Thursday, July 31, 2008

Taybeh Brewery OKTOBERFEST


Press release by the Taybeh Brewery:


Greetings from Taybeh! My husband, the Mayor of Taybeh, David C. Khoury and of all of our local civic organizations ask that you save the dates of Saturday and Sunday, October 11 and 12, 2008 for the 4th Annual Taybeh Oktoberfest With the opening celebration at 11:00 am Oct 11th at the Taybeh Municipality.

Come enjoy a day of fun and support our Taybeh products Thanks for marking your calendar and sharing the announcement with others

Have a good day,
Maria
Dr. Maria C. Khoury
Festival Coordinator

The Taybeh Brewery, just north of Jerusalem, was established in 1995 by the Khoury family and produces fine beers on a par with the best microbreweries in Europe and the USA. Taybeh, a Christian Palestinian village, is also famous for its handmade olive oil soap.

ToursInEnglish.com will be running tours from Jerusalem on both days of the Oktoberfest and reservations can be made online. Don't miss this great event!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rabbic Student on Hebron Tour

Excerpts from the blog: Velveteen Rabbi

Early on Thursday morning, eleven strangers gathered at the New Gate to the Old City and piled into a van heading for the West Bank. Before the checkpoint, we were advised to hide anything visibly Jewish, lest the soldiers decide to pull us out of the van and ask us questions. (I believe three of us in the group were Jewish; one wears kippah and tzitzit as a matter of course, but he hid them for the duration.) We met our guide Samer at his home in Beit Sahour, a town adjacent to Bethlehem. (Read his bio here if you're interested)

We climbed into our second van of the day -- this one labeled "First Baptist Church," which I thought was pretty funny -- and as we drove, Samer warned us not to photograph veiled women (because it is rude), and also not to photograph Israeli soldiers (because it is dangerous.) The countryside through which we traveled was made up of striated hills of limestone, with small orchards and olive groves and buildings dotting the landscape. I saw an old man in a keffiyeh riding a donkey, sitting regally as he bounced down the road.

. . . . . . . . . We saw the tombs of Abraham and Sarah (well, the monuments above them; the tombs themselves are underground.) I should mention here that Jews are technically not allowed into the mosque, nor non-Jews into the adjacent synagogue. I don't know how long that's been the policy, but it's certainly been true since a settler named Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Muslims at prayer one Purim in what is now called the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.

Cue the first serious cognitive dissonance of my day. Thinking of Reb Zalman davening zhikr with Sufis there in Hebron gave me such joy. Thinking of Baruch Goldstein killing people at prayer in the same room where I was reverently walking made my stomach twist with sorrow and anger. Feeling these two things at the same time -- well, facing that tension is part of why I wanted to visit the West Bank, but wow, this never gets easy, does it?

The full post can be read at the Velveteen Rabbi

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dahab Sinai Retreat

Fred Schlomka

For the next few days I'll be working from a Bedouin Tent on the beach of Dahab, on the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula. The tent is equipped with broadband wireless internet which makes it convenient to update the web site, post to the blog, email, and internet phone calls. Of course my Israeli cel phone works here too, and my other phone which temporarily has an Egyptian sim card in it for local calls. The communication revolution has definitely come to the Sinai.

While I am lounging on cushions doing business in the tent, my two teenage children are off scuba diving in the reef. And this other world is just 7 hours from Tel Aviv.

Dahab is a lovely low-key resort catering to divers and others looking for an off beat vacation. Our hosts are a mix of local Bedouin and Egyptian entrepreneurs who buy or lease property from the Bedouin and invest capital in tourist businesses. Many Egyptians also come here from Cairo to work. In addition there is a sprinkling of foreigners from all over the world who have made Dahab their home, running dive centers, guest houses, or working for Egyptian-owned businesses.

Unlike the Negev Bedouin who are under siege by the Israeli government, having their land confiscated and their homes demolished, the Sinai Bedouin were given rights by the Egyptian Authorities after the peninsula was returned by Israel in the 1980s. Today there are Bedouin entrepreneurs, business owners, taxi drivers, employers and landowners. The situation is not perfect. There are conflicts between the native Bedouin and the Egyptian immigrants. However the Bedouin hold their heads high and retain the proud traditions of their people amidst modernity.

