Um Lutfi (Safad)



Q: What’s your name hajji?


A: My name is Fatima al-Shemali.


Q: Where are you from?


A: I’m from Safad.


Q: How old are you?


A: I am 85 years old.


Q: Tell me what did you use to do when you were young in Palestine?


A: We had lands. We used to work it, plant, plough, and grind wheat in the mill.  


Q: What did you wear?


A: We used to wear clothes that didn’t show our legs and arms.


Q: Did those clothes have a name, hajji?


A: They were bedouin clothes. The men would wear the qumbaz and aghal.


Q: Okay, what did little boys wear?


A: Young boys wore trousers and pajamas. Our village was very civilized.


Q: What did young men wear?


A: The young men wore trousers, shirts, and suits.


Q: Were there suits?


A: Yes of course. They used to get them from Safad. Our village was very modern.


Q: Did you buy clothes or sew them?


A: No, we used to sew them. We sewed clothes of silk, we sewed joukh (fabric), we sewed thick scarves lafhaat joukh and put silk on them. And the sash [shambar] was made of silk.


Q: What’s a shambar?


A: What’s a shambar? It’s like this, ‘isharb’.[1]


Q: When the groom went to the bride’s house to ask for her, did he see her?


A: No, he wouldn’t see her. His mother would come, and then she’d describe her to him.


Q: Is it true that they used to pull her hair and look at her teeth?


A: No, no. It was on the basis of hasab wa nasab[2] not the bride’s personality. They used to check her reputation and the family, we didn’t have that kind of thing. I am telling you about our village and the neighboring villages. I don’t know what other people used to like [to do].


Q: What did they do for the engagement? Did the groom see the bride on the day of the engagement?


A: Yes he would come and they would slaughter animals. The engagement was more important than the wedding. There were songs and story telling and dabkehs.


Q: What songs? Do you remember them?


A: You want me to sing them? No! They’re very old.


Q: Like what?


A: Like “Yakhlef a’leku wa katter Allah khayrku wa ahel al-a’rees yakhlef a’leku” [May God bless the groom’s parents.] I was young I didn’t learn the songs.


Q: When your children got married didn’t you sing for them?


A: Me? No. I didn’t sing or dance.


Q: When they were doing the bride’s henna what did they sing for her?


A: I don’t know, I don’t remember.


Q: How long did the wedding festivities last?


A: Three or four days of dabkeh and dancing, everything and everyone.


Q: Did you use to invite neighboring villages to the wedding?


A: Yes, of course, we used to invite three or four villages.


Q: What are the names of your neighboring villages?


A: There was al-Jahoula, al-Khalsa, and al-Na’meh.


Q: Did you marry people from other villages?


A: Yes, they did. Each village took from other villages.


Q: How did you get to know each other?


A: All the village families were neighbors, it was all based on talk. I hear you have a daughter, you hear I have a daughter, so you’d come to see her. People came and went to each other.


Q: If the groom was a widower or a divorce would he have a wedding?


A: Wallah in our village we didn’t have widowers or divorcees.  We didn’t have divorce or anything like that.


Q: You don’t remember anyone whose wife died?


A: No, I don’t remember anyone whose wife died. There wasn’t much death back then, not like today.


Q: No one got sick?


A: Very, very rarely.


Q: Did you use herbs if someone got sick?


A: No, not herbs or anything.


Q: Okay, and if someone broke a limb how would you treat him?


A: We treated him with Arab bone setting.


Q: You didn’t have a doctor?


A: No, the doctor was in the quarterof the Jews.


Q: You were on good terms with them?


A: Yes, we were friends with them, there wasn’t hatred or anything.


Q: Did you visit each other, you and the neighbors?


A: Everybody had land to sow and to plough, we were peasant women. Everyone was on their own. Not like here where women visit each other. No it wasn’t like that. We were all relatives, we didn’t have formalities.


Q: Hajji, did you have something called al-awneh?Did you use to help the poor?


A: There wasn’t anyone poor among us, everyone had land, everyone had a farm, everyone had plants.  If you don’t have leban I would go and get you a dish of leban. This person gives to that person, and that person brings to this person.  Then in our village we were very few. We didn’t have poverty. The one who had land and the one who didn’t were like each other. [ie. lived the same way]


Q: How did you celebrate the feasts?


A: We used to prepare ka’k, and there were dabkehs and dancing.


Q: Did you buy the sweets from shops?


A: We used to make them at home and buy them from shops.


Q: How did you prepare for the season of the hajj?


A: I never heard of someone going on the hajj. We used to have the nabi Washa [3], people would go to it, it was like the hajj.


Q: They didn’t use to go to Mecca?


A: I don’t remember.


Q: How did you mourn a dead person?


A: A person would get sick and when he died we would bury him. We would mourn for a year, two years. But death was dear not cheap [ie. an important happening], unlike today. Twenty villages would come to the funeral.


[1] Sharb seems to be a mixture of ‘shawl’ and ‘scarf’.

[2] Hasab wa nasab are relationships through blood and through marriage.

[3] Probably the tomb of a local holy man. There were many of these in Palestine.


Um Adnan (Sohmata)


Q: What’s your name?


A: My name is (Q)atef Asa’d Nimer.


Q: How old are you?


A: 70 years old.


Q: Where are you from?


A: I’m from Sohmata.


Q: Tell us what do you remember about Palestine?

A: When we were young we used to play houses, and hide and seek.


Q: What did you wear when you were young?


