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Family History Based Tourism: Case in Point: Artas Folklore Center, the Twelfth Annual Lettuce Festival, April 7, 8 and 9, 2006, and

Contributed by Yusef Daher on 02.03.2006:

The village of Artas, near the Solomon’s pools just south of Bethlehem ,enjoys a particularly rich and varied tangible and intangible heritage, which has been studied by local and foreign scholars almost continuously for over one and a half centuries–thus earning it the distinction of the most studied village in Palestine, and providing it with much documentation on all aspects. Its unique ecosystem makes its lush valley an area of stunning natural beauty. Traces of successive civilizations have been found at this important crossroads, many books have been written about it, and legends abound. However, few people–even those studying or working in the area of tourism–seem to know much about this rich heritage. Standing at the fort or pools, they may talk about dates or measurements. But how much more fascinating when one learns the folklore which goes along with it, such as the oral traditions about King Solomon and other figures from the monotheistic religions, the jinn who built the pools and now inhabit the many caves and springs. How much more intriguing for the visitor to know that the ancestors of his Artas guide and everyone in the village have a corner in the fort named after his family, to which it repaired during the seven massacres in the village. How much richer is the experience of the visitor when one of the village men describes his memories growing up in one of its old houses or his life as a farmer, or a woman recalls her memories of some in the remarkable series of legendary foreign women who lived in the village. The Artas Folklore Center provides the visitor not with a packaged “product” but with a personal encounter with the village of the people. A veteran institution, the Artas Folklore Center enjoys the distinction of being the first heritage center in the area licensed by the Palestinian Authority. However this formal recognition in 1993 does not reflect the twenty years of hard work that preceded it in the era when such heritage centers were banned by the authorities. The Artas Folklore Center has done much to preserve and promote this rich heritage, including, staging international festivals–one of which drew people from Turkey to Tunisia and a crowd of over 30,000 spectators. However it is better known for its annual lettuce festival honoring the Palestinian peasant. This year, there will be an unusual attraction. Berlin-based James Prineas, founder of is flying out for the festival at which the promise of for rural cultural centers such as that of Artas will be exhibited. Read on for more.

Since its debut in 1994, the Artas Lettuce Festival, which honors the eternal Palestinian peasant, is an eagerly-anticipated event on the yearly Palestinian calendar. It gives Palestinians the opportunity to reconnect with the land of their forefathers, their rich Palestinian heritage and traditions, and each other. It gives them a moment to ponder their shared identity. The land, traditions, and identity are increasingly at risk in the face of increasing physical and psychological fragmentation. Even the eternity of the peasant is in question. Thus, the importance of this festival is of much greater significance than allowing Palestinians a much-needed chance to breathe and escape if only briefly from their harsh daily reality. Holding such a festival in such difficult times shows the resilience of the Palestinian people and their determination to hang on to their identity.

The special beauty of this village on the edge of the desert, made lush by the Solomon’s Pools and its many springs, has been appreciated at least since the days of the biblical King Solomon for whom the pool is named. A crossroad of civilizations, traces are found from the Iron Age, biblical, Roman, Crusader Ayyubid, Turkish and Mandate times. A long succession of foreign and Palestinian scholars—many of them women—have made Artas the most studied village of Palestine, and left behind a rich body of knowledge about almost every aspect of the village and its surroundings. There is much food for thought in Artas for those who favor the “clash of civilizations” theory—including the 105 year presence of the beautiful convent of the Enclosed Garden in this entirely Muslim village.

Thanks to the efforts of the founder of the Artas Folklore Center, Musa Sanad, the village of Artas was once much-frequented and its delights well-known among Palestinians and foreigners alike. Although the Aqsa Intifada adversely affected the work of the center, projects did continue, some of which were said to be in the hand of the founder, when he passed away in January 2005. Since then the Artas Folklore Center has been busy taking stock of the situation and planning for the future. Although the Lettuce Festival was held last year, it was on a much smaller scale than usual and only attended by people in the immediate area. Now the vision for the future is clear and it is ready to restart projects. Thus, this year, holding the festival is more important than ever—not only as a symbol but as a chance to familiarize the new generation of Palestinians and foreign community with the delights of the village.