Under development at ToursInEnglish.com is an alternative Sinai tour, which would begin in Israel with visits and overnight stays with the Bedouin of the West Bank and the Negev Desert. Then the tour will head south across the border for an exploration of the status of the Sinai Bedouin. After visiting the tribespeople in the interior the tour will pause in Dahab for some recreation and meetings with local Bedouin. After a few days of beach time, diving and rest, the group will be returned to israel.

We are currently exploring a seven-day and a ten-day option and will have the trip planned and online by the end of August with the first tour scheduled in December.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Taybeh Brewery New Tour


Fred Schlomka

A new tour to the Taybeh Brewery will begin this coming week, and be conducted every Tuesday. The tour will be a combination of recreation and education, focusing on the Israeli settlements to the east of Jerusalem and ending up at the family run brewer in the Christian village of Taybeh, about 15 kilometers north-east of Ramallah.

At the brewers visitors will be given a tour of the facility and sample some fine beer. Beer can also be purchased by the bottle or by the case. However everyone is limited to one case each. On a pilot tour last month the group wanted to buy so many cases that there was some concern about the reaction of the Israeli authorities at the checkpoint back into Jerusalem. Technically, any products purchased in Palestinian areas and brought into Israel are subject to customs duties. So a limit of one case has been imposed by ToursInEnglish.com, and hopefully the authorities will view such purchases as for 'personal use' and not impose taxes.

The village of Taybeh is in Area 'B', which under the Oslo agreements is under the civil control of the Palestinian Authority and the security control of Israel. This is a great tour, incorporating the unique character of Taybeh as a Christian village surrounded by Israeli settlements and Muslim villages and towns. The people are friendly, the beer is excellent, and the guide is well informed. Hope to see you on the tour.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pilot Tour to Jenin and the Freedom Theatre

Fred Schlomka
A private client was conducted yesterday on a tour of Jenin and visited the refugee camp and the Freedom Theatre. This is the first of many tours to Jenin which will be offered by ToursInEnglish.com on a weekly basis beginning in August.

Using the arts as a model for social change, The Freedom Theatre is developing the only professional venue for theatre and arts in the north of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The aim of this project is to empower and give voice to the children of Jenin Refugee Camp through a unique programme of workshops and activities in theatre, supporting arts and multi-media, ranging in their emphasis from the largely therapeutic and healing, to the presentation of high-quality artistic products.

Planning for weekly tours is underway. In addition to visiting the Freedom Theatre and the Jenin Refugee Camp, the tour will make stops in Nablus, Sabastia, and the Burqin Church - one of the oldest Christian holy sites. The tour will depart from Jerusalem and last a very full day.

ToursInEnglish.com is proud to support the Freedom Theatre and will make a donation of at least $100 every time a group visits the theatre. Their work is essential in helping rehabilitate the traumitized children of the refugee camp and channeling their anger while keeping alive their spirit and determination to end the Occupation and liberate the people of Palestine.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Taglit Birthright

Fred Schlomka
A convergence happened today that convinced me that ToursInEnglish.com was on the right track. Two young men who had completed the Taglit Birthright program reunited at an event through their participation in our tours.

One of them took the Hebron tour yesterday and heard from the guide about the Friday demonstration at Bi'ilin, a West Bank village that conducts weekly joint Palestinian/Israeli non-violent demonstrations in protest against the confiscation of their land for an Israeli settlement. The villagers have been doing this for three years!

The other young man took today's Central West Bank tour from Tel Aviv, heard about the demonstration from the guide, and requested to be taken to the tour. Since he was the only tour participant today, the guide complied.

Both men met at the demonstration and recognized each other from the Taglit Birthright program. The program provides a free trip to Israel for any young Jew anywhere in the world in order to strengthen their Jewish Indentity. The tour includes indoctrination in 'Zionist values'. However many young people take the trip for a free ride and then set off to explore the real Israel and Palestine, often with ToursInEnglish.com.

