by Rory Stewart
Taking a break from life in Jerusalem, us interns (Mabel, Apo and I) from PIJ journeyed to the Oktoberfest in Taybeh, a small town outside of Ramallah.
This excited me, as it would be the first time I entered (what I regard as) the deep West Bank, I had only ever heard of places like Ramallah in the news and in my work as an intern. Also, in my ignorance I had totally forgotten that Taybeh was a Christian town, a rather important one at that. It is widely regarded as one of the last ‘all Christian’ communities in the West Bank. Its religious significance matches its affinity to the Christian community, it is the place where (according to the bible) Jesus stayed there after Lazarus’s resurrection and 8km away is the site of his forty day fast.
Catching the bus from East Jerusalem was an amusing experience. I barely trust my knowledge of the No.22 in London, let alone negotiating a 77 to Ramallah. What made it worse was asking the bus driver, politely “Does this bus go to Ramallah?” To which he replied “Inshallah.” Half frustrated, half amused by this distinctly Arab answer, we decided to trust him.
One checkpoint and a taxi ride later, we arrived at the Oktoberfest. The first sight that greeted our eyes and ears, where five German guys on the stage, dressed in traditional Bavarian garments; consisting of leather lederhosen’s, white socks pulled up to the knees and those little brown hats with the tassels. They enthusiastically banged on the accordion and blew down various brass instruments with that Teutonic spirit that would have brought a tear to the eye of even the most stoic of Germans. The eager, if not slightly confused crowd, clapped along with them. I think it helped that the beer was 15nis, for those students reading that’s around £2 a pint. Its also pretty drinkable stuff, I’m no expert on beer, but I as an undergrad, I know what bad beer tastes like.
I have never been to an Oktoberfest before and therefore have nothing to compare it to. But it was a very fun day, sampling the local produce was particularly interesting, quaffing everything from ‘holy-land honey’ to the lamb shwamas, washed down with beer all in the refreshing autumn sunlight. There where plenty of events to keep the crowd entertained, from who could hold the stein of beer the longest, to circus performances followed by a mixture of regional and international bands.
What I did notice (and starting to get used to) was the large security presence at the event, from the AK toting Palestinians, to the large sunglass wearing security guards milling around the stage. They even had their own stand, and you could grab a drink and sign yourself up for courses in security lessons, driving instruction and VIP protection.
I enjoyed my time immensely mostly due to the fact the event was distinctly Palestinian in its celebration of local produce. I felt very relaxed and I put this down to the fact that everyone was smiling and genuinely thankful for our interest in their beer, town and culture.
But most of all, there was an overwhelming sense of pride. And it sent a clear message:
We may not have our own state, but we WILL have our own beer.