HERITAGE GUARDIANS

Sarah Abu Alrob

The village of grooms, a resort for vacationers, and the home of the “Fatteh” feast that follows Easter. What do you need to know more about the village of Al-Qubeiba to realize that it is the most beautiful destination in the warm seasons?

It is not strange that Al-Qubeiba (Emmaus), is the destination of Catholic Christian pilgrims from all over the world on the Feast of Fatteh(1). A feast celebrated by Christians marking the appearance of Christ to his disciples Simon and Cleophes in the Al-Qubeiba, where he divided bread between them and distributed it to the people from a few loaves that were in his hands, so the baskets were filled with bread until they overflowed. Hence, the village acquired the name of Emmaus where a church was built in commemoration of the appearance of Christ.
I have visited Haja Ni’me Zahran, 66, in her shop in the center of the village late March when the town was getting ready for the Fatteh feast which is on the Monday following Easter Sunday.
Haja Ni’me remembers the season of the Fatteh festival in her village, when Al-Qubeiba is swarmed with visitors from different countries. However, the construction of the Apartheid separation wall hampered the movement of Catholic pilgrims towards Al-Qubeiba.
Al-Qubeiba is located northwest of the city of Jerusalem. It is one of the villages of Bani Malik, which was located within the Sheikhdom of Abu Ghosh during the Ottoman era. The people narrate that the origin of the name Al-Qubeiba (a diminutive of a dome) is related to reasons including the height of the small domes above its houses in the past, or because the center of the town is on a high hill that resembles a small dome in appearance. It is also said that the Crusaders who gave it this name, due to the presence of an Islamic shrine above which a dome rises.

The village of Grooms

Due to the town's mountainous nature, it was, until recently, a resort for vacationers and those wishing to hike in its hills and among its pine forests. Rather, staying in the village was prescribed as a medicine for patients to heal. When the hotel was constructed at the top of one of its hills, people began to come to spend their honeymoon there, until it was called “the village of grooms.” Perhaps the most famous person who stayed in its hotel was King Hussein bin Talal. Ni’ma recalls the village reception of the king and the marching scouts.
As for the local weddings, Ni’me told me how a decorated car would come to the bride’s house to take her to the grooms and two men from the front and the rear of the car carrying lanterns. If the bride is from another village and marrying to Al-Qubeiba, would ride a camel. Wajiha Diab, 67 years old from Al-Qubeiba, shared with us her memory from her wedding when she borrowed a dress for her wedding. “It was the Henna dough trend, the women shaped strings from the henna and wraps it around my fingers and palm to form motifs and patterns.
The people of Qubeiba would prepare “Jrishe ” with lamb meat for weddings’ feasts. One of the weddings anecdotes is when they burry the meat under the “Jrishe (2)” in the big dish, and men would then start digging in search of the meat leaving behind tunnels in the dish. When men are done, it is then the women and children turn to eat.

Recalling some of the wedding sings sang by women, Wajiha chanted;

" O thou, seated on the bridal throne, sway!
Thou are seated like a princess.
O thou seated on the bridal throne, jump
Thy seating is the seating of glory.

***
Raise your head, mistress of girls!
O daughter of a freeman, may thy Lord enliven him who reared thee

**
Here come in, here come in
In lofts and homes

**
And we swore tonight.
We shall only eat oil.
Oh, thy joy, may the lord bless thee O groom"
A hind has entered the house.

Ni’me adds remembering: “The women would pass by the monks while the bride’s mother carries a straw tray with salt and rye throwing it on bystanders to protect her daughter from the evil eye. When we reach the church, Jamilah would throw candy on us”. Jamilah, as explained later, was a German nun serving the church and worked as a nurse and midwife for Al-Qubeiba and the surrounding villages. She was remembered for her kindness with the local people. Wajiha also told me about a mistake done by Jamilah when she was giving birth to her son, “She made a huge mistake when I was delivering my son Mohammad. I was preparing food when labor started. No one believed me because Jamilah said that my due date is far. I told my brother I am going to deliver. Her brought Jamilah home and she delivered a 5 kg healthy boy. But Jamilah cut half of the placenta. I bled a lot and nearly died. Jamilah has hidden the placenta from my family, but my sister came in to find me covered in blood in bed. They started crying: Wajiha died, Wajiha died. My brother carried me with the blanket and my blood was dripping down his elbow. I was taken to the hospice hospital in Jerusalem where I was saved from death.”

Spaghetti People!