In addition to the two men appearing at the demonstration, yet another ToursInEnglish.com client on a private tour had specifically requested to be taken to Bi'ilin although it was not on the original itinerary. Thus the three clients met at the demonstration having been motivated by their experiences on the tours.

Part of the mission of the tours is to educate and motivate our clients to become more involved in the issues and it is gratifying to see that the process works. We also frequently receive email from past tour participants with stories of their committment to working for a just peace in the land.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hebron Tour creates profound impact

Fred Schlomka
I received an email from a visitor who took the Hebron Tour a couple of weeks ago which said in part: "This tour was one of the most profound experiences of my life. It changed my outlook completely on Israel/Palestine issues"

It's always gratifying when someone takes the time to let me know how they felt about a tour, and even better when they have a life-changing experience.

Most of Hebron is a vibrant and lively city but the contrast between the Palestinian sector and the area surrounding the Israeli settlers is quite remarkable. The entire neghborhood around the Ibrahimi Mosque is a virtual ghost town populated by Israeli soldiers and settlers, and the few Palestinians who have been permitted to remain in their homes and shops. Wire netting hangs over the streets to protect the Palestinian passersby from the stones and debris hurled down from the window's of the settler's homes.

Witnessing this stark and sad situation, and listening to the Palestinian shopkeepers stories of harrassment and beatings by settlers, the inaction of the military to protect them, and the general deterioration of their lives, is enough to make anyone depressed - or spur them to action to try and help. Some of the participants on these tours write to me of becomming involved in peace & justice groups back in their home countries, or of a plan to return and learn more.

This is part if the mission of toursinenglish.com, to provide experiential education for those wanting to learn more about the conflict in Palestine and Israel. The Hebron Tour does that in a manner that most people find very meaningful.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

West Bank and Gaza Forum

Fred Schlomka
A new public forum for the West Bank and Gaza has been opened on the world's largest travel site, TripAdvisor.com. I plan to be a regular contributor there, answering questions and offering advice to people traveling to the Palestinian Territories.

See you there!

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Renaissance in Ramallah

Fred Schlomka
Ramallah, in contrast to East Jerusalem's decline, has become the center of Palestinian Arab culture and economic growth. With investments from the Gulf States, and a renewed cash flow in the Palestinian Authority, the city is experiencing a construction boom, and cultural renaissance.

The Palestinian Authority has 30,000 new affordable housing units planned during the next five years and the government of Qatar is investing $350,000 in the West Bank's first planned new community. Things are looking up!

From the Pronto Cafe to the Café de la Paix, Rammallah's residents are stepping out and enjoying life, in contrast to the rest of the West Bank which is mostly mired in poverty.

Ramallah has over 2,000 international residents which gives the city a cosmopolitan flair. Tourists can be seen again on the streets and the city's hotels are on the rebound.

Come and visit. You won't be disappointed. Spending time in one of the Middle East's most educated and sophisticated Arab populations is a real eye-opener. English is widely spoken and visitors receive a warm welcome.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Safety and Risk in the West Bank

There is also another special article addressing the special concerns of solo female travellers - at this link

Updated: December 2013 - by Green Olive staff
Safety and Security
Ongoing incursions by the Israeli military in into Palestinian areas of the West Bank have not hindered travel by tourists since the IDF operations are generally conducted at night. The occasional rocket fire from Gaza to areas with 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) of the strip, has not affected travel in other areas of the West Bank or Israel. All tours by the Green Olive Collective continue to function normally

Safety for tourists in the West Bank depends on a number of factors. First it's important to understand that street crime is very low, much lower than many other countries. However foreigners should generally take the same precautions that they would do in any other developing country where most of the people are very poor.

