Aida Kattan (2): The Palestinian Mukhtar
Contributed by Spirit Of Sumud Tourism Program on 28.08.2009:
Aida Kattan is a teacher from Beit Jala.
In the past the whole hara used to have a mukhtar [head of a neighborhood or village]. The mukhtar did everything what was necessary for the administration, as when there was a khotbeh, or a marriage, or when somebody died. When there was a quarrel about the land, people went to the mukhtar, and also when there were papers which had to be stamped. It was more work than nowadays, and demanded more responsibilities. The mukhtars received money for providing a stamp, maybe forty or fifty shekels, or even 200 in some cases.
During the 1967 war, the mukhtar had to stamp all the papers needed for traveling. They became rich from selling all those stamps. For a permit to travel to go to Amman it was necessary to give stamped papers to the court and the military. Maybe they took 200 shekel for each paper. Maybe they had to stamp on a Friday 20 or 30 papers. Imagine. There was no government or municipality, the mukhtar was more important than the municipality.
But now this is of course not anymore the case. Maybe now there are only two mukhtars working for the Christians. Their work is just the stamping of papers.
The hara [neighborhood, quarter] was larger than the courtyard. In every courtyard there was a mukhtar. When there was a story or a difficulty, people went to the mukhtar to ask for his opinion. He said what was right or wrong. For giving the stamps it was necessary that he could read and write better than others. He needed to have experience. When there was a quarrel between a man and a woman, they went to the mukhtar to solve it. People sometimes gave presents to him.
After the work, in the evening, the men, often old men, sat in the courtyard, six or seven or ten. If they were free they stayed the whole evening there. If they needed to go home, they went home. The courtyard was always open. There was no television, radio or newspaper. They went to the courtyard to hear the news from each other. They often went to the courtyard to solve problems, for instance about the land, the homes, the borders. There were only men. Maybe if there was a room adjacent to the courtyard, the women from the family or neighbors, could go there, but they did not go to the courtyard. Among the men all gave their opinions: “No, mukhtar, it is not like this, but like that, wait.” They discussed: Who is in the right, he or she? At one point they could say, “Come, somebody died, let’s go.” Then everybody in the courtyard went to the house of the dead. Or they went to ask for the hand of a girl on behalf of the groom’s family.
The courtyard was like a center. People did not have large rooms, for hosting ten or 20 people, except the courtyard. In the winter they went inside, and put on a stove, on which they cooked coffee. They always served, at the very least, coffee or tea. If there was an occasion, food was served, such as when there was somebody dying, a birth, wedding or a religious feast. They ate in the courtyard. During the preparation for a wedding of a bride or groom, the mukhtar, especially when he was a relative, became very important and responsible; he should be here and there, in the house, he should walk first in front, he should be the first to enter, he was the most respectable person. “Ohhh….”, the mukhtar said this or that, so people talked.
It depends of the size of the hamula how large the hara was. In Beit Jala the hamulaat were large, for instance, 40 or 50 families. There were also hamulaat with ten families. The hara Der in Beit Jala was very large. It stretched from the market through Bir Ona to ‘Akolaat, together maybe 40-50 families. The hara Sraar were twelve families. In Beit Jala were seven or eight hamulaat. In Bethlehem more, maybe fifteen, the town was larger. Usually there were from 10 up to 30 families around a courtyard making up a hamula. When there was something, a problem, a person who died or a wedding, then the whole hamula came together. The mukhtar decided but there was a lot of exchange and asking of opinions. The people went according to where he “walked.” The mukhtars came together – not as a custom but when there was a special reason; for instance when there was an issue to be solved between two hamulaat. The people used to greet the mukhtar on the street, he was very important. There were elections for the mukhtar, as when a mukhtar died. Then five or six people were brought and there were elections. It happened that the one who was second in place during the previous elections succeeded the mukhtar when he died. The people visited him and he visited the people.
Interviewer: Toine van Teeffelen