After visiting the Samaritan village, Andrea and I got a taxi to get something to eat. (It was Andrea’s first visit to Nablus, and I picked Syraan restaurant, nice and central, and there was a shoot out nearby, but back to topic…).
The big house that perches above Nablus on Jerizim, visible from Sama Nablus and peeking out from the end of the Samaritan post, belongs to the al Masris. I think this is very common knowledge, but I had not passed it before, and as we left the Samaritans there was a large high wall. I made some inane remark to Andrea like ‘Ah that’ll be the Masri’s house we saw from the temple ruins’ and the taxi driver overheard.
“You want to go to the Masri house?”
“We don’t have an invitation.”.
And he zoomed us along to the front gate, where he asked if Ustaz Munib was home because he had a couple of foreigners with him, and we sat awkwardly in the car wondering if this was really happening.
I have hesitated to write this visit up, because apart from it’s enormity the house is known only for being owned by ‘the richest man in Palestine‘, aka ‘the Duke of Nablus‘, aka ‘the Godfather‘, aka ‘the Palestinian Rothschild‘ (Wikipedia).
But hey, slip on your barbour jacket, jump in the old Seat, and let’s slither up the driveway to gasp at the grand facade and pretend we’re lords and ladies.
An attractive middle-aged blonde woman with an appreciable air of chatelaine greeted us. ‘What business do you have with my father?’.
‘Uh, we have no business at all – our taxi driver just brought us here’ [beat] ‘but I am interested in chemical engineering’.
‘What has that got to do with my father? He’s a geologist’.
‘ You may as well take a look around’. And she proceeded to give Andrea, myself and the taxi driver a tour of the gardens.
The house is called Bayt Philistine, House of Palestine. Its builder Munib al Masri (so his daughter Dina told us on our amble) wanted all Palestinians to be welcome there. It swags a domed roof 16m d and stately antiqued reception rooms named for principal Palestinian cities.
There is a disused swimming pool and a pond. There are European sculptures, both classical and modern. There are luscious gardens. And there is a beautiful greenhouse/conservatory.
‘What a beautiful greenhouse/conservatory!’ I gushed to Dina al Masri.
‘It was a gift from Napoleon to his mistress’, she said. They don’t sell them like that any more.
‘Not Josephine? Or Désirée? The one who became Queen consort of Sweden*?!’ I enthused.
‘I don’t know’.
I promptly removed my scarf shortly after this picture when Dina asked, ‘Why do you wear a scarf like that? You look like a settler’.
She gave us more information on the house – how it was destroyed before it was completed by soldiers, and then said that we could have a look inside – ‘because I had taken off my scarf’.
We peered at the treasures of the Palladian villa interior, carefully decorated with themes of the holy land as well as with imported valuables, and ambled out again. She conversed a little with the taxi driver and suggested that he was our nepotist contact. ‘We hope it is his children who will resolve Palestine. My generation have lost hope’. Somehow it was small talk.
Well, there you go, a few pictures of Bayt Philistine. We heard on the grapevine a couple of weeks later that Dina had reported a couple of foreigners ‘who spoke good Arabic’ had come for a look around.
Recommended further reading: Désirée by Annemarie Selinko.
And here are a couple of people who are associated with chemical engineering, because they hold degrees in it:
Désirée is unlikely to have been the recipient of the conservatory.
Yalla, it’s my exam season and there are 47Soul concerts and rumours of film festivals and it’s olive picking time. You can go but be back soon!