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29 April, 2011

Bethlehem University Library - A World of Stories

LibraryThe Bethlehem University library is very important not only to the university but also to the community, for the role it plays in education and enhancement of the community. Under the leadership of Ms. Mellie Brodeth – Library Director, the library not only keeps books, records, journals and research findings, it is the go-to place for a collection of Palestinian folk items including antique domestic tools, traditional clothing samples, and a special book collection which can inform research on several topics of relevance in Palestine and Palestinian heritage. The only such library in Bethlehem, it is slowly but surely adding to its collection in order to help the Bethlehem community enhance their lives through reading.

LibraryIn order to bring collections of books not always available in Bethlehem, this week, a book fair was held, which was organized and managed by the library staff and entitled “Opening Paths to Life Through Reading,” where different book dealers came to the campus to offer English and Arabic books on many topics. Selections included novels, instructional materials, and best of all, many novels and stories from Palestinian and Middle Eastern authors.

In addition to above mentioned services such as book services, periodical services, and English and Arabic services, is The Palestinian Heritage Center or Turathuna (“Our Culture”). Ms. Mary Van Teeffelen, the curator of this center, which was sponsored by the Irish government, oversees this little piece of Palestinian heritage. She hosts many visiting groups from local schools and foreign groups who would like to see Palestinian antiques which actually were used in Palestinian homes. From heavily embroidered dresses to huge clay olive oil tanks to bridal costumes, Ms. Van Teeffelen cherishes these practical and beautiful tools of the past which were donated from BU community members as well as members of the larger Bethlehem community such as Ms. Maha Sacca, well known for her work in cultural preservation and massive collections of Palestinian antiques. Ms. Van Teeffelen hopes that more antiques will be brought to the small museum for students and visitors to observe.

She is also a source of great stories, legends and history about Bethlehem and one can spend an enjoyable time sitting with her in the pristine museum, surrounded by the beauty of old books and kitchen items. She recently wrote a paper about Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world, in honor of its 10,000th anniversary, which can be viewed here. She also tells a legend of how a famous street in Bethlehem got its name. Called Ras Iftais which she calls “The Wasps.”

A long time ago one of the invaders of Palestine persecuted the locals and Christians; some of them were banished, some were killed and their churches were desecrated. The leader of the invaders ordered his men to enter the Church of Nativity, loot all its treasures, and destroy it. When his soldiers entered this holy site and tried to steal all precious things in it, a large numbers of wasps came out of five holes bore in one of the pillars of the church and ceaselessly stung the soldiers. They were forced to retreat from the church but the wasps continued to chase them until they reached a place called Qaws Al-Zararah where the soldiers were encircled and besieged. This narrow location was later called after the incident. Some of the soldiers escaped and the wasps ran after them until they reached another place called Ras Iftais. This road is still named after this place where the remnants of the army died because of the wasps.

The people of Bethlehem took the corpses of the soldiers and buried them in a distant part of the town called Al-Qarkafah. This is an Aramaic word which means the “cemetery of the dead” or “the skulls.” When the ruler heard of these miracles, he ordered his men to halt the attack, stop persecuting the Christians, leave their churches and allow them to come back to Bethlehem.

Visitors are welcome to the library and a knowledgeable staff await you to help you with your research needs. For more information on how you can visit or support the library, contact To reach Turathuna, write to Mary at


Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine