Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cheers to Palestine’s beer... Taybeh!

Beer and Oktoberfest in Palestine? Yes, indeed.

After traveling for about 10 hours from Dubai, to Amman, passing the Jordanian and Israeli cross points, and finally a taxi ride to the Occupied West Bank town of Beit Jala, what better way to quench the thirst of the day than a beer, and a Palestinian beer at that – Taybeh (goodly in Arabic).

I am no expert on beer, but I loved it and stuck with Taybeh during my three-week stay in Palestine.

I was also told about the Taybeh Oktoberfest, which this year took place on September 19 and 20, unfortunately too late for my visit.

Taybeh Brewing Company is located in the Occupied West village of the same name, just outside Ramallah and 15 km from Jerusalem. It is a family-owned business established in 1994 following the Oslo Peace Agreement (1993). Brothers David and Nadim Khoury were inspired by their late father, Canaan David Khoury, to return to their home village of Taybeh after spending more than 20 years in the U.S. and establish the first microbrewery in the Middle East.

Their goal was to invest and boost the local economy by introducing new styles of natural hand-crafted microbrewed beers according to the German Purity Law -- with no preservatives or additives.

Nadim Khoury turned his hobby of making homemade beer during his college days into a career, becoming the master brewer. He is now passing on this passion and experience to his daughter, Madees Khoury, the only female brewer in Palestine.

Taybeh’s mission is to produce a premium high quality hand-crafted beer, contribute to the Palestinian economy, widen international market presence and elevate tourism. Their vision is to be the top performing beverage company in the Middle East with entrepreneurial leadership and innovative brewing techniques.

In 1997, Taybeh beer became the first Palestinian product to be franchised in Germany, where it was brewed and bottled for sale in Europe. The beer is also exported directly from Taybeh to Sweden and as far as Japan.

From 500 liters of beer in 1995, the company produced 600,000 liters in 2011, mainly sold in the Occupied West Bank and Israel. Before the Second Intifada in 2000, the beer was sold to upscale bars in Israel. According to David Khoury, the brewery now sells over six million liters a year,.

Nadim Khoury showing off four of the varieties of Taybeh beer
There are five varieties of Taybeh Beer -- Golden, Light, Amber, Dark, and White. In 2007, a new non-alcoholic beer variety was launched specifically for the local Palestinian Muslim market. The original brand is Taybeh Beer Golden, which I was drinking. The Dark and Light were introduced for the 2000 celebrations in the Holy Land. The Dark variety follows the classic way monks brewed beer in the Middle Ages to fortify themselves during their fasting.

The Nadim wines
In November 2014, Nadim Khoury opened a line of Taybeh wines – a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah -- marketed under the brand name "Nadim” (or drinking companion).

Taybeh is one of two Palestinian beers in the Occupied West Bank. The second, Shepherds, was launched in the university town of Birzeit last June. You can read about Shepherds in a recent article in the Financial Times.


The Taybeh Brewing Company has been welcoming people from all corners of the world to celebrate Oktoberfest every year since 2005 when David Khoury became the first democratically-elected Mayor of Taybeh.

He inspired the Taybeh Municipality, and all local civic organizations, to collaborate in boosting the collapsed local economy and place Taybeh on the international map.

Nadim Khoury serving Taybeh beer at the Oktoberfest
This unique event has been called the highlight of the Palestine summer season reaching over 16,000 visitors annually. The exquisite hills and valleys of the village offer the perfect escape from any busy schedule for all international and local people who come to support local products and boost the economy while celebrating the deep cultural heritage offered by one of the most ancient spots in Palestine also known by its Biblical name, Ephraim.

Taybeh village

Taybeh is among the last all-Christian communities in the Occupied West Bank. It has been identified as the site of Ophrah , mentioned in the Bible (Book of Joshua 18:23) as a town of Benjamin, which was later renamed Ephraim. But the word Ophrah was close in sound to afrit (demon in Arabic). Under Saladin, the name was changed to “Taybeh" -- "The goodly.”

Taybeh village in the Occupied West Bank
According to local tradition, Saladin met a delegation of Ephraim inhabitants during his wars against the Crusaders. Impressed by the hospitality of the locals, he named the village Taybeh, or “goodly” in Arabic. Another version of the story is that he was charmed by their goodness and the beauty of their faces, ordering the village to be renamed Tayyibat al-Isem (Beautiful of Name).

In the Bible, after Lazarus’ resurrection, Jesus retired to Taybeh with his disciples. John says, "Since that day on, they (the Pharisees) made the decision to kill him. Jesus did not walk in public among the Jews anymore. He went away to a region near the desert, to a city called Ephraim, and it was there that he and his disciples dwelt." (John 11: 53-54). This happened probably around the year 30.

In the 5th century, a church known today as St. George's Church, was built in the east of the town. In the 12th century, another church was built by the Crusaders, in attachment to the first one. They fortified Taybeh with the Castle of St. Elias.

In 1882, the Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine described Taybeh as a "large Christian village in a conspicuous position, with well-built stone houses. A central tower stands on the top of the hill; on either side are olive and fig gardens in the low ground. The view is extensive on either side. A ruined church of St, George exists near, and there are remains of a ruined castle in the village.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Flag Day in the UAE, next in Palestine?

Flag Day in the UAE on November 3
Two flag-related news items in the past couple of weeks got me thinking about our flags -- a symbol we maybe overlook sometimes.

The first is that November 3 has been designated “Flag Day” in the Emirates. The second is a UN General Assembly resolution that approved the flying of the Palestinian flag at UN Headquarters in New York.

Both flags, coincidentally, have the same colors and are very similar in design.

It is difficult to overlook the flag in the UAE. It is proudly displayed not only on government buildings but also on businesses and homes, especially in the run-up to National Day on December 2.

HH Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Prime Minster of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, or Sheikh Mo as he is affectionately known, on September 15 called on Emiratis to hoist the UAE flag atop all departments, institutions and homes around the country, in an expression of solidarity with the Emirati martyrs who were killed in the line of duty while taking part in the Arab Coalition's Operation Restoring Hope, led by Saudi Arabia.

HH Sheikh Mohammed's posting on Twitter
Sheikh Mo’s call came via his official Twitter account. He posted: “We call on all Emiratis to express their solidarity through hoisting the UAE flag atop their homes, departments and institutions around the country.”

On the same day, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a Palestinian resolution to allow its flag to fly in front of the UN headquarters in New York, infuriating Israel of course and giving hope to Palestinians seeking to gain full UN membership.

Flying the Palestinian flag atop the Wall
The vote was passed with 119 votes out of 193 in favor. Among the European countries that voted “yes” were France, Russia, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Belgium, Malta and Poland.  The majority of EU member states were among the 45 countries that abstained. A total of eight countries voted against, including the U.S. and Israel. 

The General Assembly resolution
Currently, the UN has only one other non-member observer state -- the Vatican. The Holy See was not supportive when the idea was first brought up last month, however, and rejected the Palestinians’ original proposal to introduce the resolution as a joint effort, asking the Vatican to co-sponsor the document. The Vatican still remains unsure whether it will be flying its flag next to Palestine’s.

It is may be a small symbolic victory. But seeing that Israel flies its flag all over Palestine, why not?

The Israeli flag flying in the streets...
of the Old City of Jerusalem
I was shocked and dismayed by these Israeli flags flying all over, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem. Maybe a “Flag Day” in Palestine will go some way in redressing the balance.


The Palestinian flag is a tricolor of three equal horizontal stripes -- black, white, and green from top to bottom -- overlaid by a red triangle issuing from the hoist. These are the Pan-Arab colors inspired by the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule (1916–1918). Prior to being the flag of the Palestinian people, it was the flag of the short-lived Arab Federation of Iraq and Jordan.

The flag used by the Arab Palestinian nationalists in the first half of the 20th century is the flag of the 1916 Arab Revolt. The origins of the flag are the subject of dispute and mythology. In one version, the colors were chosen by the Arab nationalist “Literary Club” in Constantinople in 1909, based on the words of the 13th-century Arab poet Safiaddin al-Hili:

Ask the high rising spears, of our aspirations
Bring witness the swords, did we lose hope
We are a band, honor halts our souls
Of beginning with harm, those who won’t harm us
White are our deeds, black are our battles,
Green are our fields, red are our swords.

