Another day, another venture into the West Bank. This time, to the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Ramallah, as well as the village of Taybeh, the site of the only microbrewery in the territory.
Compared to yesterday’s visit to Bethlehem (also in the West Bank), Ramallah felt vastly different. In much the same way Tel Aviv is the cultural, governmental, and educational capital of Israel, Ramallah feels the same way. In fact, the city exudes a burgeoning desire to resemble the West. Women wear Abercrombie shirts and blast Lady Gaga in their sparkling BMW SUVs. iPhone ads intermix with posters advertising concerts of touring Qatari pop stars. Airline posters litter the street corners with tantalizing weekend getaways to fashionable European destinations like Paris, Milan, and Barcelona.
I did not expect any of this coming to the Palestinian territories, as I saw none of this in Bethlehem. Being the seat of the Palestinian Authority, as determined by the late Yasser Arafat, Ramallah is the most affluent area of the West Bank. Large homes grace the rolling Judean Hills in legitimate suburbs. Also, Ramallah is very infrequently visited by tourists. I saw only two other possible Westerners over the course of the entire day; we were quite the spectacle at the local shuk (open air market typical of the Middle East) as everyone wanted to peddle us some wares or have their picture taken with our cameras.
After Ramallah, we ventured quite a bit further into the West Bank to the small town of Taybeh to visit the brewery of one our favorite beers, eponymously named after the town, though the pictures will better illuminate this.
Anyway, my pictures and their captions can better explain what I experienced in the West Bank. Another successful visit to politically disputed territory!
Arriving in Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA), in the morning after a 45 minute ride on Arab bus #18 from East Jerusalem
The main square of Ramallah. Streets radiate out from the roundabout in 6 directions
Another Stars and Bucks Coffee Shop. However, unlike the one in Bethlehem, this was the main one for the West Bank and was very large inside with all kinds of cheap drinks, sandwiches, and the option to smoke hookah overlooking the bustling commerical center
Massive mango and chocolate iced frappucinos at Stars and Bucks - $3.50. I also got a really neat Stars and Bucks t-shirt from here, too.
More colorful advertisments. Just the fact that there are advertisements for products all over the city says something about the type of lifestyle embodied in the city, especially when compared to typical Western thoughts about the West Bank
Ramallah is the Tel Aviv of the West Bank - all the major musuems and art facilities have their headquarters in the city
Another view of the bustling city center
Yasser Arafat is entombed in Ramallah, the city he designated as the capital of the PA. This is the entrance with a modern mosque as the tower in the background.
On Arafat's tomb, the Palestinian flag flys proudly
Yasser Arafat's acutal site of entombment. Guards stand over his tomb all day and for part of the night, as well.
A side view of the compound where Yasser Arafat's body is kept
A really busy (which means it must be good) shwarma restaraunt where we ate a delicious (and cheap) lunch
Stopping for Palestinian gum ice cream. It has the consistency of a thin piece of gum. Lemon and vanilla on the left, and mint chocolate chip and Oreo (which was mine) on the right
Along with a dubious-looking Checkers, Palestinians apparently appreciate some good 'ol fried chicken, too.
The Ramallah shuk (open air market). We were quite the novelty here, as everyone seemed to want to either sell us their wares of have us take pictures of them. Not many Westerners come here, so their slight astonishment at seeing us is understandable.
A colorful alley down a narrow part of the shuk. We bought several kilos of strawberries, peaches, lentils, and many large pitas for exceedingly cheap.
Another view of the shuk
A boy sold rose-flavored tea from a large canister on his back for 1 shekel (about 25 cents in USD)
From Ramallah, our small group ventured about 25 km deep into the West Bank to the small Arab Christian farming village of Taybeh (which means "tasty" in Arabic) to visit the only brewery in the Palestinian territories
We got a tour of the facility. The beer is distributed through the West Bank and to several parts of Israel. It is also brewed in Germany and Japan in limited quantities.
The Taybeh brewery is almost fully automatic, producing 4000 bottles of amazing Palestinian beer a minute at maximum capacity. Along with a free sample, we bought several for the road (I have tried Taybeh in Jerusalem and Haifa, though it is more expensive there)
A really simple diagram of how the beer is produced, accompanied by what looks like children's drawings of the hops and barley on the upper right.
Leaving Taybeh and Ramallah through the Israeli security barrier. The very nice lady who gave us the tour of the Taybeh Beer factory was an American citizen who become a Palestinian national by account of her husband who co-owns the brewery. She was exceptionally critical of the wall and the Israelis in general, saying that it greatly cut off her family from reaching schools, businesses, Ramallah, and Jerusalem in a timely manner. She says the Palestinians are not allowed to use roads, which are reserved solely for the settlers, and that the Israelis turn off their water four days a week while the nearby settlers have every modern convenience of Israel proper. I agree with her - it is despicable that the Palestinians are not allowed to use certain roads, especially to reach workplaces or schools, and even worse that they have water for less than half of the week. However, her framework from which she operates is flawed. She wants a free exchange of peoples and ideas, of everyone holding hands, and more practically, to be able to do her daily tasks in a more efficient manner. This is not the case. The realistic framework is that the Israelis are in charge and that's not changing for a while. As much as she she wants the kumbaya of free people and the transfer of ideas and education, the reality is that security is tantamount to the Israelis. That is the reality and it is futile to suggest some sort of alternate world of immediately tearing down the wall without clear and realistic solutions for BOTH sides and not just the one you view as oppressed. I suggest: pull out all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and return the regular access of roads and water to the people. However, in this realistic situation where security is of the highest importance, the wall should, and must, stay until the future state of Palestine (if you've noticed, it's the first time in my entire blog that I've referred to it as this) is guaranteed to be a demilitarized, weapons-free nation. Then it can, and should, be dismantled. The Israelis don't want to occupy the West Bank - Jewish lives are frequently lost in skirmishes here. The Israelis cannot be blamed for everything (it seems as if everything they do is criticized, whether it be the kosher rabbinate charging for certifications or the powerful retaliation of the country in the Six-Day War); the whole region is caught in a vicious cycle of pouring gasoline in hopes that it puts out the fire (figuratively, of course). But if a temporary wall can guarantee the lasting security for two future states that is so desperately wanted in the region, then it serves a role, a controversial one, but a role nonetheless.