A: Dresses and pants.


Q: Did you all dress the same?


A: Older people [women] wore shentian, young girls wore pants with scalloped edges. That was it. We used to sew clothes too


Q: Did you pay for the sewing?


A: Yes of course we paid.


Q: As for your daily life, what did you do?


A: We were fellahin. The men went to work in the fields and sow wheat, barley and lentils and kursana [1] Then they would go and pick the okraand green beans. We also used to grow tobacco, and they’d go [to harvest] olives during its season.


Q: What were the special events in your village like?


A: Weddings were frequent, also engagements, and feasts.


Q: When they went to get engaged to a girl, did the bridegroom see her?


A: No, no it was forbidden, he wouldn’t see her until they married (yom al-dakhleh).  When the groom visited his fiancee’s parents, she would leave.


Q: Okay, what was the wedding like?


A: The preparations for the wedding would begin seven days before.  Seven days before the wedding they wouldroll the sha’riya, and they put the rice on the mats the day of the wedding.


Q: How would they cheer for the groom?


A: They used to take the groom to the threshing floor, and sing to him, and then tour him through the village.


Q: Do you remember any of these songs?


A: No, wallahi.


Q: Okay. What about the bride?


A: First of all the bride would be invited by one of her relatives. Then they put her on a horse and bring her to the family of the groom.


Q: Did they do the same for the groom?


A: Yes, he would come riding a horse with incense all around him. The bride would have her face covered, so that when the groom arrives he would remove the veil and uncover her face, and then sit beside her.


Q: Did you give gifts to the bride and groom?


A: Of course. They would give them gold or money, each person according to his means. They would say: “Khalaf allah a’layk ya flan wa had na(q)out minnak lil a’rees wa a’bal ili a’ndku” [God give you blessings oh so-and-so, and he took naqut from you, and may the same happen to you]


Q: Did you make henna for the bride?


A: Yes. During the night of henna they would bring a big tray of henna and put candles on the tray and dance on it. And when they had finished putting henna on the bride, each one of the girls would take some home to put it on themselves.


Q: Did you make sweets at the feasts?


A: Yes we used to make ka’k, especially yellow ka’k. The young girls would go to play on the swings under the olive trees. There was a big olive tree in the village square where there were swings.


Q: How was Ramadan?


A: It was as usual, not like now though, now there’s a msahar [2] — in our days there weren’t any. The sheikh would recite in the mosque and that was it.


Q: Did people go on the hajj?


A: No, not many few people used to go.


Q: How would they go?


A: On camels.


Q: Did they make decorations for the pilgrims?


A: No, there weren’t decorations or anything.


Q: Did anyone get sick in your days?


A: No, sicknesses and deaths were few.


Q: But if someone did get sick, how would they treat him?


A: We would go to Tarshiha. We didn’t have a doctor in our village. During the fig season children would get poisoned.


Q: When a woman gave birth did you go to congratulate her?


A: They used to cook an omelette for the delivery, and would give her gold, earrings, little palms,[3] clothes for the boy or the girl, each person according to his means.


Q: Did you make a celebration for the circumcision of boys?


A: No, no celebration or anything.


Q: Were you friends with people of neighboring villages?


A: Yes, mostly we would go to Tarshiha, they were friends with us.


Q: Were there Muslims and Christians in your village?


A: Yes, there were.


Q: Were you friends with them?


A: Yes they were very good.


Q: Were there any poor people in your village?


A: No there weren’t any. The rich would help the poor. For example, someone who had land would help the one who didn’t have land. He would plant it, and give a third [of the crop] to the one who was poor.


Q: Did you women sit together?


A: Yes, we had a big mulberry tree in our quarter, and each day at sunset we would sit together and share stories.


Q: What stories?


A: I don’t remember. But each woman would tell things that were happening with her.


Q: You left Palestine because of the war?


A: Yes. When there was war, Israel attacked us while we were sitting under the big mulberry tree. My mother was killed and I was wounded. After that we rode in a bus and came to Beirut, Lebanon. I was treated in hospital, then we left for Ba’lbek. Then I got married and came here to Bourj with my husband, and stayed here.




[1] Kursana, a grain for animal food.

[2] A musahar is someone who wakes people up before suhoor.

[3] Silver trinkets in the shape of a hand worn on necklaces or bracelets to keep away the evil eye.

Mariam al-Baytam (Sheikh Daoud)



Q: What’s your name?


A: My name is Mariam Yousef al-Baytam, from Sheikh Daoud.


Q: Your age?


A: I was born in 1932, I’m 78 years old.


Q: Tell us about Palestine


A: I was very naughty when I was young


Q: What did you wear when you were young?


A: I wore dresses with frills, and scarves embroidered with sequins.


Q: What did girls wear back then?


A: They wore Arab clothes, the abay, and they folded it around themselves.


Q: You mean the sharwal?


A: Yes, the sharwal and then they put the abay over it.


Q: Were there differences in clothes?


A: Yes each according to his age, young and old people dressed differently.


Q: No one wore short dresses?


A: No, no.


Q: Did you buy clothes from the city?


A: No, no, we used to buy fabric, and sew the clothes at home.


Q: You used to pay for the sewing?


A: Yes we did.


Q: Where did you get the fabric from?


A: From shops and the fabric seller.


Q: How did you spend your days?


A: At home and at work. Those who had land would plant and work on it.


Q: What did you do in the morning?


A: We would milk the cows and sweep under them, then men and women would go to the fields to sow and harvest the okra.