Another version credits the Young Arab Society, formed in Paris in 1911. Yet another version is that the flag was designed by Sir Mark Sykes (of Sykes-Picot repute).

On October 18, 1948, the flag of the Arab Revolt was adopted by the All-Palestine Government, and was recognized subsequently by the Arab League as the flag of Palestine. A modified version (changing the order of stripes) has been used in Palestine at least since the late 1930s and was officially adopted as the flag of the Palestinian people by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964. On November 15, 1988 the PLO adopted the flag as the flag of the State of Palestine.

Flying the Palestinian flag
On the ground the flag became widely used since the Oslo Agreements, with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1993.

In 1967, immediately following the Six-Day War, Israel banned the Palestinian flag in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. A 1980 law forbidding artwork of "political significance" banned artwork composed of its four colors, and Palestinians were arrested for displaying such artwork. Since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, the ban has been abolished.

Let's proudly fly our flag...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

ADEL, Palestine’s Fair Trade initiative

At the Beit Jala Saturday market with Eric Shehadeh
An organic Farmers’ Market in Beit Jala? With produce in Palestine grown locally and of such good taste and quality, it was quite a pleasant surprise to find out one takes place every Saturday in the Occupied West Bank city.

It is organized by the National Fair Trade Non-Profit Corporation “ADEL,” established in 2011. What better name than adel, which means fair in Arabic.

Although quite small in Beit Jala, it is bigger in Ramallah where it is held on Tuesdays.

Everyone in the Occupied Territories tries, as much as possible, to buy Palestinian or at least non-Israeli products. The ADEL market guarantees that.

Cucumbers, tomatoes, white cheese and olives from the market
Pickling organic cucumbers
Nablus soap

The most delicious raisins
On the two occasions we were able to visit the ADEL market in Beit Jala, we bought tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, parsley, bottled juices, mouloukhia and many other things that were all excellent. I am using the Nablus soap bar I got back with me and still regret not stocking up on raisins. They were so big and delicious.

ADEL Fair Trade is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that Catholic Relief Services (CRS Fair Trade) helped establish in Palestine to help vulnerable women and disadvantaged farmers produce healthy products at a fair price.

The ADEL market in Ramallah
While ADEL received CRS support over two years, it is now a self-sufficient Fair Trade business supporting its workers from the money generated from the sale of its products.

ADEL runs an Empowerment and Rehabilitation Program to build the producers’ capacities, empower them technically, administratively and financially and rehabilitate production centers, committed to general health conditions and food safety principles.

Palestinian ladies preparing Ma'amoul for the Goods Home Delivery Program
Its other programs are the Goods Home Delivery Program (for Ma’amoul, cheese, olive oil and grapes), the Support Local Products and Enjoy Healthy Life Program and the Occupation Products Boycott Program.

Apart from generating long-term income for marginalized families and tens of cooperatives, ADEL has been successful in providing a Palestinian replacement for Israeli strawberries and mushrooms, among other products. It is also building groups of Fair Trade ambassadors under Occupation.

ADEL encourages the purchase in Palestinian produce instead of Israeli products as per the global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. Initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 and coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) established in 2007, BDS is a strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice.

Success story

Dina al-Sharif at her exhibition in Ramalla
Dina al-Sharif, from a small village north of Nablus, is an example of ADEL’s success stories. She is one of the leading and creative disadvantaged producers who are working to increase their income and independence.

Dina, who is wheelchair-bound, was struggling to meet her basic needs. She felt marginalized and undervalued because she took longer to finish her knitting products. For example, she needed 10 days at a rate of eight hours a day to produce a wool jacket or quilt only to finally sell it at a low and unfair price.

Through ADEL, Dina received training in quality, packaging and transportation of her products. She is now one of the leading producers.

She received an incentive grant of $1,000 to buy a sewing machine and raw materials to improve her production and market her products at a fair price so as to meet her basic family and personal needs.

In March 2013, ADEL held the “First Solidarity Exhibition” in corporation with the Technical College for Girls in Ramallah dedicated to Dina’s handmade products. The exhibition was great success. She made more than $300 and got more exposure for her work.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Palestine's only female taxi driver

Nadia Ahmad at the wheel of her taxi [Abed al-Qaisi/Al Jazeera]
Nadia Ahmad is planning to start her own fleet of taxis in the Occupied West Bank town of Hebron -- driven by women, for women, Sheren Khalel and Abed al-Qaisi report for Al Jazeera.

It is something we discussed with friends during my stay in the Occupied West Bank town of Beit Jala last month. Everyone was curious to hear about Dubai and its progress. Among other topics, we spoke of the city’s pink taxis driven by women. So it was a very pleasant surprise when I spotted this news item on Al Jazeera, especially considering the very volatile situation in Hebron where Palestinians are subjected to constant harassment by Israeli settlers.

Khalal and Qaisi write:

Nadia Ahmad prefers to drive in manual. She laughs, motioning with one hand as if she is changing gears while the other one rests on an imaginary wheel.

Ahmad has been preoccupied with cars since she was a young girl, but she never thought she would end up making a living out of her love for being behind the wheel.

For the past two years, Ahmad has been driving a taxi through the streets of Hebron.

While she never planned to make a political statement with her career, there is no getting around it: Ahmad is believed to be the only female taxi driver in all of Palestine.

Her floral-printed mauve headscarf and long black abaya stand out among the rows of bare male elbows poking out of the drivers' windows in the bustling city of Hebron.

She says her husband, a professor of information technology at a local university, never challenged her dream of driving a taxi -- but many others in the community were not as open to her unusual job choice.

Nadia Ahmad shows off her driving license [Abed al-Qaisi/Al Jazeera]
"In the beginning, there was a lot of gossip. When my brother heard other drivers talking about me, about 'that woman who drives a taxi,' he came home and was furious and demanded I stop at once," Ahmad told Al Jazeera.

Ahmad stopped driving for several months after that, but her husband urged her to continue.

Nahid Abu Taima, who teaches a course on feminism in the media at Birzeit University, told Al Jazeera that women like Ahmad are trailblazers in Palestine, paving the way for an equal society.

Madeleine Kulab, 16, Gaza's only fisherwoman
"There's another woman like [Ahmad] in Gaza. She's a fisherwoman. She's surely the only woman doing that job," Abu Taima said. "It's not easy, but these women are opening doors for other women to start work -- not just in general, but in fields previously impossible. We will look back and see [that] these women who made the first jump into 'male' fields helped push us towards equality."

For Palestinian women to break out of the gendered roles in society, Abu Taima says they will have to be prepared for the same kind of backlash and community gossip to which Ahmad was initially subjected.

"Eventually, though, people will start to understand that there is no problem with what she is doing," Abu Taima said.

Ahmad became interested in cars at a young age -- but even then, she understood that it was not considered a "normal" interest for a girl.

She watched her cousins work on their engines when she was a teenager -- never asking questions, but taking mental notes instead.

"I can work on my own car [now]. I watched and watched, [and] now I know about cars. I can take even apart the carburetor," Ahmad said.

Ahmad's daughter, who is married and lives in neighboring Jordan, has followed in her mother's footsteps by obtaining a taxi driver's license as well -=- though she has not yet started driving professionally.

The support Ahmad has received from her family has pushed her to think of her career in a bigger way. She now wants to start her own business, and within the next few years, she hopes to run a small fleet of taxis driven by women, for women.

"The cars will be neon green," she said. "I want to distinguish the all-women taxis from the mainstream ones." [Those are yellow.]

If her idea comes to fruition, customers would be able to request taxis by phone, so women would not have to flag down their ride on the side of the street. She also plans to provide car seats for children upon request, an option not available to women taking mainstream taxis.

So far, Ahmad has encouraged six other women to acquire government-issued taxi licenses. While all six have passed their test and are now licensed taxi drivers, they said family pressure has kept them from proceeding further. Still, Ahmad remains confident they will eventually agree to join her fleet.

ADWAR's Sahar al-Kawasmeh,  [Abed al-Qaisi/Al Jazeera] 
The Roles for Social Change Association (ADWAR), a nongovernmental organization based in the Occupied West Bank, is fully behind Ahmad, general director Sahar al-Kawasmeh told Al Jazeera. Much of ADWAR's work involves fundraising for projects that coordinators believe will help close the gender gap in Palestinian society, and Kawasmeh believes Ahmad's business model is a perfect match.

"When she gets a few more women on board with her idea, we can start an ADWAR project for her business and begin fundraising," Kawasmeh said.

In June, ADWAR recognized Ahmad with their Roles for Social Change Award in honor of her part in breaking social stereotypes and being a positive role model.

Earlier this year, Ahmad submitted her application for a business license, along with her business pitch, to the Palestinian Ministry of Transportation to gauge the viability of her entrepreneurial plans.

A ministry representative from told Al Jazeera that as long as Ahmad was able to meet all the  requirements of any new taxi company -- including office space, insurance, licensed cars and drivers, and start-up cash -- she would be allowed to open.

"We do not discriminate upon gender," the representative, who did not provide his name, told Al Jazeera. "Man, woman, whatever -- there are standard procedural steps that have to be taken, that's all."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The magic of being back in Palestine

And losing my heart to Beit Jala

Beit Jala, in the Occupied West Bank, Palestine
It is something I have dreamed of for decades! It’s that long since I had been back. Being invited to spend three weeks in Palestine this August is the stuff dreams are made of.

Who in their right mind would pass on the opportunity to spend three weeks in the Occupied West Bank town of Beit Jala, a stone’s throw from Bethlehem, where we used to spend our summer vacations until my father passed away in 1973.

There were many apprehensions, mainly about actually seeing the enemy, the crossings, the possibility of getting my passport stamped… but these soon evaporated as we set off for Amman, Jordan, to start what would be three weeks of magic.

On our way to Jerusalem
We crossed into Palestine from the Allenby Bridge, first through the Jordanian checkpoint and then the Israeli one. From my first glimpse of Palestinian soil I was blown away. Seeing that first road sign saying “Jerusalem,” was just unbelievable! That is until the “Wall” appears and the enormity of the Occupation hits you in the face. And the “Wall” is everywhere! The second most shocking thing is the extent of the illegal Israeli settlements that are eating away at Palestinian land.

Jerusalem's glorious walls, but then you hit another kind of "Wall"
The beginning of the segregation "Wall" south of Jerusalem
The "Wall" in Bethlehem

With foreign passports, we were able to travel freely across the country. For Palestinians, who need a permit or tasreeh, it is very restricted and full of hardships.

We went to Bethlehem often, but I wasn’t able to identify my grandparents’ home where we used to spend our summers. We also went to Jerusalem, Yaffa, Tel Aviv, Hebron, Haifa, Acca, Nazareth, Caesaria and Ramallah.

It was a kind of pilgrimage into the past, but also one into a future that does not look bright, at least in my lifetime. The trip was filled with a mixture of tears of joy and sadness. There is a sense of history that is always present. Everyone recognized my family name and made me proud of who I am. There is also a deep renewal of faith at the centuries-old religious sites, be they Christian or Muslim.

But it is Beit Jala, which in Aramaic means “Grass Carpet,” I fell in love with -- both the city and its people. Situated on a hill adjacent to Bethlehem, it has existed for thousands of years and its Christian community is one of the oldest in the world.

We were in Beit Jala for the three weeks in a beautiful house and enchanting garden. I couldn’t get enough of the crystal clear blue sky and air, picking grapes and figs, watching the lemons grow and the flowers bloom, listening to the crickets chirp as the Israeli jets flew overhead.

Beit Jala is a Palestinian Christian town in the Occupied West Bank, one of three including Bethlehem and Beit Sahour. Opposite Bethlehem, it is just 10 km south of Jerusalem.

St. Nicholas Church
It is dominated by the Church of St. Nicolas with its golden dome and spire. Wherever you look, there are olive groves, vineyards and pine tree groves as in most of Palestine.

It is in the 3rd-4th century AD when monks such as St. Nicolas began to come to the area to be close to the site of Jesus’ birth. The large hill on which Beit Jala is located was a good place to build a monastery, being close to the Nativity site but outside the town of Bethlehem itself. With the help of the few locals who were already living in Beit Jala they built St. Nicolas Monastery, the ruins of which can still be seen beneath the Church, as well the very cave in which Nicolas is thought to have lived. With the building of the monastery, the growth of the town accelerated around it and Beit Jala has been continually inhabited by Christians ever since.