Not only the monastery was a shelter for the people of Al-Qubeiba in times of war, the Italian monks introduced spaghetti to Al-Qubeiba. It was no reason for the residents of the neighboring villages and towns to describe the people of Qubeiba jokingly as "the people of spaghetti". Wajiha says that when it was time for lunch at UNRWA school, they would sometimes bring pasta to the students. The students of the Qubeiba ate it with appetite, while the Bedouin girls were disgusted with this food and threw it away, saying: “You are so disgusting, you spaghetti girls.”
However, Al-Qubeiba is characterized by some dishes that have almost disappeared from the Palestinian kitchen today. For example, Ghalayes (Pate) tomatoes. It is a paste of flour and grated tomato and juice, added to it onions, olive oil and wild thymes, formed in a shape of pate and roasted in the oven. It is usually eaten as a snack.
The people of Al-Qubeiba have agricultural lands in the village of Salbit and its vicinity, in the Ramla district. However, they were deprived of it after its occupation and the displacement of its people, in 1948. During the 1967 war, its people took refuge in the monastery from Israeli bombing. Mariam Hamdan (66 years old) remembers that day well even though she was only eight years old. She says: "Our house is in the mountain, next to the Radar settlement. When we saw the [Israeli] jets, we thought they were Iraqi jets. My uncle and my father started singing and dancing. After a while, the bombing started, so we ran off to grandfather’s house until the middle of the night." Out of fear, they told us to flee to the valleys while the firing was on. During the day, the situation was a little better. We had children, so the young men went to bring food, but they never came back.”
The people learned that the monastery opened its doors for them and everyone helped in providing for all while staying there. Ni’me recalls smiling “I was the baker then. The women would knead the dough and I would bake the bread on Al-Saj(3) .” She added then that the monks has advised their mothers to dress the young girls with the elders’ dresses fearing to be kidnaped or raped by the enemy. “Our mothers were scared, they put their gowns down on us to make us look like old women to protect us and not to have the same destiny of Deir Yassin in 1948. I put on my mother Thob (gown) and remind with me until today.”
After staying in the monastery for days, and on their way back to their homes, we encountered the Israeli army. The soldiers gave the children chewing gum. According to Maryam: "We were afraid to take them. We said, 'see what's in it. And they told us to return to our homes.” Maryam recalls what the Israeli soldiers said to the children in a broken Arabic accent: “My love, why are you here? Come on, come on, Hussein's army will hit a bomb, then you will die. Come on, come on, go to Uncle Hussein." Maryam's uncle left the village [to Jordan], but her father and her other uncle remained in Al-Qubeiba.

Al-Qubeiba Shrines

In the center of the town there was an Islamic shrine of a Muslim saint, known as Sheikh Abdullah. It was located near the old mosque that stands today in the middle of the village (Saladin Mosque). This shrine is attributed to one of the Mujahideen of Saladin Ayyubi’s army, who was martyred in this place and buried there. The people narrate that Saladin sent three of his fighters to Al-Qubeiba to serve as the northern line of defense for Jerusalem. One of them contracted a fever and died. He was buried in the site that the townspeople used to visit frequently later as a religious shrine, which they called the shrine of Sheikh Abdullah. As for the other two soldiers, they married two women from Al-Qubeiba and lived there. That is why the families of Makhtoub and Hamouda of Al-Qubeiba are traced to Iraq.

There is a Pistacia tree next to the shrine belonging to the saint that shades him, according to the popular belief. From there, the mothers derived the character of "Sitna al-Batma" (Our Mistress the Pistacia) to intimidate children and adults. As the people of the town say that whoever approaches "Sitna Al-Batmeh" will be harmed. Nima Zahran says: "It is forbidden for a girl to pass by Sitna Al-Batmeh if she is in her period. And when the children annoyed their mother, she used to tell them, “I shall pray for Sheikh Abdullah to make you a monkey. I also used to be scared to pass by the tree.” Ni’ma tells us one of Al- Batmeh’s stories, saying: “The day the British soldiers came here, they said that the horsemen wanted to put their horses inside the shrine. The people warned them that the horses would be hurt. The soldiers mocked the locals: ‘who is this Sheikh Abdullah! We do not care!’ but their horses were hurt.”

The people of the village used to walk the funerals of the dead of the Al-Sheikh family from their homes towards the shrine, where the Sufis performed the rituals of dhikr, and then they prayed for the dead in the mosque before his burial. On the holidays, the Sufis would leave the village mosque towards the cemetery to recite the Fateha, and then they would go to the shrine. Ni’ma concludes with a popular story passed on by the people of the village: "They used to go with drums and horns, and they would swing their heads in prayer to get dizzy. And when they approached the Shrine of the Sheikh, the flag was tilted towards him."


1.Fatteh: An Arabic word means small pieces of bread, or a traditional dish from the Levant consisting of pieces of bread, yogurt and rice
2.Wheat groats roasted and cooked with spices
3. Saj: A wok shaped pan placed on fire with its convex side facing up. Used for baking a slim type of bread.

The blog content is the responsibility of the Rozana Association and Youth Without Borders Forum in Gaza and does not necessarily express the opinion of the European Union.