by Jordana Pepper
I am not a newcomer to Israel, have been to this region multiple times, have family here, and even spent a summer living and studying in Jerusalem. However, despite all of my trips here, I never seemed to have the time to visit the West Bank. It’s hard to definitively say that my not visiting was due to a lack of time, and I strongly believe that the Western media portrayal of Gaza and the West Bank, and the fear instilled by such portrayal, played a substantial role, however, whatever the reason may have been, the fact remained that I was never exposed to life on the other side of the Separation Wall.
That all changed when I decided to go with two other Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ) interns to Taybeh, a town about 10 miles outside of Ramallah, for their annual beer festival (appropriately named “Oktoberfest”). As a first time visitor to the West Bank, I thought it would be a good idea to go there having something concrete to do. Since I am not familiar with the area, mere exploration would probably be quite overwhelming, and Oktoberfest proved to be a perfect attraction to introduce me to life in the region.
It was extremely surreal driving from Jerusalem to Ramallah, and seeing, first hand, all of the places that constantly satiate our Western newspapers and news stations; the infamous Separation Wall, the checkpoints, the soldiers, and so on. On this day I saw first hand a situation that is ever present in our Western media, but one which no one can fully understand or appreciate until they live and breathe it. As I was driving from a city of contention to a city of occupation, I finally began to see the larger picture of this ever growing conflicted region.
As we crossed the checkpoint, however, I couldn't help but notice that most of my pre-conceived notions of the West Bank were very far off from the reality of life inside the walls. I was almost sure that I would cross the checkpoint and enter a war torn, poverty stricken, destitute region, where people were on the streets suffering, begging for money, and so on. Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong. Ramallah is a profoundly beautiful city full of life and rich with culture and patriotism. While I'm sure there are very poor and poverty stricken areas within the West Bank, like there are in virtually any country one visits, I was not exposed to them.
After arriving in Ramallah we had to catch a shared taxi that would to take us to Taybeh. Taybeh is a Christian village in the primarily Muslim West Bank, and one of it's largest sources of income, and one of it’s biggest tourist attractions, is the beer that they brew there. Every year, to expose the world to their local product and culture, they host Taybeh Oktoberfest, where tourists come from all over to try their beer, buy their home made products, enjoy live entertainment, and so on.
As we entered our senses were overtaken by loud music, delicious smells of various types of foods, and beautiful booths where the locals were selling everything from homemade, organic honey, to t-shirts, cups, and mugs with the Taybeh logo, to hand sewn bags, pillow cases, and wallets adorned with the Palestinian flag. It was a tourists dream; delicious food, inexpensive beer, and fantastic souvenirs!
After walking around the entirety of the festival multiple times, buying our respective souvenirs, and genuinely enjoying the splendor of the day, we decided to explore the town of Taybeh for a little while before heading back to Ramallah. Our exploration exposed us to some gorgeous sites including an old Orthodox church, beautiful shops filled with Christian items and souvenirs, and areas looking out over the West Bank’s stunning landscape and scenery.
After we had seen almost everything of note in Taybeh, it was time for us to head back to Ramallah, spend some time there, and then make the journey back through the checkpoint into Jerusalem. Going into the West Bank was truly one of my favorite Middle Eastern experiences to date, and I hope that more and more people expose themselves to this profound and astounding region. This was the first of many trips I hope to make to the Palestinian territories as I immerse myself in my studies of the Middle East, and especially in studies of the Palestine-Israel conflict and relationship. I look forward to not only exposing more of the people I know to this area, but gaining more insight and exposure, myself.