In Taybeh and Nablus, rough history but non–violent peace activists
We left Bethlehem after breakfast, passing through the main security checkpoint in what is now a walled city — not a pictursque medieval wall but an ugly concrete scar across the ancient landscape. We passed the outskirts of Jerusalem, the troubled holy city for three faiths that is a political pawn in an ongoing political tussle between the Palestinians who want their own state and the Israeli government which doesn’t want to give up anything. The implementation of the two-state solution — one Jewish and one Palestinian nation — that came out of the 2007 Annapolis Conference — remains stalemated, and meanwhile, Israel continues building settlements, maintaining checkpoints and extending the walls that in many places are higher than East Germany’s Berlin Wall during the Cold War.
Photo: Odyssei Travel Community The landscape north of the city reminded me somewhat of the American Southwest: golden hills with stone outcroppings (limestone here), bushes that from a distance resemble but darker than our sage, arroyos, deep valleys and occasional dirt tracks leading somewhere. Instead of grazing cattle, however, there are occasional flocks of sheep or goats watched over by a shepherd or goatherder, and here and there camels. The scene has existed since the land was settled and humans began domesticating animals.
Additionally, the US Southwest has no olive trees or small villages on hillsides and hilltops, and thankfully no walls or military watchtowers every few miles to control civilians. The closest we get is the occasional isolated penetentiary or prison where convicts, not “suspected terrorists,” are incarcerated. The main West Bank roads are well–constructed, immaculately paved highways that are very much of the 21st century — built by the Israeli government to provide quick, smooth access to and from settlements plunked here and there on the Palestinian landscape, often in places where they can control the water to old Palestinian communities. It is yet another affront.
On the outskirts of tiny Taybeh, said to be the only all–Christian village in this largely Muslim land, the Taybeh Brewing Company is practicing peace through beer. Nadeem Khoury, a Palestinian homebrewer living in Boston, returned to his homeland in 1994 when the Oslo Peace Accords had brought optimism to Palestine. He established what is now the only microbrewery in the Middle East and the only Palestinian–owned brewery anywhere. It turns spring with a license to sell in Germany and export to France. The brewery also started bottling olive oil for St.George’s Church school and began developing an alcohol–free beer in case a more Islamist fundamentalist party wins a Palestinian election and alcohol is banned. The brewery owners are nothing if not practical.
We visited the ruins of a Byzantine church called El Khader/St. George. It is the site of baptisms in an ancient font, and townsfolk still come there to sacrifice a sheep for various festivals. The church dates from the fourth century and was destroyed by the Samarians in the sixth century. It is one of manymanifestations of the violence and religious conflict that tragically are nothing new to the Holy Land, but you’d think that humankind would have learned something in 15 centuries. More to come. Stay tuned.