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The Second Birzeit Heritage Week: Building pillars for a sustainable rural-development vision

The Second Birzeit Heritage Week: Building pillars for a sustainable rural-development vision By Raed Saadeh

Birzeit Heritage Week is not merely a cultural or heritage activity that stands on its own. It is part of a holistic approach to bringing sustainable development and prosperity to the Palestinian countryside. The Rozana Association has been diligently trying to advance the underlying concepts that are inherent in this vision. 

Competitiveness is determined by the productivity with which a nation, region, or cluster uses its human, capital, and natural resources. (Professor Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business School)  Hence the questions: what are the resources that form the basis for Palestinian rural development, and how does the Rozana Association plan to network these competencies in order to instil significant productivity and competitiveness? First of all, the Rozana is a Birzeit-based association, and its scope of work revolves around Birzeit as a centre for rural-development activities and as a leading example for others to follow in terms of understanding the competencies of their villages and the ways to incorporate them into efficient and effective productive efforts. Birzeit possesses many resources:  

1. Architectural heritage is evident in the historic centre of the town and needs to be preserved and rehabilitated according to a researched strategic master plan. A great deal of the planning has already been accomplished by the working team, which includes the Rozana as well as the Birzeit Municipality, Birzeit University, and Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation.

2. Human resources are apparent through the presence of the university, several elementary and high schools, and numerous skilled artisans.

3. The various layers of history and the monuments that are abundant in and around Birzeit open the door for all kinds of tour initiatives such as the course of Khans and Sufism, the path of Ibrahim al-Khalil, the village path from Taybeh to Birzeit, and many other hiking events that explore the diverse landscape of the area and the various harvest seasons that take place throughout the year.

4. Cultural heritage and cultural-exchange activities have been adopted and advanced by Birzeit. In this respect, the Birzeit Heritage Week has played an important role in fostering such an invaluable resource. During the Heritage Week of last year, nine countries participated in presenting their identities and heritage to the local community. This was a great opportunity for a firsthand encounter between these countries and the typical person-in-the-street. The Rozana received much positive feedback connected to these events. It was the first time that nine international flags were raised on top of the municipal building.


The Rozana’s mission is to network among these resources and others in order to realise its vision of a bustling historic centre in Birzeit, a centre that is linked with its neighbouring villages and the countryside in order to occupy a unique competitive position on the future tourism map of Palestine.

Hence, the Birzeit Heritage Week is not a stand-alone cultural event. All the music performances, the folklore presentations, the theatre plays, the children’s activities and games, the various galleries, the handcrafts and producer groups’ displays, and the many other activities are expected to increase income potential for the local rural community; encourage investment and diversity; promote the development of traditional artefacts; contribute to the sustainability of heritage and folklore activities; advance cultural exchange and networking; contribute to the expansion of tourism services in countryside; and encourage potential initiatives. This year’s Heritage Week will take place in the alleys, courtyards, streets, and attics of the historic centre of Birzeit between 13 and 19 July, from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight. Two or three music or dance performances as well as a theatre play and a movie show will take place every evening. Children will have a lot of activities to diffuse their energy and to instil their creativity. Artisans, producer groups, and international communities will exhibit their products and displays. There will also be plenty of food and drink. For more information about the event and the Association, visit our website at www.rozana.ps.  

Raed Saadeh is chairman of the Rozana Association and vice president of the Arab Hotel Association. Originally published in " this week in Palestine " issue No 123,July 2008 . 


