|Bethlehem||Beit Sahour||Beit Jala|
There are two towns in close proximity to Bethlehem: Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, each with a population of 14,000 inhabitants. Today, they seem like extensions of Bethlehem; no municipal boundaries divide them. The Shepherds' Field is located in Beit Sahour (the house of vigilance). Its name reportedly stems from the Canaanite words ”beet” meaning place, and ”Sahour” meaning night watch. The name reflects the town's importance for shepherds as a grazing site during day-time and the safety of the abundant caves offered to the flocks at night. It has a pastoral setting and the olive groves dominate the horizon. This town can be reached on foot from Bethlehem by way of the Milk Grotto street. Visitors can observe here the general slope of the land eastward, on the farthest decline of which lies the town, and how it finally terminates in a small plain in the midst of which lies the shepherds' field.
Beit Sahour has origins going back to the Bronze Age (3000 B.C.) The Canaanites inhabited its numerous caves. Traces of inhabitants were found in caves, going back to Roman times. The remnants of very ancient oil presses found under the foundations of the two monasteries, demonstrate beyond every doubt that the place was inhabited at the time when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Oral traditions still in circulation assert that many Christian families who came from Yemen and Wadi Musa in Jordan in the middle of the 14th century took shelter in Beit Sa-hour. In the sixteenth century, houses rose up the mountain slope between the shepherds' field and the Nativity hill. Then, it spread to the site of the present Municipal Market near ”Bir-Essyydah” the Well of Mary.
Today, Beit Sahour is a Christian town with a Muslim minority. It is a middle class place and a thriving town with many industries: plastics, olive wood, clothing and mother-of-pearl. The town center has narrow thoroughfares, with houses built of polished sandstone, parts of which date back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some of its roads are topped by rocky arches supported by the house walls, reflecting the charm of the architecture in those days. The buildings are rarely more than two or three stories high. Modern Beit Sahour has many beautiful villas and buildings with many stories.
Beit Sahour is the home of many fine churches. The Latin Patriarchate has a church with a very ornate altar, built in 1859. The church was erected by Father Jean Muretan. In 1951, it was completely transformed by Arch. A. Barluzzi and was consecrated and dedicated to our Lady of Fatima and St. Theresa of Lisieux. The fine portico of the church has three pointed arches; the upper part of the façade is crowned by a flight of slender little arches which also run along the side walls. The inside is divided into a nave and two aisles by two rows of four columns each. The very narrow pointed arches create the illusion that the inside is longer than it actually is. The main altar is especially worth mentioning. In spite of its size, it looks like an ivory miniature rather than carved stone. The frontal and the upper part of the altar are decorated with 15 panels representing various scenes from the Annunciation to the arrival of the Holy Family in Egypt. At the same level at the tabernacle, there are four little statues of the Evangelists; in the upper part, the 12 Apostles surround the image of Christ. Builders of this work were Palestinian artists from the town. Near the church there is a school run by the Rosary Sisters, as well as a large hall for the parish activities, and a club for the parish scouts.
Within the town, there is a Greek Orthodox church built in 1897. The Greek Orthodox represent the majority of the population. Before this church was built, the underground church in the Shepherds' field was used. Another church was built in 1972 near the site of the Shepherds' Field, and a new secondary school was built in 1990 adjacent to the church. The Arab Orthodox Club is the oldest club in the town; it was founded in 1924 and its scout group is the largest in town.
The Greek Catholic community represents 15% of the population. They have a church, a school and a small seminary run by the Salvatorian Fathers of Lebanon and the Salvatorian Sisters who arrived in 1958 to look after the seminary. The Lutherans have a church and a secondary school established since 1901. Adjacent to the school is the Center of Alternative Tourism. The Muslims have a mosque, built in 1954, and the Islamic Society runs a nursery, a cultural center and two clubs. In Beit Sahour there are three boy scout groups and different clubs for youth. One club is a Cultural Center for the Children, initiated in 1992 by a group of women to develop the child's cultural and intellectual abilities.
Among the most important institutions and centers in Beit Sahour are: The Fashion and Textile Institute, founded in 1994 as a leading institute in the field of training middle cadres for the garment industry. Training is offered in fashion design and pattern making. There is also a Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, founded in 1994, dedicated to conducting public opinion surveys. The center holds seminars and workshops on topics of interest to the public to enhance their awareness of human rights.
There is also a Center for Rapprochement Between Peoples. It brings Palestinians and people from different nationalities, on a grass-roots level. Together they discuss and try to overcome stereotypes, prejudice and fears in order to bring about a better understanding and readiness to advocate a just and peaceful solution of the Palestinian cause. The emphasis of the Center's work is on facilitating dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. It started its activities in 1988, under the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee in Jerusalem. The Alternative Tourism Group is another center which offers groups or individuals a unique opportunity to experience the Holy Land and the local Palestinian culture, away from the tourist crowds and waiting lines. It provides stream-lined itineraries created to meet the specific needs and preferences of the visiting group. A rehabilitation center for the victims of the Intifada (Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation) was established in 1989. The program focuses on counseling dimensions in rehabilitation to help the physically handicapped to cope with their new conditions, to adjust to their social environment, and to promote awareness among the people toward the needs and rights of the handicapped. The center consists of a counseling unit, and a vocational training unit including carpentry, upholstery, tailoring, computers, secretarial work and art.
