Gifts From the Holy Land: Bethlehem Wood
Each holiday season, a simple, yet breathtakingly elegant display of wooden carvings can be spotted in the walkway of the Grand Central Mall in Vienna, W.Va. The sign above the display of wood carvings states “Gifts from the Holyland, Bethlehem Wood.” The proprieter of this trove of handmade treasures is Gasan Gattas, and he has been traveling to West Virginia, from his home in Bethlehem, for the past 15 years.
A paper handout from Gasan’s display explains the meaning and importance of each intricate and special handmade gift, created from genuine olive wood.
The works of art are handmade by Christian families of Bethlehem city. The carvings are done on the pruned pieces of olive trees. The wood is hard and normally dried for two years prior to carving and has a unique beauty and quality not found in other woods.
Reverend Bill Dawson of Sistersville’s United Methodist Church is familiar with Gasan, both on Dawson’s turf and on Gasan’s turf. The duo have met before at Gasan’s display, of course. However, the duo has also met in Bethlehem when Dawson and other local residents have traveled to Israel for tours.
Gasan himself has a wife and three children. He lives in a home with three floors, made up of five suites. Different members of Gasan’s family live in different suites. For instance, Gasan’s father and mother have one suite.
Gasan speaks highly of his family, citing his children’s educational accomplishments. One of Gasan’s sons is currently going to school at Bethlehem University and is studying accounting. Another son is studying electric.
Gasan’s third child, a daughter, is 15-years-old and is wanting to study broadcast journalism. Gasan expresses a kind-hearted frustration when saying that he urged his daughter to instead study something less controversial.
“I told her it is a headache,” he said. “We don’t want to be millionaires or rich.”
Gasan seems to cherish the simple, carefree life. He stressed that, despite what might be seen on the television screen, the Holy Land is not at all a dangerous place.
“The media feeds the fear of Americans,” he noted. “I’ve walked the streets of Bethlehem, and Jerusalem,” Dawson added, noting that he has even walked the streets of the Holy Land at 11 o’clock at night.
Furthermore, Dawson noted, when in Israel he sat in Jericho and had lunch with Jewish, Palestinian, Christian, Muslim, and non-religious citizens of Jericho.
“Never once did I fear for my safety,” he stated.
Gasan’s demeanor and personality are a reflection of Dawson’s sentiments. When not speaking of his family or the woodworkings at his display, he is speaking of the perks of home and extending an invitation to Bethlehem.
He stated that Bethlehem has very good “sweets,” but also noted that “in Jericho we have fresh oranges.” He then moved on to the topic of the Dead Sea and the black mud that visitors like to apply to themselves, for healing properties.
Gasan noted that weather is pleasant in Israel from January until May.
“Sometimes it is hot, and sometimes it is not. But after six, the weather is beautiful in the night. You see people go outside, and all the people like to go walking,” he stated.
Gasan encourages people to “come and see” Bethlehem. “Come with Bill,” he stated, adding that once a person has been to Bethlehem once, they long to go back.
“It’s not a hard life . . . it’s a simple life. People in Bethlehem like to live in peace. They like to be nice and be together, not to be separate from eachother.”
If a person cannot yet make it to the Holy Land, Dawson still hopes that Gasan and his stories of Bethlehem, perhaps change a negative perspective people might have regarding the Middle East.
“Gasan gives us a glimpse of what the average Palestinian/Middle Eastern man is like,” Dawson stated.
“He loves his family; he helps other people; he practices hospitality, and he cares about the same things that we do in America.”