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Friday, 2 November 2012

Postcard from Palestine 6 - Beer festival and closed military zones

Hebden Bridge's Ron Taylor is a regular visitor to Palestine, part of an international movement of supporters.


Our arrival in occupied Palestine coincides, deliberately, with the Palestinian Oktoberfest, otherwise known as the Taybeh Beer Festival.Yes, I know it sounds unlikely - a beerfest in a largely Muslim land under military occupation. But it is real and it is a delight.

Taybeh is a small Christian village north-east of Ramallah. It boasts wonderful views over the Jordan Valley and is home to Palestine's only brewery - the Taybeh Brewing Company. The proprietor is Nadim Khoury, a Palestinian American, who brewed his own beer in Boston before creating his dream of brewing beer on his parents land in the West Bank. He moved here in 1994 and began brewing a year later. Sales have flourished despite the Israeli occupation and Taybeh beer is produced under license in Germany and Belgium. But it was not until 2005 that Taybeh hosted its first Oktoberfest, an event which now attracts thousands from all over the world, as well as from Palestine and some from inside Israel.

Taybeh produces four kinds of beer - gold,dark, amber and alcohol free. Gold is the clear favourite. But Oktoberfest is about much more than beer - it celebrates the tenacity of the Palestinian people in holding on to what land is left to them, it honours the friendship between the Palestinian people and their supporters across the world. Beer is the focal point but music, dancing, food combine to make it a unique event. This year Italian, Austrian, Czech and Israeli-Palestinian musicians ( a hiphop outfit called Dam) entertained but the high point was the wonderful local dabke dancers.

But the journey away from Taybeh reminds the revellers of the reality. Checkpoints, poorly- maintained roads, roads which Palestinians cannot use in their own land - an apartheid system almost complete.

Closed military zones

A week later and Maggie and I link up with Ta'ayush (the Jewish- Arab partnership) again. The activists are my friends and it is a delight to see them again.But more than that; they are people of integrity, people who believe in human rights for all, in equal rights for all. Week in, week out, they give their time to combat injustice, to oppose racism and above all to support Palestinians in their fight to remain on their own lands. The turnout is excellent. Thirty or so activists have climbed from their beds at 5am to make the journey from Jerusalem to the South Hebron Hills. An early start is needed as this is the herding season. Shepherds need to take their flocks to the almost bare grazing areas before winter sets in.

Four Palestinian communities have asked for our presence today. Our group of 5 is deposited in the village of Um-al-Amad, a few miles south of Hebron city. I was here with Ta'ayush on two occasions earlier this year. On the first we were detained for a few hours as the Israeli military tried to expel the shepherds from their privately-owned land. A week later we were attacked by the extremist settlers of Otniel .Today the shepherds want to take their sheep and goats to graze in a small valley which has been difficult to access because of settler activity.

We follow the flocks down the limestone slopes; three soldiers are waiting. " It is ok for you to be here.But don't go too near the settlement," we are told. They seem reasonable - not always the case. The shepherds look pleased. But things change quickly. Above, on the slope just below Otniel's perimeter fence, we see the settlement security officer gesticulating to another soldier, possibly an officer. Minutes later the soldier joins the other three. He now says the land where the animals are grazing is a closed military zone (CMZ) and we all have to leave. He has received his orders from the settlers - the lords of the land !

This is common practice and designed to frighten Palestinians away from their land. But Ta'ayush has been through this many times and has challenged the system in the courts. The military must produce an official signed document declaring a CMZ together with a map showing its boundaries. Li, an Israeli activist, points this out to him. Reluctantly he trudges back up the valley side. Ten minutes or so later he returns papers in hand. But , as Li tells him,there is one more thing - he must allow Ta'ayush to photograph the order and the map. He does so and then proceeds to warn us that we have ten minutes to leave before he orders our arrest. He seems bored with whole thing - perhaps he would rather be lying on a beach neat Tel Aviv or spending shabbat at home with his wife and kids.

Ta'ayush and the shepherds have an impromptu conference. The three Israelis decide that if the shepherds want to stay, they will,oo and risk arrest. Maggie and I are advised to move a few yards away over the CMZ boundary. Our job is to video whatever happens next. There is a stand-off which lasts longer than 10 minutes. The officer seems reluctant to make arrests - too much paperwork,perhaps. Meanwhile the shepherds decide the flocks have had enough to eat and say they will return to the village. They have scored a minor victory; it has been some years since they had access to the valley.

We slowly wend our way back to Um-al-amad and say goodbye to the shepherds. Our transport is waiting so we must decline the offer of tea. Now we head to Susiya ,further to south, to help with olive harvest. (The whole of the village is scheduled to be demolished by the Israelis but Rabbis for Human Rights has mounted a legal challenge,the outcome of which is expected in November) .A family needs our presence to pick trees close to the adjacent settlement. Thankfully It is turns out to be a peaceful afternoon - there is something pleasing about olive-picking even if it is hot and dusty work. It's not always so pleasing though. This is what happened when Ta'ayush accompanied families a few weeks ago.

Soon the other Ta'ayush groups arrive for the journey back to Jerusalem. Two activists are missing, arrested very early in the day for entering a CMZ. They have now been released and are waiting for us somewhere along the way.

Ron Taylor


See also

Postcard from Palestine 5 - April 2012

Postcard from Palestine 4 - attacked by settlers

Postcard from Palestine 3 - detained by the Israeli army (16 March 2012)

Postcard from Palestine 2 (19 Feb 2012)

HebWeb Forum: Postcard from Palestine

Postcard from Palestine 1 (8 Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Hebden Bridge Old Gits support Palestinian farmers

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