Q: Were there any poor people?


A: No, no, no, everyone had land.


Q: Were there Jews and Christians?


A: No, the Jews were in Nahariya, Nahariya was all ‘national’ Jews.[1] When the army came to expel us, someone called Mlikha told them to let the women leave, and we went to south Lebanon. They [ie. those who had stayed in the village] harvested the wheat and barley crop, and stored it.  They sent after my father and uncle to come back and said we will protect you. But they didn’t want to go back.


Q: You used to go to ‘Akka?


A: Yes we used to go to sell vegetables, leban, milk in ‘Akka.


Q: Do you know the word al-awneh? [2]


A: Yes, but there we used to say ‘brotherhood’, cooperation from brother to brother. When someone wanted to marry, each one in the village would volunteer something for him. I would get mattresses, and you would bring sweets, and so on. On the wedding day, we would bring a sack of rice, a sack of sugar. We’d bring coffee and tea.


Q:  When a man went to get engaged to a girl, did they love each other?


A: No, he can’t even see her until they make the marriage contract.


Q: He wouldn’t see her or go out with her?


A: No. At the feasts he would go greet her parents and leave. They couldn’t see each other until the wedding day.


Q: What were the wedding preparations?


A: For the wedding, they would sit all the evening preparing the dough for the vermicelli, they would dry it and brown it. They would work on it for seven days and seven nights — “halali ya mali wa ya a’zzi wa ya mali  [halali, oh my money, oh my honour, and my money][3]


Q: What would they chant for them?


A: “Ya shabab jar al-Baytam, Ya nemr al-shajar, ya na’lin al-mal men taht al-hajjar. Ah, ya tastaqbilu al-basha low hadar”. [“Oh men, neighbors of the Baytam family, oh Nimer al-Shajjar, you who get money from beneath the rocks, welcome the Pasha when he comes”] And to the elder of the family, for example if his name was Abu Abdallah they would say: “Ah, yaba Abdallah, ya shasha a’la rasi la biaak wala baatik lal nas. Ah men haybtak amit al salatin ‘an al-karasi” [Oh Abu Abdallah you are very valuable to me, I wouldn’t sell you or give you to anyone. Because of your prestige the Sultans would leave their chairs] “Al-baher kabir kabir, fiyu al-marakeb bsrir, wa biwajoud Abu Abdallah njawez al-kabir lil sgheir. A’rees, a’rees, ya mshanshal khatmak bi idek ya karm inab wa mdali a’n e’idek rab al-sama yaatik wa yazidak wa takhtum wa kul al-nas taht idak [The sea is very big and in it are small boats. And in the presence of Abu Abdallah we marry the big to the small. Groom oh groom with your ring on your hand, I hope the God of the skies will make you richer till you end with everyone under your hand.]


Q: And for your bride?


A: “Ah erfa’i rasik ya marfu’a al-ras/ah la fiki a’ybi wala al-nas qal ah!  Erfa’i rasik la bayik wa la khayik/wa quli ehna sharihet dahab wal nas labasi [Ah raise your head you bride, oh girl with her head raised/You don’t have any flaw and people don’t say ah!/Raise your head for your father and brother/And say we are pieces of gold that people are ready to wear]


Arous ya wardeh, a’la khaljaan/ ah ya a’qed loulou jebtik men aradi al-sham/ah lazayin teqlik dahab/wa lazayin te’lik maas wa etla’m/ ya qamar tadwi a’la al-khaljan.” [Oh bride, oh flower of the Gulf/ You are a pearl necklace from the land of Sham/ Oh I will grace you with gold/ I will grace you with diamonds so that you may shine/ Oh moon shine on the Gulf.]


Q: Did she use to kiss her father’s hand before going out of his house?


A: Yes she kissed her father’s hand before going out, and she would go out with her hand raised.


Q: Did widowers and divorcees have weddings when they remarried?


A: No, they didn’t, but the bride’s parents would make a small party for her.


Q: What was in the bride’s trousseau?


A: There weren’t cupboards in those days so she would have a chest: “ya sanduq abu al-mara/’ qata’un qloub lil sabaya” [“Oh chest of the father of the woman, it breaks the hearts of the young women”] There would be gold and money from her mahr. [4] I got three rings and three pairs of bracelets, about twenty dresses, they sewed sofa covers and covers for the cupboards, and embroidered slips, and a piece of soap for the face, and another of olive oil. These were for beautification.


Q: Did the bride put dough [on the door] when she reached her house?


A: Yes she would put dough that had basil in it.


Q: Basil? Not a rose?


A: No basil, that was a tradition.


Q: And if the dough fell off [it meant] the woman would be divorced?


A: Yes.


Q: How were the preparations for the feast?


A: For the feast we would prepare sweets and ka’k, and we slaughtered animals.


Q: How was Ramadan?


A: Like today, the usual thing. They would go to harvest while fasting.


Q: How was the hajj?


A: At the time of the hajj they would go by camel or by sea.


Q: What sea?


A: They would go to ‘Akka and sail from there.


Q: They used to make decorations like now?


A: Yes, they decorated.


Q: When the pilgrims came back what did you do?


A: They welcomed them back with tahleel,[5] and food, and made sweets for them.


Q: How was your social life?


A: Normal. It couldn’t have been better.


Q: Did people get sick?


A: No, there was no sickness. When someone died the whole village would mourn for forty days. No one would turn on the radio, or take a bath. In those days a dead person was valued, not like now.


