Issue No.
182, June 2013 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Jerusalem Arab Social Life, Traditions, and Everyday Pleasures in the 20th Century

By Subhi S. Ghosheh
Interlink Publishing, 2013, 224 pages, $20.00

Reviewed by Mahmoud Muna, Educational Bookshop

The book covers nearly everything you want to know about social practices that were developed at the time of the Canaanites and passed on through generations to shape everyday life in Arab Jerusalem today. The contents are divided into three parts and range in subject to include birth, marriage, and death, household structure and family, gender roles, food and games, and folk medicine, superstitions, and religious festivals.

What makes this volume fascinating and informative is the way the author links social habits, traditions, and common practices to the historical and religious context. There is a special added value as it explains how politics and modernity have changed and influenced social practices in the Palestinian community. In fact, the author admits that many old habits are now vanishing; life has become difficult and expensive, and poverty is widespread.

“In Jerusalem, newly pregnant women would develop a craving for an odd kind of food. If she craved a food that was out of season, she would be given a mixture of olive oil, sesame, and butter cooked with onion and garlic. However, the bride would sometimes claim to have a craving for a rare food to test (or perhaps to taste!) her groom’s love.” This is an example of how funny, strange, and yet insightful and exceptionally evocative the contents are.

The author has depicted a wide range of Jerusalem’s social norms, beliefs, and customs, many of them centuries old yet practiced even today. Dr. Ghosheh writes with the expertise of a native son. Born and raised in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah Quarter, just outside the walls, he himself has witnessed and participated in all its social customs and occasions.

If you read between the lines, however, you will see that the author intended to articulate the need not only to preserve those traditions but also to stick to them as a “national and religious duty,” for it is a spiritual means of defending our precarious existence. He also sees the traditions as a tool for diaspora Palestinians to retain their national culture as a shared link with the indigenous Palestinians, not least to affirm their identity and enrich their living memories.

It is important to note that the author also intended to include Jerusalem traditions without excluding or being prejudiced against certain groups or a particular religion; he describes the coexistence between the city’s Muslims, Christians, and Jews as a “remarkable” achievement for its people which has made the city both strong and joyful.

Dr. Ghosheh is a physician by profession, renowned as an expert on the history of Jerusalem, and a prolific writer on Palestinian culture. He is the chair of the Jerusalem Library in Amman, and a founding member of the Jerusalem Deportees Committee. He is also a member of the Palestinian National Council. Dr. Ghosheh was incarcerated by the Israeli occupation forces because of his activity in defending his native city and was subsequently deported to Jordan.

This book is a wonderful presentation of Palestinian life in a city that packs more culture and history than anywhere else in the world. It seeks to record, document, and analyse Jerusalem’s Arab customs, traditions, and everyday simple pleasures. It is a must-read for anyone interested in seriously engaging with and understanding the Palestinian traditions of Jerusalem.

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