“Shroushi is Lebanese and my branches are Jerusalemite. I was excited to live in Jerusalem, which my father told me about a lot.” This is how Mrs. Betty Dagher Majj “Umm Saleh” (94 years) expressed her love for the city in which she has lived for more than 70 years, which was full of humanitarian volunteer work, until she won the title of Woman Distinguished Jerusalem.
She does not like the lights of fame or the media, but she singled out Al Jazeera Net for a warm meeting at her home on Al Masoudi Street in occupied Jerusalem. It was an elaborate old house, adorned with pictures and souvenirs, smelling of cookies with dried fruits, which I prepared especially for Christmas and insisted that you honor us from it.
Majej prepared with a coat lined with Palestinian embroidery, and left her stick aside to talk to us about memories that she said that many books were not enough to document, but that she trusted her in her book “The War Without Chocolate”, which she wrote in her 88th year. Despite her advanced age, her memory and senses – with the exception of her eyesight – were not affected by time.
Baiti was born in 1927 in Sidon, Lebanon, to her mother, Angel Nahas, and her father, Youssef Dagher, and she studied the nursing profession that she dreamed of at the American University of Beirut, and there she met Maqdisi Amin Majj, who was studying pediatrics, and later became the most prominent physician and politician of Jerusalem.
From Beirut to Jerusalem
The Betty family initially disagreed with the two young men’s association; She kept her at home for 4 days and prevented her from going to university, but she was able to deliver a message to Amin, who rushed to propose to her. The family finally agreed to their engagement after their extreme insistence, and they held their engagement and marriage parties in Beirut, then moved to Jerusalem via Haifa Beach in 1947.
Betty did not move away from her family, who was afraid of this, so she used to travel frequently to Beirut before the occupation of Jerusalem via Qalandia Airport in an hour-long journey, and she gave birth to her four children in Beirut, whose births were delayed by 10 years, during which visits to doctors in Beirut and London, and the death of her first child.
The beginning of humanitarian work
Her husband, Amin Majj, opened a children’s clinic in “Ma’man Allah”, west of Jerusalem, but the Nakba War broke out quickly in 1948, and it was vacated to treat the wounded in East Jerusalem, after the two parts of the city were separated from each other, and the medical staff and equipment were scarce. Then my home journey began in the humanitarian work, so she and her husband opened a hospital in the town of Al-Eizariya, east of Jerusalem. To treat the wounded and transport them by her husband’s personal car to the Hospice Hospital in the Old City, the only one operating at the time.
After 9 months, the couple moved to work at Al Mutlaa Hospital (Augusta Victoria) in the Mount of Olives, which was receiving Palestinian refugees in 1949, so my house worked in it as a nurse, then an assistant to its manager and then its manager for 5 years, and at the same time she was the deputy of Mrs. Zulekha Al Shehabi in the Foundation Arab Women’s Union in Jerusalem.
They lived on chocolates
After her birth, the young nurse emptied her children, and told Al-Jazeera Net memories of the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, when her husband insisted on continuing his work in the hospital, while she and her children were trapped for 6 days in their home under the sounds of bombs and bullets that broke windows and balconies, blew up water pipes and cut lines Electricity.
“We could never leave the house,” she added. “We lived on the water and some chocolate and fruits that we kept in the pantry.”
30 years at the Princess Basma Foundation
After her children grew up and traveled to study, Baiti headed the Princess Basma Foundation for People with Special Needs in Jerusalem for 30 years, so she started from scratch and established a number of departments, integrating children in them into regular schools, and providing them with scholarships and opportunities to work in the institution.
She says that the foundation was a non-profit charitable organization that relied on the generous assistance of donors from outside Palestine, who trusted its trust and examined the results of their clear donations.
In the sixties of the last century, she founded an association to defend the rights of nurses in Jerusalem, and continued to work with the same mission, until she retired at the end of her 90s.
Umm Saleh speaks – as she would like to be called – in a soft Jerusalem dialect that is not without Lebanese words, and is fluent in English and French alongside her. She keeps pictures of her and her husband during their travels to Egypt and the Levant (Syria) and the cities of Europe, but she says that she always prefers Jerusalem. She has dreamed of visiting it since Her childhood, after her father lived and worked for 10 years in her priesthood position in Saint Anne Church at the Ministry of Authority in Jerusalem.
She continues her interesting speech by saying, “My husband and I descended from Christian families, and we used to maintain friendly relations with our Muslim neighbors in Jerusalem from the families of Al-Nashashibi, Al-Alami and Al-Hussaini. They used to invite us to breakfast on the nights of Al-Qadr in the month of Ramadan, and I was keen to fast on the day of the call.”
And before the Corona pandemic, my house used to travel to Beirut annually to visit her family there, and today she continues to pray every Sunday at St. George Church near her home.
As she said goodbye to us, the veteran nurse showed us a copy of the Holy Qur’an filled with gold water that was given to her late husband, the doctor, and says, “I read from it sometimes, and I feel comfortable listening to the recitation of Abdul Basit Abdul Samad on the radio.”