First of all, make sure you refer to Al-Bireh as a city, not as a town or a village despite its colloquial rural patois. Birawees are touchy about that. They've got an immense load of pride which gives off the impression that they're full of themselves, which is absolutely true. And before we go on, we must give off the disclaimer that the rest of this post will be full of stereotypes and generalizations to further enrich that Orientalist mind and make the enlightened liberal one shake its head sanctimoniously.
One thing that is quite obvious from the start is that Birawees are a bunch of stuck-up racists. We're both half-Birawees, and our non-Birawee mother and father have always been referred to as ghareeba/ghareeb i.e. strangers. The offspring are then looked at in a condescending manner. Those poor urchins...suffering from the demise of being a half-blood. Jesus Christ we're reminded of Harry Potter, Mudbloods, Purebloods, and Half-bloods. Every year Muntaza Al-Bireh, a public park with a huge fountain in the middle and a building with wedding halls in it host a dinner for all of the Birawee graduates of high school. We weren't invited. We didn't lose any sleep over it of course. That's just their screwball mentality. The women wail when their daughter gets married to someone outside Al-Bireh, and say "gharrabna bintna!" which means we have foreignified (or alienated, to use proper English) our daughter.
Long ago, the Birawees were known for being rich mother-heifers because they owned so much land. This lead to some back-stabbing, double-dealing, and subterfuge as the males in the family swindled the inheritance papers so that their six sisters (and if the male was a real asshole, his four brothers also) wouldn't get a share. The father would die, thinking that even in death his words will be final, not suspecting the craftiness of his youngest son or his good for nothing firstborn who change the will barely after the earth settled on the father's grave. Of course, this birthed very strained family ties and relationships for the future generations, who know no God when it comes to land and money. Til this day, there are grandchildren who do not know their second or third cousins because their grandfathers were at each other's throats over this issue. Nevertheless, it has not lessened the supercilious attitude. That's because the next generation immigrated to the United States, made their money in grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations, various 7/11's, etc. So they were still filthy rich. Some dragged their families years later back to Al-Bireh, where their children would moan about how boring the "blad" is and how the Palestinians living here are such boaters. The money earned would be showing its class in monstrous architecture that pass for villas. The men who worked for 35 years behind the cashier would die in the States from diabetes, lung cancer, high blood pressure, kidney failure, osteoporosis, rheumatism all rolled up into one package. The smarter ones sell their stores after 30 years and come back to their hometown to open up a pizzeria or some other quaint project, and spend the rest of their lives holed up in the dirty coffee shops right next to the Omari mosque.
The sons of these old men marry American women, have a kid, and then get a divorce. They go back to Al-Bireh to marry a proper Muslim bint il-balad, then return to the States and have five more kids. The kid from the American woman is discarded somewhere. When the five children reach their teens, the parents move the daughters back to Al-Bireh in order for them to remain chaste virgins and not the hoochie mama sluts who dress in short shorts and tank tops, have boyfriends and go to school with. The sons remain in America, finish high school and start working at the respective grocery store/liquor store/gas station etc. They make a little money, grow even more thick-headed, and believe that they are God's gift to everything. They wear jerseys and jeans that can fit a whale, have about five custom made Nike shoes, and shop at Rocawear. "Education, who needs university when I'm making money already. No Ma, I don't want to get married. I tried banging the local stripper and all I got out of it was two freakin kids." They do end up getting married, well into their thirties, and they will not settle for a bride unless she's a 17 year old virgin that lived all her life in Al-Bireh, and who gets sold off by her father because his future son-in-law has US citizenship which automatically means moolah. Those who immigrated to America and breed generations there come back with the same damn mentality of everything is haram and everything is 3eib.
