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