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Work and customs in Palestine

Feb 06,2018 - Last updated at Feb 06,2018

By sheer accident, I sat over lunch next to Mr Ghiath Sukhtian and his wife Nadia Abdulhadi-Sukhtian. As our conversation extended, I found out that this impressive lady is fluent not only in Arabic, but also in both English and German. Mrs Abdulhadi-Sukhtian informed me about a German Orientalist and scholar Gustaf Dalman (1855-1941) who dedicated his life to learning the Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew languages.

Dolman wrote a seven-volume book of 3,000 pages with pictures and illustrations from Palestine. The title of this social anthropological book is "Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina", or work and customs in Palestine; customs meaning tradition and not tariffs.

The first and second volumes, 300 pages each, tackle the “Course of the Year and the Course of the Day" in autumn and winter, and volume II deals with the same but in spring and summer.

It is truly amazing how much Dalman knew about the minute details of traditional songs, traditional food, processing and preserving fruits and vegetables, dances and songs in weddings and other festive occasions. He moves from one place to another and from one component of society to another.

I read the songs which he cited with a sense of awe and stupefaction. How could this lady have possibly managed to translate these songs from German to English and the songs would immediately be recognised in Arabic.

What motivated Abdulhadi-Sukhtian to take this mammoth task is her encounter with another great scholar named Kamel Al Asaly, a well-known historian and scholar. Since Nadia spoke German, she got the seven volumes and was smitten by them. She told me that this book preserved the Palestinian heritage for future generations. The author of the book rationalised his effort by leaving a detailed historical record for both students and teachers, researchers and scholars, but he wrote mainly for the Palestinians themselves and their posterity.

Nadia plans to accomplish the task of translating the seven volumes. She has already gone a long way on the third volume and will soon start with the fourth.

The benefits of writing such a book are manifold, yet, the biggest one is that it  proves that the Palestinians were well-settled for tens of generations before Palestine, historic Palestine, was occupied by the Israelis. The book reveals the size and diversity of the Palestinian heritage, which could not have been created by stealing falafel, hummos and embroidery and then calling it Jewish heritage. On the contrary, the Arab Palestinian culture was much richer and more fully developed. That was the Palestine of rich diversity and not a near mixture of many nationalities, where apartheid is practiced against non-Jews. 

The second point is to rebuff the Israeli falsehood spelled out one day by Golda Meir who said responding to a question: “Who are the Palestinians; there are no Palestinians.” Are we expected to believe that there are no Palestinians from a woman who was born in Ukraine and brought up in Milwaukee!

The state of denial which the Israeli consecutive governments and scholars have been demonstrating is clearly rebuffed by Dolman's work.

The translation from German to English helps preserve the Palestinian culture, customs and work for the future until the time comes when they have their own independent state.


Abdulhadi-Sukhtian deserves to be decorated and acknowledged with the proper “ambience” she truly deserves. Her zeal and persistence have produced a work which deserves respect and admiration.  

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