The daughters who are "lucky" enough to be trusted by their parents not to turn into hoochie mama sluts and so continue living unabated in the US come every summer to Al-Bireh, pretending that they hate the chaotic backward lifestyle but secretly kill themselves over finding a husband. These girls take the Ramallah perverts too seriously, curse the taxi drivers because he can't understand their chopped up Arabic, and think that if they wear a knee length skirt they will be branded as Americanized Britney Sbears and so consider it a sacrifice on their part to dress in longer sleeves and not wear capris. They are also the same ones who dress to the nines at every single wedding in the summer, even the ones that they're not invited to, all in the hopes of finding a suitable husband, one that comes from the same mold as they do. The girls are essentially all clones of each other. Sometimes you see them walking in large packs either late afternoon or at night, their Snooki poofs visible from a mile away, their straightened hair lying dead on their shoulders, dressed in the same skinny jeans (Seven if you please) and that inevitable purse swinging from their arms. These girls have devalued what a Coach bag is. The savvier ones are moving on to Michael Kors and Louis Vuitton, but the Coach bag is a staple of the masses' wardrobe. Despite coming here every summer they still don't have the wits to figure out that speaking English (especially their lightning speed nasalized tone) in public will cause store owners to triple their prices and get chased by a greasy haired bunch.
It's a whole Little America in Al-Bireh during summertime. The streets are suddenly flocked with jersey-wearing Amrikan with their sagging jeans and silver chains bouncing off their chests, and the weddings are full of pencil skirt wearing girls who size each other up based on whose got the biggest flash factor.
Now let's get in the clan divisions. I believe there are five in total: Karakra, Tawil, Hamayel, Quran, and Abed. Even within Al-Bireh the stereotypes attached to each clan are well known and well made fun of.
Karakra: Not much is known about this small clan other than that they are an arrogant bunch. The joke is that they put on airs when they number a total of 14 members as everyone else is in the US or dead.
Tawil: This clan is known for its superior, haughty vainglorious nature. It is so true. They point their chins forward, flare their nostrils, and look down their noses at everything and everyone. They can only have nothing but the best. The best houses, the best cars, the designer clothes, the best looking wives and daughters, etc. They make others want to smack the shit out of them.
Hamayel: In Arabic we say "Hamayel are habayel" i.e. Hamayel are stupid. The mean people go a step further and say "Hamayel are hamayel". The "h" in the first word pronounced like the numeric transliteration of "7", as in Hmar/7mar (donkey.) The second "h" is is regular English sounding H. The second word means degenerates, lowlifes, ruffians, etc. Rumors (and overwhelming evidence) has it that some families are into the drug trade. We are so gonna get quartered for this post.
Quran: This clan is one of the largest. It is huge. They are known for being hilariously cheapskates. Like, really cheap. They give the most extravagant weddings, the only time where they will actually spend money, but they sleep on cardboard because they don't want to invest in mattresses, never mind beds. The girls with braces get married early so that their husbands will pay the orthodontist bills. The women have a whole closet full of gold jewelry but whatever happens they will never ever ever sell their stash, even if their nephew back in Louisiana faces up to 5 years in prison if he's unable to pay the 5000 dollar bail.
Abed: Another large clan. Dar Abed are known for being essentially astoundingly stupid. They're, quite simply, airheads. They love the color red, like their Arabic coffee too sweet, and can't mentally add up beyond the number ten. When it comes to another round of "Whose the Best" they are always at loggerheads with Dar Quran, as Dar Tawil are sooo above those trivial matters, Dar Hamayel are busy getting caught with crack stashed behind the embroidered pillows, and Dar Karakra are too busy weeping over their infinitesimal lot.
The Birawee women are a peculiar bunch. They know exactly who your parents are from the first look, even if you've never ever met each other before. One time I was walking home from somewhere. The sun had just set, my crap music was blaring through my headphones, and the lovely breeze put me in a good mood. A bunch of old women were walking slowly in front of me. I passed by them, made the mistake of mumbling good evening-damn my good upbringing-, and a conversation started.
"Inti bint meen? Whose daughter are you?"
"Uh..my grandma is-" I hate that question. It goes without saying that they automatically assume you're from Al-Bireh. It makes me spill out my whole life story, and my parents' too. It's unheard of that a young woman from Al-Bireh would marry a young man from Gaza (a refugee no less).
