spirit of the dead. But not everyone would do it. It was just for three days.


Women’s gatherings: All the women of a family would get together– the daughter-in-law, the sisters, etc.


There were some people who created spells for others [to protect or to hurt].

The gypsies long ago didn’t fast and weren’t faithful to religion.


In regard to prison, some people would not accept compensation (diyya), they insisted on vengeance. Other people would pay a lot of money to the family of the dead person. Some people insisted on revenge, other people no.


There was a revolution, and when there was someone wanted by the army, they would enter and take the food and pulses to the courtyard and throw oil on them to ruin them — this was if they didn’t find the accused. But at times they would enter and find him and take him.


Of the most famous revolutionaries in ‘Alma was Ahmad Hassan — they followed him to Safsaf and killed him. Another was Abu Hamoud. The country was in turmoil.


We left Palestine straightaway for Bint Jbeil. Afterwards they took us in army buses away from Bint Jbeil, they said so that the young men wouldn’t carry out suicide operations, because Bint Jbeil was close to Palestine.  The Arabs were the ones who made us leave.


Most of the women at that time did embroidery.


[1]  This story is puzzling. Badour was too young to have had daughters in Palestine. In Lebanon, a soldier searching her house could not have been Jewish, unless she was living in the South during the Israeli occupation (1982-2000). Unfortunately Badour became too frail after the interview to be questioned. 

[2] Kaniva was the coarse-weave material used as basis for embroidery.

[3] Teen biqraat wa shamata, names not known in the camps today.

[4]  The Quran strongly discourages gossip as hateful (makruh).

[5]  Daff, a small drum.


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