The inhabitants of Beit Sahour were widely known during the Intifada in 1988, for their tax resistance movement against the Israeli occupation. When the tax disobedience started, the inhabitants raised the slogan No Taxation Without Representation; the same slogan the Boston Tea Party raised. The occupation authorities began an all-out campaign to crush the tax resistance with widespread raids, arrests, curfews and confiscation of commercial and private properties of the people of Beit Sahour. The curfew lasted forty-five days. In the last days a resolution was introduced in the United Nations Security Council calling upon Israel to stop the tax raids and to return all the confiscated goods, which were never returned.
Beit Jala, 2kms (1.24 mile) from Bethlehem, is an old Canaanite city whose name in Aramaic means ”grass carpet”. It is also known as Galem in the Greek version of Joshua (XV.60). However, it is believed by some authorities to be ”Giloh”, the native place of ”Ahitophel”, the counselor of King David. The town lies on the slope of a hill covered with olive trees and vineyards and is famous for the tasty apricots grown there. The town is reputed for its master stone-masons. Its sculptors have left their mark on many buildings and tombstones in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
There are many places of interest worth visiting in this Christian town. Beit Jala is the home of many churches, the most famous being the church of Mar Nichola (St. Nicholas) with its square tower and glittering dome, and the Church of the Virgin. Both belong to the Greek Orthodox denomination and are situated in the town center. The present Mar Nicola church was founded on the site of the old cave inhabited by St. Nicholas who came from Cappadocia in Asia Minor.
The Latin Patriarchate occupies a cluster near al-Manshia Square which includes the Parish Church, a secondary school run by the Rosary Sisters, a seminary and the Theological Studies Institute, a branch of the Lateran University in Rome. The Patriarchal seminary was founded in 1848. The present monastery was built in 1930. Enlarged considerably during the past 20 years, it now has a Junior and Senior Seminary. From 1848 till 1997 the Seminary prepared 250 priests, 85 of them work today in the local parishes. The preparation of candidates to priesthood in the Senior Seminary needs seven years of studies in philosophy and theology.
On the hill higher up on the Virgin St., there is a Lutheran church and a school, a mosque and the Arab Orthodox Club. Passing through town along ash-Sharafa Street to the top of the hill, there is a road to the right which leads to Cremisan where the Salesian Fathers have a theological seminary. The Monastery of Cremisan is renowned for the wine produced by its Salesian monks who run a farm. Nearby, the Salesian Sisters opened in 1859 their Noviciate for the Near East. At the top of the hill (ar-Ras), a diverged road on the right leads to the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation and to the Everest resort center. The view from the top of the hill is spectacular, with the greater part of Jerusalem visible. On the left, the road leads to Talitha Kumi Secondary School. The road from here leads to the Arab Muslim village of al-Khader (St. George). Due to the encroaching expansion of the Jewish suburb of Gilo, Beit Jala now borders Jerusalem. On the southern side is the small 'Ayda refugee camp and Rachel's Tomb. Beit Jala has a perennial well, Bir 'Ona, and the people have a tradition that Mary rested there on her way from Bethlehem to 'Ain Karem.
The town has many schools and institutions, among the most important is The Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, founded in 1960 as a home for the handicapped. Today a wide spectrum of services is given including intensive and comprehensive rehabilitation services for people with handicaps, through either its centralized community based day care centers or its out-reach programs.
In 1882, the Salesian Father Belloni, after founding the orphanage in Bethlehem in 1863, founded the Cremisan Convent to be the noviciate for the brothers and priests of the Holy Family. Since the beginning, Fr. Belloni intended to build a wine cellar in Cremisan as a source of income for the maintenance of the foundation. The wine cellar was started in 1885.
In 1977, modern equipment was added and the winery produces the famous Cremisan wine. Not far from the Convent, on the same road, there is a Vocational School and a Youth Center run by the Salisian Sisters.
Talitha Kumi Secondary School is a German institution with a boarding section for girls and a guest house for pilgrims. The school recently established a tourism program. There is also a Christian Cultural Center Beit al-Liqa' and the Cultural Center of ”Iskandar Khuri”.
From 1940 until the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, Beit Jala was a beautiful summer resort frequented by tourists because of its good weather, attractive scenery, and its location on top of a mountain overlooking Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other places. In the town there are several hotels where vacationers used to spend the hot summer months. The Everest resort lies on the top of Beit Jala's mountain (930m.) with a panoramic view of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The resort provides entertainment facilities for children. The frequent use of Spanish among the inhabitants reveals the fact that large numbers have had connections with Latin America. Many migrate to South America from here.
A short distance out of Bethlehem is the new town of ad-Doha. It is located to the south west of Bethlehem in the western part of the Bethlehem Governorate. It is 1.5kms from the city center It is 760 meters above sea level. The built up area is 7000 dunums. The population is 3395 people There is a mixed primary school with 7 classes, 260 students and 8 teachers.