My Mother-in-law and the Wedding Yeast

My Mother-in-law and the Wedding Yeast By Raed Saadeh and Raida Farhat Odeh
In a sudden suspension of time, everyone's eyes turned and focused in the direction of the stairs leading to the main entrance of Odeh's family house in the Ein Elhamam area in Birzeit. A huge crowd of people had gathered around the bride dressed in angelic white, and her beauty stole the hearts of everyone who laid eyes on her. Proudly standing beside her was her distinguished mother. With keen and careful steps, her mother moved slowly and gracefully up the stairs in her folkloric dress, carrying the thoughts and spirits of those who stepped up these stairs before her. The intricate stitches and traditional colours of red and green reflected the crowd's longing and heartfelt memories of their ancestral stories and legacies. The mother's head was covered with a long white veil that lay behind her in a spirited pose, arranged over her delicately piled and lightened hair. Numerous golden bracelets adorned each of her wrists, and a large golden necklace made of Ottoman coin draped her delicate neck.  The bride's mother-in-law also stood at her side. Her velvet dress and her high hairdo brought a shadow of authority and control to the entire scene. She persistently commanded the next step like an impatient stage director whose only concern was the final curtain call. The crowd's entire concentration followed the bride's movements in theatrical enthusiasm as she extended her hand to receive her ultimate test for her future happiness. Her mother-in-law pulled out a little package wrapped in a green grape leaf. The package contained the "Wedding Yeast," which is, essentially, flour dough that the bride is supposed to paste against the stone frame of the entrance to her home-to-be, just like glue, in order to hang the grape leaf on it. The green leaf represents optimism and the yeast is a symbol of the growing of the family. The bride cautiously grabbed the package and rearranged it with anxiety and apprehension. Indeed, this is a nerve-racking moment, particularly if the dough does not have the right texture to hold the leaf against the wall. The wide-eyed stares in the crowd's eyes reflected the symbolism of this moment: the belief that the bride will adhere to her home in the same way that the dough sticks to the stone frame of the entrance.  In Palestine generally, and specifically in the rural areas of which Birzeit is part, the dough is a symbol of blessing and virtue as historically this is the basic element of the peasants' food - the source of bread. Hence, the bride's entry to the house should bring blessing and virtue when she manages to paste the dough against the wall.  The "yeast custom" is the final stage of the wedding-day ceremonies before invited guests regroup for the wedding party and dinner. Earlier in the day, Birzeit streets became inebriated with the voices of the town's young men as they sang and danced their way carrying the groom on their shoulders, or hopping around him, waving their canes in tireless, yet skilful steps passed from one generation to the other, as they marched to receive the bride. In this custom, known as zaffeh, the groom is often escorted on a horse, reminiscent of the footsteps of the great grandfathers while the stones of the old buildings of Birzeit and its olive and fig trees attest to their legacies, songs, and laughs, as well as their concerns. As the zaffeh passed by the houses, people threw rice and sweets at the procession as a gesture of hope and good will for the anticipated union. Another traditional wedding custom is the henna ceremony. In the old days when the bride and groom were not allowed to see each other before the wedding day, the search and choice of the bride was the personal endeavour of the mother-in-law. The henna ceremony would precede the wedding day. It is when the bride's hands are dyed with henna to prevent her family from switching her with another girl. This ceremony is still practiced today with a lot of enthusiasm and zealous singing and dancing.  Popular and folkloric songs also distinguish a Birzeit wedding. These are often composed by local poets and they depict the psychological status and social traditions of the local community. They are the heritage that is inherited from the ancestors, but their lyrics reflect the status of the current setting. The folkloric songs connect the past with the present. They portray the Palestinian's link to the land, the love for his/her village and keenness to protect its heritage and culture. The local character, emotions, and concerns are depicted in the local dialect. The poems praise the men of the village and the lineage of its women. Although there are many common poems and songs among the different villages and towns, such as the infamous dal'ouna and zareef attoul, there are still many Birzeit-specific verses and themes. For every ceremony, there are several pictorial images embedded in the familiarity of the various songs and dances. A common instrument that accompanies the folkloric dance (dabka) is the nay, which is made from bamboo and requires a certain skill and a decent musical ear to produce the range of tones and sounds needed to dialogue with the moves of the men and women who eagerly join the dance arena. Many young and old men and women indulge themselves in a competitive frenzy to show off their skills, talents, and personal moves. Birzeit is one of the Palestinian villages where men and women dance side by side. The person who leads the line waves his or her scarf, arranges the order of the dance moves that others repeat, and entertains the dance space with agile and lively steps that encourage the other cousins and guests to follow suit. Village weddings, in particular, are about specific traditions. Customs that don't seem to have much meaning these days are still practiced because they preserve the identity of the local culture and strengthen its roots in the land and the progression of its community's historic presence. What seem to have prevailed, though, are the influence, authority, and power of the mother-in-law. Raed Saadeh is chairman of the Rozana Association, and Raida Farhat Odeh is executive director of the Rozana Association. Original Published in "this week in Palestine " Issue No 143, March 2010. 
Photo courtesy of Rozana Association.