Q: When someone gave birth, would you go to congratulate her?


A: Yes, they would make fatayeh[6]with oil and sugar, and gifts, gold, clothes.


Q: How was a boy’s circumcision?


A: The circumciser would come and circumcise the boy, and they would start singing:“Mtaher ya mtaher wa msah bikemo wa stanna ya mtahir la tiji immo, ya mtaher ballah a’layk ma twaje’lu flen bezaal a’leh, ya mtaher taher wa msah bikemo wa stana ya mtaher la tiji ammo”. [Oh circumciser, do the circumcision, and wait for the boy’s mother, oh circumciser don’t hurt him I would be sad for him, oh circumciser do the circumcision and wait for the boy’s uncle] And when they wanted to tell the father that his wife delivered a boy, they would sing to him “Ya nas sallu‘ala al-nabi wa marto jabit sobi, ya min ybashir abu al-sobi [Oh people pray to the prophet, his wife delivered a boy. Who will give the good news to the boy’s father?]


Q: How did you deal with sicknesses?


A: With doctors. We would bring them to our village.


Q: If a person breaks something, what would you do?


A: An ‘Arab’ doctor would set his bones.


Q: Did women smoke?


A: No, only bedouin women smoked.


Q: If a woman smoked what would happen?


A: If a woman smoked they’d say she wasn’t good.


Q: Do you remember anything about the revolution?


A: I remember the revolution of ‘36, they use to fight secretly. They caught my father and imprisoned him. So I went crying to the general’s wife saying we want our baba. He was released two days later.


Q: How did you leave Palestine?


A: At the beginning we didn’t leave. We went on camels to Tarshiha, and then we went to a town called Yarqa which was for the Druze. Then we stayed four or five months in Majdel Kroom. Then king Abdullah’s army came and took my father. So I went to them crying and pleading, and in ten days they released him. We went to Sohmata, we wanted water, but the people of Sohmata didn’t want to give us any. So we went back to Deir al-Qasi. We baked bread there under the trees, ate, and then left, and went to Rmeish.


Q: Rmeish here in Lebanon?


A: Yes here. After that we went to Bint Jbeil, after that to Jwaya. In the houses there, there wasn’t any water. So we searched for a well to fill up with water. When I wanted to get water from the village well, a mute woman followed me and was about to hit me, so I left the well, and escaped and hid in a coffee house. After that, we followed the Salvation Army [further] into Lebanon. We stayed in Jwaya for a year and a half, then we went to Mrayjeh. From there to Bourj, and we stayed here.     


[1] Palestinians used the term ‘national Jews’ to distinguish indigenous Jewish communities from European Jewish colonizers.

[2] Villagers used awneh with an ‘al-’ to signify a tradition of cooperation.

[3] A nonsense rhyme.

[4] The mahr was the sum of money paid by the groom to the parents of the bride – evidence here that parents often passed the mahr on to the bride.

[5] Tahleel (from yuhalalu) is a special kind of ululation, done for special occasions.

[6] Pastry triangles usually stuffed with spinach and pine nuts, but here clearly sweet.

Um Nafisi (Kabri)



Q: What’s your name?


A: Fatima Abed Jibril.


Q: Where are you from?


A: I am from Kabri, ‘Akka.


Q: How old were you when you left Palestine?


A: I was twenty years old.


Q: What do you remember about Palestine?


A: Like what?


Q: What did you use to do for weddings?


A: Sing, dance the dabkeh, and fetch the bride.


Q: What were the songs that you sang for the bride?  Do you remember any of them?


A: Yes, there were a lot of songs


Q: When they went to fetch the bride, what did they sing? Do you remember these songs?


A: Yes. They would sing “A’rousetna, ya mbarhej, ija al-a’rees, wa marheji, a’rousetna ya mzayani bi rijalha, ya mzayani bi rijalha” [Our bride, oh happy one, the groom has arrived, be happy, our bride is made beautiful by her man, our bride is made beautiful by her man].


Q: What kinds of food were offered at the wedding?


A: Food, rice. They would distribute the mats, and cook the rice, and put it out on them. And there would be kibbeh and chicken.


Q: The zaghaleet, what special songs did they sing for her?[1]


A: They would sing: “A’rousetna malla a’rous, a’rousetna mena’dilha lil-flus” [What a bride is ours, our bride is as precious as money.]


Q: When the bride walks out of her father’s house, what did they sing for her?


A: “Men tale’tik ya jawhara ija al- a’rees wa marheji” [When you came out oh jewel, the groom comes out and rejoices].


Q: And what did they sing for the groom?


A: They would bathe the groom and sing “A’reesna malla a’rees, a’reesna ba’’t al-flus, a’reesna lil a’rous” [Oh what a groom is ours, our groom gave money, our groom is for the bride.]


Q: Good. And when the groom goes to the bride what would they sing?


A: “A’rees, a’rees, la tandam a’la al-mal, a’la a’roustak hawaji wa hut li’lami a’la al-a’rous hawaji, wa rous mehniyi teswa banat, binat dirtak miye a’la miyeh” [Groom, oh groom, don’t regret the money, your bride has needs, and put the a’lami [2] to your bride’s needs, bowed heads are worth more than girls, girls from your family are one hundred percent [ie. the best]].


Q: You got married in Palestine?


A: Yes in Palestine


Q: How was your wedding?


A: I didn’t have a wedding.


Q: Why didn’t you have one?


A: No, because my husband was a widower.