A short distance out of Beit Jala is the town of al-Khader, a little town of 5,000 inhabitants. It is surrounded by vineyards, fig and olive trees. It can be reached via Beit Jala or the Bethlehem-Hebron Road. The entrance to the village is marked by a distinctive stone gate. Inside the village, there is the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. George (Mar Giries or al-Khader), a popular site of pilgrimage where the sick and insane are often brought to be cured by the so-called Chains of St. George. The first church in the monastery was established in 1600 A.D. on the site where St. George is believed to have lived a part of his life. The present church was built in 1912 along with the convent and a mental hospital. The latter is not in use anymore but the monastery is still the source of a very rich store of religious folklore.
The Church is visited by many local people, especially on the Saint's day, May 5th. People present their votive offerings, such as candles, oil and sanctified loaves. During Turkish times, the rooms beside the Convent were used to house the mentally disturbed, and some believed that al-Khader would heal them. Thus al-Khader or St. George is one of the saints who is attributed with healing patients when their relatives appealed to him in piety to cure their loved ones. Al-Khader is also attributed with protection; hence, a sculpture of St. George killing the dragon decorates the façade of many Christian houses and a few Muslim ones in the district.
To the south-west of Herodium's Palace, about 3kms (1.8 miles) south-west of the grotto of St. Chariton, and through an arid plain, lies Tequ'a, a Canaanite village. It is marked in the Madaba map, and is known through Crusaders' sources. This town, like Bethlehem, was an outpost towards the desert. Above all, it is distinguished as having been the birthplace of the prophet Amos, who, according to a tradition, is likewise buried here. Tequ'a used to be populously inhabited, and reportedly is the original home of numerous Bethlehemite families. Today, Tuqu'a is an Arab Muslim village, inhabited by 6,000 people. At present there are several artesian wells and pumps which pump water to all parts of the Bethlehem district, to Jerusalem and to other places. The town has the remains of several buildings, a church, water channels and column fragments. Its ruins are strewn far and wide over the broad top of one of the highest hills in the area. The view from it is magnificent. It is such a panorama as, once seen, can never be forgotten. On the west, the whole sweep of the range from Mizpeh to Hebron is visible. To the east lie the wilderness and the Dead Sea. Beyond the Sea and the Jordan is the unbroken chain of Moab and Gilead. To the north is Bethlehem. Below it, there is the wild ravine of Khureitun, in the bottom of which, at a distance of 3 km, is the Cave of Adullam. The cave has been regarded, by a monastic tradition reaching back to the time of the Crusaders, as the Adullam in which David took refuge after his romantic adventure at Gath (Sam.xxii.1). To the southeast of Tequ'a there are many ancient sites, especially the ruins of the New Laura, founded in 508 by St. Sabas for rebel monks. The village has the remains of several buildings, a church, water channels and column fragments .
Not far from Teqo'a is Wadi Khureitun. It was named after St. Chariton (St. Khureitun) who lived in the fourth century. Wadi Khureitun is located approximately two kilometers south-east of Herodium Fortress. Its fame goes back to prehistoric times when early humans occupied the caves. St. Chariton Monastery was built in the fourth century and remained unoccupied until the twelfth century except for short periods of time. The Hanging Cave of St. Chariton: After the construction of the Monastery, St. Chariton used a hanging cave as his own cell. It was near the large Chariton monastery, at the top of a cliff, accessible only by a ladder, and near a spring.There is also near Tuqu' is Rujm an-Naqa the remains of two Roman camps on the border of the eastern hills, three kilometers south of Teqoa'. The camps' walls have been preserved in some places to a height of a meter .
It is 14 kms to the south west of Bethlehem. It is reached by a local road connecting it with the main Bethlehem-Hebron road, the length of which is 2.7 kms. It is 940 meters above sea level. The built up area is 793.3 dunums. It is bordered from the West by Beit Ummar and Hebron Governorate, to the south by as-Shuyukh and Sa'ir, to the north by Bethlehem and Beit Sahour and to the east by Tuqua'.
The population is about 5165 people . There are five government schools, three of which are elementary and the other two secondary having 61 classes, 2340 students and 73 teachers. There is also one kindergarten. Biet Fajjar is a modern town. Its inhabitants depend on stone cutting whereby there are 52 stone cutting saws in it. A large number of its inhabitants are emigrants. Its streets are paved and connected to the Israeli electricity network.
The Mayor of Janatah is Sa'id Salameh.
It lies about 9 kms to the north east of Bethlehem , 560 meters above sea level. The built up area is 869 dunums. Population gatherings are scattered which require the opening of local branch roads. Its inhabitats are around 6500 people, however it lacks the minimum level of public services specially health. There is a primary school in the town with 15 classes and 570 students. There are also two secondary schools for males and females, both have 37 classes and 1250 students and 44 teachers. There is one kindergarten. Ubaydieh became a municipality in 1997.
It lies at 7kms. south-east Bethlehem, 660 m above sea level. The built up area in the town is 1309 dunums and the population is 3500 people. It has one elementary school with 8 classes and 25o students. The are two secondary schools with 42 classes, 450 students and 41 teachers.