Birzeit Heritage Week Development

 Birzeit Heritage Week- By Raed Saadeh 

Is an event organized by the Rozana Association, in cooperation and partnership with a number of other Birzeit organizations, in order to promote the preservation and development of the old town’s fabric of houses, attics, courtyards, and alleys. As one of the programmer implemented by Rozana, Birzeit Heritage Week is an integral part of its promotional strategy.

In the future, when the Rozana realizes its vision to develop the old town of Birzeit into a bustling centre of business and activity, this strategy will continue in order to guarantee the sustainability and success of all stakeholders. Connecting Birzeit with its neighboring villages, particularly those lying on the Jericho route through Taybeh Village, is another part of the jigsaw. This should ultimately put Birzeit on the heritage and rural tourism map of Palestine. In order to realize this vision, Rozana has identified several goals, in addition to that mentioned above. First, advocacy and lobbying efforts need to be exerted in order to legally protect the architectural heritage fabric that exists in Birzeit. Second, a preventive renovation programme will be implemented in order to preserve the exterior of old buildings. This is necessary if further investment is to take place. Finally public, private, or civic intervention may be initiated to instil life and activity in each building according to a pre-set urban master plan. The essence of this development is to maintain a wholesome approach throughout the various stages of the project to ensure its sustainability and the empowerment of its stakeholders. Based on the above, a group of people who represent families that own properties in the old town of Birzeit teamed together to establish the Rozana Association. Today, this original group makes up two-thirds of Rozana’s membership. In addition, the Birzeit Municipality is represented by the mayor and another council member. The reason behind this structure is to ensure transparency and networking during decision making and implementation.

The Event

Birzeit Heritage Week events will take place on July 26 and 27, 2007. This is expected to become an annual event and will include a variety of Palestinian and international exhibits and presentations such as traditional handcrafts, food, drink, and music. Guests will walk through the old town’s designated streets towards the backyard of the Catholic Church where folkloric dance and music performances will be held. Exhibits are expected to open from 5pm-10pm every night.


Partner organizations, many of which are Birzeit based, will provide services according to their core competencies. Local partner organizations include the Municipality, the Greek Orthodox Scouts, the Birzeit Club, the senior citizens’ club, the agricultural development youth, Roses Association, and Juhood Association. 

Heritage handcrafts and food production are an integral part of the heritage week and will include calligraphy, copper-designed products, wood carvings, embroidery, saj bread, hinnah, and more. Needless to say, the popular makers of falafel, bread, pastry, hariseh, etc., will take their rightful place among the other exhibitors. Local drinks, such as tamer hindi and almond juice, will be available. Local farmers will also be on hand to sell their wares. One of the more eye-catching participants will be the glass makers from Hebron. They will bring their ovens and sell or distribute their glass as they make it.  International participation will be coordinated with the Representative Offices. A number of countries will display their handcrafts, promotional materials of their cities, and other items that are representative of their cultures and traditions.  Art exhibitions will also be part of the festivities. The virtuoso Palestinian and the son of Birzeit artist, Suleiman Mansour, will be exhibiting some of his paintings during the event. Other art exhibitions, displaying the works or collections of promising Birzeit artists, will complement the continuity and growth of the artistic traditions of the town.  Mr. Mousa Alloush and Dr. Munir Nasser are two of the most prominent historians of the town of Birzeit. Their participation will offer an added value to all those who would like to listen to the stories of the origins of Birzeit and the legacies of its ancestors.  A backgammon competition is planned to allow local residents and others to experience the game that has become inherent to Palestinian culture.Maximum popular and organizational participation is crucial for the success of this event. It is intended to empower participants and stakeholders alike and is designed to lead the way for future development projects that will contribute to the survival and steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their economy. For more information about the event and the Association, write to raed@rozana.ps or call 054-569-6220.  