Q: So if a widower gets married he doesn’t have a wedding? Was that a tradition in Palestine?


A: Yes, a widower and a divorced man wouldn’t have a wedding.


Q: So you didn’t have a wedding?


A: No I didn’t. But my parents made a small party for me at home; little girls danced, and I sat on a big chair. Then they took me to my father-in-law’s house. But no wedding, nothing.


Q: What did they sing to you when they took you to your husband’s house?


A: Dakhal al-a’rees a’la a’rous, wa itla’u ya immat al-fasous” [The groom has come to the bride; so leave you farting mothers].


Q: How did you get to know your husband?


A: I’m originally from Kafr Qar’a in the Tulkaram district, and my husband is my cousin. I was engaged at the age of thirteen.


Q: You were engaged for seven years?


A: No, a bit less.


Q: And for how many days did a wedding continue?


A: Not even a day for a widower.


Q: Okay, in Kabri, when there was a wedding how long would it last?


A: The wedding, well some people would celebrate for seven days.


Q: What did they do?


A: They would sing and dance, and young men and girls would do the dabkeh.


Q: Weddings were mixed? Young men and girls danced together?


A: Yes.


Q: What did they sing? What were the songs for the dabkeh?


A: “‘Ala dal’aouna, ya dala’ouniyi, al-armal bi shalen wa al-bint bi miyeh” [To the dala’ouna, oh my dala’ouna, the widower for a shilling, and the girl for a hundred].[3]


Q: What did you use to wear in Palestine?


A: We wore dresses, and shanatin.[4]


Q: What would you wear for a wedding?


A: The groom would wear trousers and a jacket, and they would get the bride a wedding dress.


Q: And what would she wear for the sahra?


A: Her usual clothes.


Q: They wouldn’t make her a special dress?


A: No, but when she went to her husband’s house (yom al-dakhleh) she would wear a special dress.


Q: What would they do when they went to ask a girl’s hand in marriage?


A: The man would go to her father, they would read the fatiha,[5]and they’d bring the sheikh to write the marriage contract, that’s all.


Q: Did they ask the girl if she accepted or not?


A: No, no, they didn’t ask the girl. With us it wasn’t like today. If they wanted to give her to a donkey she’d have to take him.


Q: Okay, did boys and girls love each other?


A: No, we didn’t have that. If a girl loved someone she would be slaughtered.


Q: What kind of gold would they buy for the bride?


A: It depended on their means. Some people would get earrings, a watch, bracelets. There were money gifts too [naqout]. For example you might give her a ring, and I would give her earrings or a bracelet. Each person according to his means.


Q: What did they say when giving gifts to the bride?


A: “Khalafallah a’layki ya a’rous, wa hay naqout lil-a’rous, wa yukatir khayrik, wa yukhalif a’layki, wal-a’kiba la awladik” [God bless you, oh bride, and this is a gift for the bride, and may your prosperity be increased, and God bless you, and the next [ie. wedding] is for your children.]


Q: Was there a party for the engagement?


A: No, they’d bring the sheikh to the house and he’d write the contract, that’s all.


Q: Did you have a lot of clothes?


A: No we didn’t. We just wore a dress, and shentian under it, and underwear, and panties.


Q: What did you wear in winter?


A: Dresses of velvet and faladina,[6] something that’s warm.


Q: What did you use to do during the feasts?


A: For the feasts they would buy dresses with crocheted frills for the young children. We used to rear animals for slaughter, a goat and a sheep. The goat would be slaughtered for the little feast (Fitr), and the sheep for the big feast (Adha).


Q: If your neighbor was poor and didn’t have animals to kill, what would you do?


A: We used to give to those who didn’t have.


Q: Did you make holiday sweets?


A: Yes, we used to make ka’k, and buy cakes and sweets and other things.


Q: Where would you buy the sweets?


A: From shops.


Q: How was the ka’k prepared?


A:  From dates — dried dates, anise, mahlab,[7] and cinnamon.


Q: Did everyone make ka’k?


A: Yes, it would take three or four days just to make the ka’k.


Q: If someone didn’t have money to make ka’k, what would he do?


A: It wasn’t possible that someone couldn’t afford to make ka’k, there wasn’t anyone poor, because we were all fellahin, and every one had his own farm. Everyone was well off and happy.


Q: What kinds of food were there other than the rice?


A: Meat, they would slaughter an animal if they could afford it, and stuff it with rice.


Q: Did they invite people from other villages and welcome them to the wedding?


A: Yes they would get with them baskets[8] ofcoffee, and animals for slaughter, and have lunch with them.


Q: What food was al-Kabri famous for?


A: Rice, meat, kibbeh, moghrabieh, kroush, [9] bamieh, mloukieh.


Q: How did they do the henna for the bride?


A: They would get the henna, and invite her closest friends to stay the night. They would sing to her: “hennaki mrattab ya fulani” [Your henna is well made, Oh so-and-so.]


Q: Did you use to do henna at ordinary times?


A: At feasts they used to henna the children. If someone didn’t have children would make henna for the watad.


Q: What does watad means?


A: Watad means donkey.


Q: Where there people who didn’t have children?


A: Yes, there were people deprived of children.


Q: If someone got sick what did you use to do?


A: No one got sick. We were fellahin, we used to sow and plough wheat and barley, we never knew sickness.


Q: Okay, if someone broke a limb or had a cut, what would you do?


A: There was a woman doctor who could mend broken bones, and in case of a wound they would grind a tablet of selfat and put it on the cut.[10]


Q: In the season of the hajj, what did the people do?