As a result of the social upheavals during the Ottoman rule, large numbers of Palestinians, particularly from Beit Jala, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Safafa, left the country for South America during the 19th and early 20th century. Chili and Argentina are home to at least 400,000 Palestinians living in Diaspora, almost all of them from the Bethlehem area.

The road from Beit Jala to Bethlehem
The biblical heritage of the Bethlehem area attracted particular attention from the missionaries, and they began to found some of the region’s first modern schools and churches in Beit Jala. Between 1848 and 1900, it witnessed the building of two Orthodox churches (St. Nicolas’ and St Mary’s), two Catholic churches (The Church if the Annunciation and Bishara Church of the Latin Convent), one Lutheran church (Church of the Reformation), Palestine’s premier Seminary and at the time its most modern school (The Latin Patriarchate), and the Cremisan Monastery. This gave Beit Jala access to the most advanced educational institutions in the country and contributed towards making it one of the first cities to become incorporated as a municipality in all of Palestine in 1912.

Breakfast at Afteem in Bethlehem with Habib Shehadeh

The most delicious falafel
 Cremisan Cellars, located in the Cremisan Monastery, is an important local winemaker that has operated since the establishment of the monastery in the 19th century. The West Bank Barrier, or “Wall,” is being extended to encircle the area, splitting the monastery, which would end up on the Israeli side, from the sister Salesian convent, and making access to this recreational area for Beit Jala residents very difficult. Some 57 Christian families are slated to lose their agricultural property.

The “Wall,” being continuously built and extended by the Israeli occupation forces separates families from their land and livelihood. The Israeli bypass road or Tunnel Highway passes directly underneath Beit Jala.

Israeli forces uprooting olive trees on August 17 in Bir Onah, Beit Jala,
in preparation for building the separation "Wall" encircling Cremisan
While I was there, the Israeli Defense Ministry resumed construction on August 17 of the separation barrier near Beit Jala, even though the High Court of Justice had invalidated the building of the barrier in that region and ordered the state to reconsider it.

Video posted by Muhanad Qaisy on Facebook of Israeli Force
uprooting olive trees on August 17 in Bir Onah, Beit Jala

Since the Israeli occupation, many illegal settlement schemes were implemented in Beit Jala which tore up the town's agricultural infrastructure into segments. So far, three settlements, Gilo, Har Gilo, and Giv'at Hamatos have been created on Beit Jala's cultivated confiscated land, in addition to two tunnels and two bypass roads.

The 1995 Oslo II Interim Agreement resulted in a division of the West Bank into three types of areas which are distinguished by a different level of control -- Areas A, B, and C. Several Palestinian built-up areas were assigned as Areas A or B, yet portions of their community lie in Area C (under complete Israeli control). In the case of Beit Jala, Area A comprising about 25% of the town's land is under Palestinian control. The remaining 75% (Area C) is under Israeli jurisdiction and 7% of the total Area C is located inside the Municipality border. Thus, many neighborhoods in a town or village are physically separated from the core part of their communities.

The Israeli settlement of Gilo was constructed in 1971 on lands belonging to the towns of Beit Jala and Beit Safafa. The present population of Gilo exceeds 40,000. Gilo settlement was greatly expanded in the southern and western direction, creeping on more Beit Jala lands. Gilo settlement is considered one of the largest Israeli settlements that have been built in the West Bank, with a total area of 2,738 dunums (1 dunum is around 1000 square meters).

Har Gilo Israeli settlement as seen from Beit Jala
Har Gilo settlement was established by Israel in 1972 on the Palestinian citizens’ lands in Beit Jala city and Al Walaja village which are located west of Bethlehem.

The settlement of Giv'at Hamatos was created in 1992 on 255 dunums of land belonging to the Orthodox Church in Beit Jala. It presently includes 280 mobile houses which were built to absorb Jews brought from Ethiopia. The Israeli government plans to expand this settlement and build an additional 3,600 housing units on an area of approximately 1,010 dunums belonging to the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa. The expansion of Giv'at Hamatos will also complete the wall of settlements which surrounds Jerusalem from the south.

Although I lost my heart to Beit Jala, the other Palestinian towns and cities we visited each has its own magic and beauty. I treasure every single second of the trip thanks to my hosts, Ayda, Maya, Nasma, Eric and Habib, as well as the many friends I made and who each contributed to making the three weeks unforgettable. Thank you all.