"Ahhh, I knew you were Manal's daughter! Look, its the blood my dear. It's in your face."
"I'm..I'm kinda in a rush now.."
"We know your aunts too! Didn't they all get married into Dar Tawil? Of course they did! Good for them."
These women find brides for their sons by flicking through high school yearbooks. They start from the seniors' page, then go down to the sophomores'. Their sons can be the most idiotic shithead in the world, with no degree to his name who lives off his parents' money, but the girl must be an angel. She must be young so she can be raised up by her husband and his family. She must be well brought up. She must be docile, doe-eyed, and pure. She must be tall and slender. She must be white with fair hair and blue eyes. The guy can work in a bar, have a few girlfriends back in America, and maybe a kid or two that no one is supposed to find out about. He can drink, he can be abusive, he can do whatever the hell he wants but the girl must fit the upper criterion. A perfect match.
The white skin..dear oh dear. A bride was found for a cousin. She was perfect, had all of the excellent qualities, was educated, demure, religious, had American citizenship. But she was...samra. Too dark for their taste. And by dark I mean cafe au lait dark. Sorry, fsh naseeb!
Weddings are simply an occasion to show off the most expensive embroidered thobe and the heavy weight of gold around their necks, heads, and wrists. When we were younger, we enjoyed going just for the dabke and dancing. Then we quickly found out that we were simply prey for the old wizened vultures. One time when I was 15, a veiny hand shot out and snaked itself around my waist, pulling me from my friends and the dance floor.
"Inti bint meen habibti?"
That time I had figured out the magic word. I felt so smart. I played on their racism.
I shouted, "My dad's from GAZA!"
The veiny hand shot back. "Gaza?!?" She gave me the most disgusted putrefying look.
I was still young enough to feel insulted so I muttered "bitch", a big word for my innocent soul, and went back out on the dance floor.
Heba's had her own share of matchmakers knocking on her house. She's the baby of the family, with three older sisters who at that time were unmarried. The matchmaker wasn't having any of it, reiterating that 16 was a perfect age. The matchmaker finally left, feeling thoroughly insulted.
It gets worse when they find out you have American citizenship, which they call "ceetizen". They will literally HOUND you. Back when I had a heart I actually burst into tears because this woman and her crone of a friend were so fucking relentless. Never mind I was still in high school and had my own plans for the future. What the hell was I waiting for? He's a really good guy, he has his own grocery store here next to Masjid Ali and wants a ceetizen wife. No, of course he's not gonna dump your ass after he gets ceetizen. And if he does, well that's your fault since during the green card months you ran out of ways to entertain him.
What's your father's name?
Please fuck off.
What's his name? Your family's name? Come on.
Ignoring you right now.
Look, write it down, don't be shy now.
[My eyes blur.]
You-you're her friend right? Write down her father's name.
Despite all of this, despite this mountain load of shit, we are privy enough to know that other cities and villages and towns hold the same stereotypical view. The Birawees are loaded, their mother in laws are complete busybody hyenas, the women are known for their sharp tongue and forceful attitudes (she's a kawiya!) and the men are a spiritless lot behind their walls of cash. This may be true in some cases, God knows everyone knows each other's life stories, but again you must dismiss everything that's been said here as a fat generalization. Wait, why the apologetic tone? It's all true man.
PS It's wildly known among the older folk that
Elizabeth Taylor, she of the violet eyes Sophia Loren, is originally from Al-Bireh. Her parents died when she was a toddler and so she was sent to some orphanage school in Bethlehem where she got adopted by an American family. True story.
UPDATE: For those spitting at me because "your families aren't like that at all" I wasn't aware I was writing about them specifically. For those who are digging on my mother (one of your own!) stop it immediately. For those who analyzed that I must be an angry jealous bitch because not one single rich Birawee asked for my hand, how the hell did you know that! Best explanation there is. Shucks.