A: They used to pay the sheikh who was organizing the hajj.


Q: You didn’t go by plane?


A: No, there weren’t planes. We used to go by car to Jordan, and then from Jordan to Saudi Arabia.


Q: What did they use to sing for the pilgrims?


A: “Ma ahla haninak wa ma ahla mawsamek, ya hajji wa inshallah trouhi wa tarja’i bil-salama, Hajayti wa ijiti ya hajji, jibti masari ya hajji” [How beautiful is your yearning, and your hajj season, oh hajji, inshallah you will go and come back safe. Oh hajji you made your hajj and you came, oh hajji, you brought money, oh hajji]


Q: Did girls put on make-up?


A: No, not with us. Only a bride would put it.


Q: If a girl wore make-up, what would happen?


A: Nothing would happen. But it wasn’t customary for us to put it.


Q: After getting married, could you wear make-up?


A: Yes, once a bride was married, she could put on make-up.


Q: When a woman gives birth to a boy, what did you use to do?


A: When a woman delivered a boy they would sing to her; when she delivered a girl they would say yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Girls were not welcomed.


Q: What would they sing for a boy’s circumcision?


A: “Ma ahla tahurak ya sheikh, ideyk mdiyyi ya sheikh [How beautiful is your circumcision oh sheikh, your hands are soft oh sheikh)


Q: Do you remember the sheikh’s name?


A: Yes, he was called Nur al-Din. When a woman delivers a boy, they would distribute baqlawah, sweets, ma’moul. But if she delivers a girl, nothing. Only for a boy.


Q: If a woman had a difficult delivery, what would you do?


A:  We had certified midwives, and if it was very complicated they would take her to ‘Akka.


Q: Did people from other villages come to you?


A: No, only relatives. Everyone was busy with his farm.


Q: What did you do when somebody died?


A: Nothing. They wash him and go and bury him.


Q: How long did the mourning last?


A: Forty days. After the fortieth day they would make a mowled.[11]


Q: How did they wail and what did they say?


A: His sister would say “Al-beit beit immi wa abui, ma tizaali ya mart akhui” [The house is my mother’s and my father’s, don’t be upset, my brother’s wife.]


Q: If someone’s husband died what would she say?


A: “Between me and my family there are mountains/I feel sorrow for myself”.


Q: What happened to make you leave Palestine?


A: There was war, there was bombing in the mountains, the Jews were on the roads. People were running away. I escaped with my two daughters. We left Kabri for Sohmata, and from Sohmata to Jwayeh.


Q: Your husband died in Palestine?


A: Yes, there was a bus coming from Beirut to ‘Akka. On its way back they mined the road, he died from the explosion.


Q: Did you work to feed your children?


A: No, my father-in-law wouldn’t let me. With us women didn’t work. UNWA took us to Anjar, we stayed there seven months. After that we came to Bourj, took some tents, and stayed here.


Q: When you were in Palestine were there Jews or Christians living near you?


A: No there weren’t any, only bedouin. Christians lived in the mountains, and Jews used to go to the mountains for holidays. They used to live in Nahariya, and the Christians in the mountains.


Q: How was your social life? Did you visit each other?


A: Yes, neighbors would come over, and we made them coffee or tea.


Q: Where did you sit? In the garden?


A: No, no, we sat at home.


Q: Did you visit every day?


A.No, just when we had time. We used to plant the earth and sow. We visited each other only when we had time.



[1] Zaghaleet is an alternative form of zaghareed. The verb here is hahoula, a special type of vocalization believed to give strength to the bride.

[2] The a’lami is the jewelry that the groom offers to the bride before the wedding.

[3]  The word dal’ouna has no translation. The song is sung in all the Mashreq countries – Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq.

[4]  Shentian,  pl. shenatin, were cotton trousers worn by women under their dresses, wide at the waist and reaching to below the knee.

[5] The fatiha is the first verse of the Qu’ran.

[6] Needs translation.

[7] A spice made from sour cherry stones, used across the Middle East in breads and cakes.

[8]  The word used here — (q)ufaf – was a basket woven from straw or reeds used for carrying goods.

[9]  Kroush are the stuffed intestines of lamb, served with a sauce of garlic, lemon and olive oil.

[10]  Selfat is an aspirin-like medication, used to disinfect cuts, still found in camps.

[11] A mowled is a religious ceremony that could be carried out at home, an invocation of God in cases of sickness, bereavement, or marriage if the family can’t afford to hire a hall..

Um Fethi (Tarshiha)



Q: What is you name?


A: Khadija Mansour.


Q: Where are you from?


A: I’m from Tarshiha.


Q: How old are you?


A: I was born in 1929, I’ve started my 80s.


Q: Tell me what do you remember about Palestine?


A: I remember everything about Palestine. What do you want me to talk about?


Q: Okay. What did you use to do on an ordinary day?


A:  Older women used to stay at home there, or visit a neighbor. We young girls, we used ‘smell the breezes’, we’d go walking to Ja’toun and Wadi Qarn, almost the same distance as from here to Jounieh.


Q: What kind of clothes did you wear in Tarshiha?


A: We Tarshihans used to wear short dresses, to here (hand gesture). We made everything with our own hands.


Q: Did you spend money when you sewed your clothes?


A: Yes, of course, we had to spend money. We used to bring material from Haifa or ‘Akka and sew it.  Our sewing was really nice, and the fabric was of very good quality. We used to work with needles for

sewing and needles for knitting. Lots of people used to embroider their clothes.