Raed Saadeh is chairman of the forming board of Rozana Association and president of the Arab Hotel Association.


Photos by Christine Alloush. Maps prepared by Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation.


Birzeit Heritage Week

A cultural forum where the past comes to life

By Mary Sayej, Technical director for Birzeit 7th Hertage Week

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time, to when your grandmother and grandfather lived? Walking down the alleys and tight streets of an old town, gives you a thrilling feeling of being connected with your past. Visions of the precedent livelihood of our mothers and fathers, the smell of sage burning around a hearth made to boil a pot of tea, flashbacks of stories you heard about cooperation during olive picking season, the taste of freshly baked Mana’esh and a simple life founded on sharing the laughs and sorrows! For the past six years, Al Rozana Association has opened this chance of communicating with the essence of the Palestinian heritage through the activities held during the Heritage Week at the houses, attics, courtyards, and alleys of the old town of Birzeit. Birzeit Heritage Week is not simply a cultural or heritage event, rather it is an experience to be lived. For 5 consecutive days and nights, the old town of Birzeit will become vibrant with life, lightened up with children voices as they run through the alleys, and heart opened for youth dances to the sounds of dal’ona, and dabkeh. Birzeit old town will stand in pride to shake hands with its guests and visitors coming from different Palestinian cities and abroad. It will rejoice to the chats of men and women longing to meet each other and to glorify its beauty and charms. Guests and visitors wait this countryside event from one year to another; there have been incidents where Palestinians in the Diaspora arranged their visits to Palestine during the time of the event, to be able to share this experience with their families and connect their children with their homeland. In fact, this year’s Birzeit Heritage Week is overlapping with the activities of the 12th National Convention for Birzeit Society in Diaspora to be conducted in Birzeit for the second time... a memorable family reunion to be. “My Country … My Heritage”…a vow that we kept for the past 6 years whereby we invited  other nations to share and to exchange with, seeking a ceremony of world cultures to promote coexistence, tolerance and humanity. This year, a Euro Mediterranean exhibition from Italy, Spain, Greece, Tunisia and Jordan will be another icon of Heritage week corners besides the International Hosh area.  The Souq booths will be filled again with women and artisans’ productions from surrounding rural areas extending from Sabastia in the north to Hebron in the South. Golan Heights cherries and apples will be carried fresh from the mountains despite checkpoints and Walls. The Souq theatre will flourish with Dabkeh dances of surrounding villages as well as with children plays and clowns’ activities. Birzeit heritage week Character “Amti Touteh” an old Birzeiti lady in traditional Thob will glow through all heritage week media productions and publications, as she will be entertaining our guests during the Palestinian traditional wedding Zaffa at the opening ceremony. Amti Touteh will also sponsor the 2nd year tradition of  Zahret Reef Competition “The Flower of the country side” where young girls representing countryside families and villages compete with their Palestinian dresses and knowledge of their heritage during the 2nd day of the heritage week. Birzeit 7th Heritage Week will take place between the 23rd and 27th of June, 2014; in cooperation and partnership with a number of Birzeit and other Palestinian community organizations, not forgetting our Palestinian communities inside 48, including Nazareth, Ramleh, Ara and Arara with their artistic groups and arts productions, all in commitment to rural development in Palestine. Birzeit Heritage Week, a building pillar of Al Rozana Association vision has tailored a well functioning Palestinian cultural festivity in the old town of Birzeit; aspiring to become a renowned model for other rural communities to follow for sustainable development based on available cultural and architectural heritage...a model that deserves nomination as the capital of Rural Palestine. On this land there is what deserves to be lived for, come and join us...your presence among us will fulfil our joy    
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