Don't miss this family institution when you visit Bethlehem

by Mac Lacy 23. June 2010 07:46

Elias Salameh Afteem is carrying on a very proud family tradition at Restaurant Afteem in Bethlehem.  He greets you in a bustling lunchtime crowd just off the market in this iconic pilgrimage city in Palestine.  I noticed him immediately when our group came in the door.  For all I knew he was just a server, but his eyes were friendly and full of life. As I soon learned, he is a young, engaging businessperson who loves to tell the story of his family's success here. 

"My grandfather came here in 1948 when the war started.  He thought he would be here ten days.  Ten days.  Now it's been 60 years.  We still have the key to our house in Jaffa Tel Aviv.  He always expected to return. 

"He knew Palestinian food and he opened a restaurant here in Bethlehem.  My father worked here and now I work here.  Today, we own this building.  We restored it ourselves in one month.  We moved here in 2000 and rented for three years and then bought it.  There are 65 family members who work here in all."

Lots of pita bread and dishes appeared as we sat down, as did pitchers of a beverage popular here that is basically made with fresh squeezed lemons and crushed mint.  I couldn't get enough of it on this very hot day in Bethlehem.

"Our food is for rich people and poor people.  Do you know Sarkozy, the French president?  He was here.  The princess of
Quatar ate here.  We serve falafel, hummus, masabacha, fava beans, fatteh.  The same food at dinner as we have here at lunch."

His eyes brighten as he tells me they were selected for an entry as "our choice" by the guidebook Lonely Planet. " Do you know Lonely Planet?" he asks.  I assure him I do.

I came back in as our group was leaving to get a shot of Elias.  He was sitting with an elderly gentleman just inside the door.  As I approached he rose and said, "this is my father!"  The older man smiled and shook my hand.  The pleasure of meeting this family was all mine.


A lamp against the window in Church of the Nativity

Food vendor in Bethlehem Market

Vendor's goods in Bethlehem Market

Our guide makes a point to our group in Hebron at the Ibrahimi Mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs


Elias Salameh Afteem with his father at Restaurant Afteem in Bethlehem

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Traveling Through Palestine

Oh little town of Bethlehem

by Eliza Myers 23. November 2009 01:47

I stepped inside the location of the real Nativity scene at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Byzantine church that has survived so many centuries of war and strife still stands with an ancient feel, since the Greek Orthodox Church upkeeps it without extensive renovations. Without the restorations, everything you see is original from either the Byzantine period or the Crusader period. Though the wall frescos were faded, I knew I saw the same paint from the Crusader’s time and nothing else. Hanging lamps from the Orthodox influence of the church hung everywhere, supplemented by light beams shining across the church like light from the star of Bethlehem.


Underneath the altar, I walked into the Grotto, which is the cave believed to be where Jesus was born. “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” sung by a church group in Latin from inside the Grotto set the Christmas mood for the tiny cavern once used as a barn and now decorated in remembrance of Jesus’ birth. For a little while I just stood looking at the star marking the traditional spot of the Nativity while listening to calming religious songs.


Although it is completely heartbreaking to see the wall built around Bethlehem because it is in Palestinian territory, my trip made me realize hope still remained for the city’s future. The friendly and sweet people I met in the churches, market and traditional Arab restaurant made the town one of the highlights of the trip. My Palestinian guide, Maher Desouki, said the fact that the Christians and Muslims have been living together happily for so many years by going to shared schools and businesses proves the power of peace. The town mentioned in so many Christmas carols should definitley be included on any pilgrimage to Israel.

Church of the Nativity 

 Grotto of the Nativity

Traditional Palestinian meal

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Touring the Holy Land

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