Q: What kind of preparations did you make for a wedding day?


A: From the early morning the groom’s relatives would go to his place to help him wash and start the wedding procession. They would take him to the eastern and northern orchards, while the songs and ululations would continue for three or four hours.


Q: Do you recall any of those songs?


A: Yes.


Q: Okay, can you sing me any?


A: “Ismallah a’la al-a’rees, ismallah a’ley, wa men al-dahab al-asfar rushu a’ley, wa nadu wara’  immu tetfaraj a’ley, wa men al-mesk al-imneeh tena’f a’ley” [May the name of Allah protect the groom; sprinkle yellow gold on him, and call his mother to come and watch him, and let her spray the best musk on him.]


Q: They used to buy gold for the bride?


A: They used to buy a lot of gold. They used to get her pieces of gold that would weigh almost a quarter or half a wakiya.[1]


Q: What was included in the bride’s trousseau?.


A: A trousseau would normally include about twenty shalhat,[2] twenty pieces of underwear, dresses, skirts, and black or pink blouses.


Q: How come?


A: Well some would wear a pink bridal suit, and for the sahra [3] she would wear a black or blue one, and at sunset she would wear a white one.


Q: Did you make special sweets for the feast?


A: For feasts we would make ka’k al-‘eid, zalaabi, and ma’routa.[4]We would roll the ka’k like this, divide it in half and keep the rest. We stayed a whole day and night preparing the ka’k.


Q: Were there any Christians in your village?


A: A third of the people in our village were Christians and two thirds were Muslims.


Q: Were you friendly with each other?


A: We were very friendly with them, going to each others’ weddings, we were like brothers and sisters. There were two churches, one for the Catholics and the other for the Orthodox in the hara al-tahta (lower quarter). We had the hara al-barakeh, the hara al-sharkiyeh (eastern), the hara al-shamaliyeh (northern), the hara al-shaqfan, [5]and the hara al-tahta.


Q: Was there something called al-awneh, cooperation, among you?


A: Our life was like honey, we were all together, we helped each other, and we cooperated with each other. If one day we wanted to sow tobacco, Elie would send his older daughter to help. We filled all the houses with wheat, lentils and barley.


Q: Were there any poor people in your village?


A: No, by God, our situation was bil-lowj,[6] all the village was okay, there wasn’t anyone poor. And if there was, he would go and get a load of oranges, and exchange them for wheat and lentils. We used to love each other. There wasn’t any problem between neighbor and neighbor, we didn’t have fights or quarrels. A person from the northern quarter would go visit someone living in the eastern quarter. If we had stayed in Palestine it would have been better for us and more dignified.  


Q: Why did you leave?


A: We didn’t leave Palestine willingly.  What broke our hearts, was the Arabs[7] – and they[8] came to Deir Yassin and slaughtered people. They made the men stand against one wall, and the women against another wall. First they raped the women in front of the men, then they sprayed the men with shot and killed them. We took refugee in Nakhleh for almost a week. Then we left Palestine and came to Harees [Lebanon]. Later we came here from Tyre. We got tents and stayed in them, then we built, and stayed here.


Q: What did you use to do when somebody got sick?


A: In our days no one got sick — if someone did we would go and visit him.


Q: And when a woman delivers a baby, would you visit her?


A: Yes, each one of us would take whatever amount God had provided her with, and we would go to congratulate her.


Q: Did you discriminate between boys and girls?


A: No, no, not at all — “anything that God sends is beautiful”. My father used to spoil me a lot, and my grandfather too. Once he made me shoes and started saying “Mowji ya helwa mowji, tala’  labsi al- sarmowji” [walk slowly pretty girl, walk slowly, it’s time for wearing shoes].[9]


Q: How old were you when you got married?


A: I got married in Palestine, when I was fourteen. They put me on a horse.


Q: Why did you ride a horse?


A: That was the custom. They would put the bride on a horse, and two young men would hold onto the groom, and the women would circle around him carrying incense. And the bride would take eighty scarves from her parents’ house to her husband’s. I took eighty [scarves] that you would have loved.


[1]  A waqiya equals 200 grams.

[2] The shalha could be worn as a nightdress, or as a slip under a dress.

[3] The sahra was an evening reception made for the bride and the bridegroom by their families before the wedding.

[4] The ka’k al-eid were special cakes for the feasts – recipes are given in several interviews. Zalaabi was balls of dough, fried and dipped in syrup; ma’routa was dough spiced with anise, cut in strips, and baked in the oven.

[5] Literally ‘broken quarter’ – this could have been a family name.

[6] ‘Heavenly’, ‘luxurious’, ‘high-life’ are all possible translations of bil-lowj.

[7] Probably an allusion to the Arab Salvation Army.

[8] ‘They’ here probably means the Zionists.

[9] Mowji is derived from the word for wave, mowj, and perhaps refers to the uneven steps of a young child. The word it rhymes with, sarmowji, is an old-fashioned Palestinian word for shoes.

Um Samir Hameed (Sha’b)



I am from Sha’b. I was 20 years old when I left Palestine. From the beginning of us leaving Palestine, the Arabs were preparing tents so that we would leave. They said to us, “You should leave because the Jews will not put up with you, they do not want you in the country. Leave now, it’s better for you”. The Arabs forced us. The women continued taking water to the revolutionaries and fighters.


At the time of a wedding, the girls and young men would line up in a single line. They would carry the clothes of the groom, the blessed groom, and they would circle with the tray, while the groom would circle on a horse.  There would be a seamstress pretending with an empty needle without a thread, just pretending.


“Shave, oh barber, with the silver razor/shave, oh barber, to satisfy him”


Clothes and a wedding dress for the bride: she would go to Yafa or ‘Akka to get the fabric, and give it to the seamstress.  She would put henna on her thumbs and feet the night of the wedding (her friends put the henna on her), and she would have her hair done as well. They would sing for the bride at the time of the wedding as well as at the time of the henna.


When I got married, I went with my mother-in-law[1] to the seamstress and she sewed my clothes and dresses. Later, when the clothes and everything were ready, we went and made the wedding at ‘Anjar (in Lebanon), and they gave me ten pounds.[2]  I bought gold from Beirut — in Sha’b there was no gold and not many traders. Most people were farmers who grew sesame, corn, watermelons, and melons.


During the Eid, they would bake ‘Eid cakes and distribute them in memory of the dead. Children would go to the swings, and buy clothes for the ‘Eid.


The hajj: There wouldn’t be more than one person in the village who would go on the pilgrimage, and the women would all sing for him:


“The pilgrim went by sea, in his hand a keela[3]/ Oh Lord bring him back safe to this family”.


The funeral: Lamenting and wailing! The dead person’s family would pull out their hair, wailing, crying, and beating their bodies. When visiting the grave, the same thing. Actually here it’s easier than in Palestine, they simply weep for a while, and wail. The neighbors used to bring cooked food for the dead person’s family for a period of three days. Afterwards the dead person’s family would cook and distribute food for three days.


I was veiled, I was committed to religion. All girls wore the veil from childhood.


In regard to maquillage, there was nothing of that sort. However, for a bride, a woman would do her makeup, wax her and put makeup on.


Visiting the sick: They would take fruits — grapes, oranges and apples to friends, but if it was a stranger they didn’t take anything for him. There was no doctor in the village they would go to the hospitals of ‘Akka or Haifa, as they were famous for that, everyone went to them. There was a bus that came everyday to the area and took people to ‘Akka.


When a boy was circumcised, there would be singing and celebration and such:

“Circumcise, oh circumciser, with the silver razor/Watch over him, oh  circumciser, until he is alright/ Circumcise, oh circumciser, with the gold razor/Be patient with him until his family comes”.


It was forbidden for a girl to love, or her family would shoot her. It was also forbidden for her to refuse a bridegroom. It had to be as her family wanted.


Women’s gatherings: Most women were busy with agricultural work, such as harvesting watermelons, and picking sesame and olives. The men would cultivate, and the women would help in collecting the watermelons.


It was forbidden to sing on the threshing floor while they were working.


During the harvest season, the young men would rent harvesting machines. But when Israel came, they [Jewish settlers] brought machines that harvested the wheat in a more advanced way.


There were two Christian families [in the village], but they moved to Kfar Yaseef.  All of them [people of Sha’b] were Palestinian and Muslim Arabs.


All of the people in Nahariyya and Tel-Aviv were Christian.[4]


There was a mosque that still stands still now. I know from my sister who lives in Palestine, and the mosque has been very much improved.


Tool: After a stone has been burned, it becomes limestone, and they make a hole, and they buried the person killed for revenge under it.


I used to have an old dress from Palestine. Once I went on a visit to Palestine, and my daughter threw it away, and even my wedding dress, because they were old.


Fishing: There wasn’t any because the sea was far. They used to bring fish from ‘Akka.


There was a well fixed in the ground as a tank with many fountains or faucets bringing forth water.


There was a spring called Al-Ayn and the water was very good and plentiful. They [women] would go collect water from there. It was far from the houses and they would go and play with the jars, and sometimes they would carry them on a donkey. If someone wanted to build he would bring water on a donkey.


Problems: There were party conflicts. Two young men were killed.  At that time there was a committee and a mukhtar but those people didn’t listen to them, so sometimes there was revenge.


The lunar eclipse: The men and the sheikhs would go to the mosque and pray for help: “Our moon! A whale has eaten our moon!”


The foodstuffs they used to make were cheese, butter and oil. People would live for a hundred years, because food was healthy and there were no chemicals in it.


The young men of the village agreed to buy arms at their own expense and to resist the Jews. Many martyrs were lost. There were no organizations, it was only those ready to defend Sha’b.  Israel would come to search for arms and take them, and sometimes they would shoot any man who had a weapon. When the Jews withdrew from our village, they would take horses, cows, and camels… Israel distributed sugar and flour to the shops at one time, or aid came from UNRWA.[5] There were many cases of corruption, people informing on other people, I mean collaborators with the army.


There was love and affection between neighbors. When someone was sick, neighbors would bring wheat, olives and tea cups.


There was no market in the village, they would go to ‘Akka.


[1]  Literally ‘my uncle’s wife’.

[2]  It is probable that Um Samir was married after 1948 in Lebanon. We could not check this as she became very sick after the interview with her was recorded.

[3] A keela was a container for liquid,

[4]  Um Samir is wrong about this: the inhabitants of Nahariyya and Tel-Aviv were Jewish.  We don’t know if she amalgamated Christians with Jews, or simply made a verbal mistake.

[5] Um Samir was not alone in confusing Israel, Britain, America — oppressors of the Palestinians in different epochs. Oral history theorists suggest that the memory works to reorganize time and events, selecting for the most meaningful.

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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