Saturday, October 03, 2009

Forbidden City

There was Oktoberfest today - not in Germany, not in Canada - but in the ancient Christian city of Taybeh in the West Bank. Finding out recently that the city was called Ofrah, yes, the biblical city of Ofrah, only made me want to go even more. Maybe I'll find an ancient mezuzah or kiddush cup over there.

A peace activist named Fred was organizing a bus from West Jerusalem, so how convenient was that? Hubby didn't want to join, which irked me that I have to go to events all alone. The bus was filled with tourists and Israelis - young Israelis looking for some good, cheap beer. Taking a detour on the way, we drove through the Arab neighborhood of Anata. Although within Jerusalem's municipality, the city is a gated neighborhood. Not like the gated chic neighborhoods of Bel Air, California, but walled and fenced in. Although most residents have blue Israeli ID cards, they still must go through check points to get out of their 'hood. As Fred said, there are 50,000 very pissed off Palestinians living there. He laments, "if our government really wants peace with our Arab neighbors, why don't they put some money into this place? There's not enough water for residents and permits for building are nonexistent, so that all building that takes place is illegal, which means every week houses get demolished by the Israeli government." We drive on the very picturesque road until we get to Taybeh - and laughed when we saw that the sign forbidding entrance to Israelis was covered up by a Taybeh Oktoberfest poster, leaving only the bottom line visible which read "...illegal under Israeli law".

The festival was just getting started, kids doing debkas on the stage and the local Taybeh beer on tap, which was cold and delicious on this very hot day. This beer was 10 NIS. I told hubby there was no way the Palestinians would charge us Israeli prices. They have more heart. We had paid 25 NIS for a small cup of beer on a Tel Aviv beach during the summer. A large cup of Taybeh costs 10 NIS.

Inside the municipality building, local crafts and food were being sold - locally made honey, olive oil, olive oil soap and colorful embroidered bags, clothing, etc. There were a lot of internationals from all over the world - it seemed like a mini UN convention.

I did see people I knew from Beit Jala and hung out with them for a while, but then I got restless and wanted to see the old city and the brewery. I walked through the quiet streets to the old city which was quite a tiny section of town, but picturesque, nevertheless. The view was phenomenal.

I thought my husband would have freaked at the thought of me wandering alone through an Arab village, where I knew absolutely no one. And I thought of what my dad would have said, getting lost in a place like this - in German (after all, this IS Oktoberfest) "Ich Sheiss mich ahn" which means something like "I shit myself". When I did lose my way, I simply asked for directions and the locals were very helpful. Most of them knew English and some even backtracked just to help me get on the right road.

The brewery was small, very clean and I was happy to hear the beer has no preservatives.

I hung out a bit with Fred, and he told a couple of people he was with that I'm a settler. I'm like "well, why don't you just announce it on a loudspeaker!" meanwhile eyeing the many Palestinian police around. I don't think they were on the lookout for settlers among the crowd, they simply need crowd control during a beer festival that's for sure. I saw two of them pulling out an inebriated young man from the municipality building, taking him to who knows where. In my conversations with Fred, telling him how much I'd love to have a mixed residential community of Arabs and Jews, I guess he must see me as quite the freak, coming from Maaleh Adumim. I told him I'd love a one state solution - where everyone is equal, a real democracy, which led Fred to tell me - "you need to start telling people you're not a zionist." Gulp. Has it come to this?

Later I see Maria Khoury who shakes my hand and welcomes me to Taybeh. She's either the wife of the beer maker or the wife of the mayor - I don't know which. She takes me and another woman to see the Byzantine church built by Queen Helena in the 4th century. Taybeh is the place where Jesus rested before heading back to Jerusalem before Easter (or Passover?). I asked her about Jewish roots. She tells me the town's name was changed from Ofrah to Taybeh after Suleiman conquered the area. Taybeh is the only Palestinian town which is solely Christian - with 2,000 residents. They only sell land/homes to other Christians. She has to rush back to take the stage. She's the busy MC for the day, but I appreciated her warmth and friendliness.

Later at dusk we walked towards the old city again trying to find a tour guide. A young local joined us. He asked us what we thought of "the situation" and was surprised to find sympathetic Israelis. In fact, I think he was in total shock. He had never spoken to Isr-aliens before (that's how he pronounced it) and bemoans the fact that he can't go into Jerusalem. A nice Christian boy can't get a permit to get to Jerusalem. He can't visit the ocean either. He feels stifled and frustrated. I feel sorry for him. He tells us - what right have we to be here? And then I feel sorry for him even more, because he doesn't know of Jewish historical longing for this land. Someone tells him Jewish refugees returned to their land after 2,000 years. I don't know if he's happy hearing that but someone else explains that politics and politicians and regimes change all the time. Who knows what will be. I hear a prayer coming from the Church over a loudspeaker. It sounds very much like a sephardic Jewish service. I look at the people, and if the bunch of them weren't wearing the huge crucifixes around their necks, they could very well pass for Jewish. After all, 3,000 years ago, that's what they were...


lars said...

well thats pretty, how many beers did you have>

Mer said...

here is an interesting piece of information in the news today:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking us there! Lovely photos - a real view like two thousand years ago......