In addition to the usual folklore, hiking, and handicrafts exhibits, there is an exciting development to be showcased at the Lettuce Festival involving a promising, innovative high-tech solution which just might help jumpstart the work of Artas after the death of its founder—and offer hope to other heritage centers as well as the Palestinian people as a whole. The unexpected source is a cutting-edge newly inaugurated website called ( )whose founder, James Prineas, is coming for the Festival at his own expense. One obvious application for Artas is the placement on the site of the family genealogies that Granqvist collected, some of the rich body of knowledge and lore and photographs, and the opportunities for recreation and tourism. This fills an immediate need of the Artas Folklore Center—a professional website—which it does not have the immediate resources to create at the moment.(To compare the impression made by Palestine-family net and that made by the primitive, time-consuming and unprofessional site the center was in the process of making, have a look at By placing material in the appropriate categories of, Artas Folklore Center will make it easy for people to discover the charms of the village. In addition, by committing itself to making a certain level of entries, the Artas Folklore Center (and other institutions) may earn its own subsite, or special linked sight —and have a website which gathers in one spot its rich body of knowledge and the attractions of the village. Thus this small village could be in the vanguard in several areas at once:

• building up interest in the area of Palestinian Genealogy and Family History among local Palestinians (to understand the breakthrough this in itself represents see: Paradox, Perversity and Promise: A Journey into Palestinian Genealogy in the February 2006 issue of This Week in Palestine

• Showcasing the potential of Internet Technology in preserving the Palestinian family history, heritage and identity—which is under increasing threat of fragmentation and even dissolution.

• Demonstrating a simple, cheap organizing principal for rural Palestinian Cultural Heritage Centers—which can at once preserve the village heritage and attract such visitors that can reach the center—such as the large resident community of foreign NGO personnel and their spouses, and Palestinians in the surrounding areas. Several buildings are now being restored in neighboring towns and villages by the Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation. This project would at once offer an immediate activity for those centers once they are built, help them build up real and virtual collections for their centers, and serve the basis of community building and cultural heritage awareness campaigns.

• Helping overcome fragmentation and difficulties in reaching the center by allowing those who cannot physically come, whether in Palestine or abroad, to access information about the Center and the scholarly works about the village.

• Demonstrating how can be incorporated into educational or tourism games and activities for use in schools, cultural centers or tourist outlets.

In addition to this added attraction, the presence of two events in the area coinciding with the festival, increase the chance that it will be well attended by Palestinians and foreigners:

Although is in its initial stages, you can get an idea of what it will look like when it is fully developed, at, made by the Australian James for fellow descendents of the Greek Island of Kythera. Two years after its founding, it has over 8500 entries. The mother site has received many accolades, which you can read about in the “Written About Us” section (under Culture.) One which is especially pertinent in the current context is found in an article which appeared in Odyssey Magazine entitled, “Where Ancient History Meets New Technology.”

The special feature of the or “culturesafe” system, open to communities around the globe, is that there is no webmaster in the traditional sense of the term. It is the users, whether individuals or institutions, who determine the content. After taking the minute or two needed to create a user ID and password, the user can contribute family trees, documents, photos, articles songs, stories, poems, recipes, artwork—just about anything you can think of which would interest people interested in Palestinian heritage, Palestinian or otherwise.

Of particular interest to those in the Palestinian tourist industry is the section called Community Services, which in addition to “associations” and “links” includes a “where to stay,” “where to eat”” and “sightseeing” section. Captioned photos with plenty of room for description, which can amount to a photo essay or even mini-article are also worthy of note, and can also serve as a resource for writers about tourism, provided they quote the source and the person submitting the material they use. To take one example, do a search (upper right corner) for “St. Gerasimus” and see the amount of information you can gather about this Monastery near Jericho, which I submitted, based on my photographs and my notes on a trip I took to the Dead Sea with my women’s group last Spring.. The beauty of is that the submitter can keep editing and adding. For now, I put the information I had ready to hand, but later on, I could expand or add more details. When I get a chance, I will add the photos and information I have about other places I visited the same day: the Baptismal site on the Jordan only opened once or twice a year, Nebi Musa-a Muslim site, and Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls are found—(which brings us back to Bethlehem to a man from the Syriac quarter who was involved with the discovery of these scrolls—and to AEI’s Genealogy, Family History and Heritage page) By the time I am through, I will have an article or photo essay about attractions surrounding Jericho….

So take the time to explore both and , as well as the Bethlehem Genealogy, Family History and Heritage Page to gain an appreciation for the great potential of family history for tourism as well as other applications. Be sure to check “Artas” and “Mazra’a al Qibliyeh” featured last month. And come back often, as the site has only just begun. Daher Travel Ltd, ( is first on the scene, both in terms of traditional travel agencies seeing the potential of Artas and It has added several Artas itineraries to its Cultural Tours—and now is linking to The Arab Hotel Association, too, has added its list of hotels to the site.

Learn More about Artas and Palestine Family Net

To find out more about what has attracted locals and foreigners to the village of Artas since pre-historic times, type “Artas” in the search box on the upper right of homepage of Be sure to read “Of Memory and Magic, Missionaries and Museums” and

“Musa Sanad, 1949-2005: The Death of a Modern Day Palestinian Folk Hero”

For more articles by Leyla Zuaiter, see

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