The potential for a tourist to encounter violence at this time (December 2013) is quite low, certainly much lower than in most US cities for instance. However incidents do occur, rarely against tourists, and generally fall into the following categories:
  • Stone throwing by Israeli settlers at Palestinian vehicles or vice-versa.
  • Harassment and beatings by Israeli settlers against Palestinian villagers and farmers.
  • Israeli military attacks against often non-violent Palestinian & Israeli protesters.
  • Israeli military incursions into Palestinian areas.
  • Israeli assassination of Palestinians.
  • Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes, often several dozen per month, where families are brutalised for building without a permit.
  • Occasional rocket attacks by Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli communities inside Israel.
  • Random politically-motivated violent attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians both in the West Bank and Israel.
  • Demonstrations in the West Bank and Jerusalem can turn violent. The IDF and Israeli police often violently suppress non-violent demonstrations. Stone throwing by Palestinians at demonstrations often provoke a brutal response.
  • Note that suicide bombings have not been common since the tactics of the Palestinian militant groups changed in 2005. None have occurred for several years.
It is important to emphasis that none of this violence is directed at tourists, and few foreign visitors have ever been injured or killed. The exception is in ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Israel, especially Jerusalem, where immodestly dressed touristss are subject to harassment or violence by residents. Driving through an ultra-orthodox neighborhood on Shabbat, from sundown of Friday to sundown on Saturday, may result in stones being thrown at your car.

However most of the violence by Israelis is aimed at Palestinians in the West Bank, and violence by Palestinians is aimed at Israelis. You have a much greater risk walking about in Manhattan or Miami (where muggings are common) or Tel Aviv (where car fatalities against pedestrians are common) than you do in Bethlehem, Ramallah or Nablus.

The US government does not issue alerts for American cities but it does have an extensive travel warnings for Israel, The West Bank and Gaza, which is always interesting to read, although not necessarily accurate or up-to-date. The British Government also issues detailed warnings.

Dress code
When you are in public please dress similarly to the host population. Be especially sensitive in conservative Muslim or Jewish areas, or when visiting religious sites. 'Village clothes' is the local euphemism. In general this means long trousers (pants in USA-speak) to the ankle or skirt below the knees, and shirt covering the shoulders and upper arms with a high neckline or collar. Showing the shoulders and the upper torso is considered rude, whether by men or women. No shorts by men or women. Local people will relate better to visitors who are dressed appropriately. Ladies should keep in mind that many Jewish settlers in the West Bank wear long skirts, so you may be better off wearing trousers in order not to be mis-identified. On the other hand if visiting an Israeli settlement or religious Jewish neighborhood a long skirt is better.

Street smarts
In general tourists should not walk around Palestinian cities by themselves at night, especially when there have been Israeli military incursions, except when escorted by a Palestinian guide or friend. LOcal Palestinians know what to do in case of an emergency and help keep you safe. There are exceptions. For instance Ramallah is quite cosmopolitan and has an active night life.

Palestinians are usually very friendly and visitors may sometimes be invited for coffee or even to visit a home during a chance encounter with a local resident. Use your common sense in these situations, as you would anywhere. If you have a 'gut feeling' that something is not correct about the invitation then politely refuse. However don't pass up a chance for a genuine encounter with local culture.

Take the usual precautions with your valuables. Don't leave cash, credit cards, passports, camera, laptop etc in an insecure hotel room. If there's no place to lock them up then carry everything with you in a day-pack and money belt. Don't leave your day-pack where you can't see it. In a crowded market, carry your day-pack in front of you, not on your back. Don't flash a large wad of cash in a public situation. Only have in your wallet what you need for the day. The rest of your cash should be in a money belt or locked up. In hostels or cheaper guest houses, do not leave valuables in the management's safe.

Traveling in the West Bank
If you are taking a guided tour then you will be escorted by your guide. Make sure you have the guide's mobile phone number and the phone number of the tour operator, just in case you are separated from the group for any reason. Palestinian guides are part of the community and provide a shelter from any potentially unsafe situation. For instance the Israeli military and Israeli settlers make incursions into Palestinian areas. Should this situation arise then the guide will know what to do. Follow their instructions. Tour operators in the West Bank keep close watch on the security situation and will cancel a tour if there is any risk. However in recent years it is extremely rare that a tour has been disrupted or canceled for security reasons.

You can take Palestinian buses and service (shared) taxis from Damascus gate in Jerusalem to most cities in the West Bank. It's fine to take a Palestinian transport if you want to venture off the beaten track. They are cheap and provide an opportunity to interact with locals. However you should have researched your destination, and if you are spending the night, you should have a reservation or be assured that there are rooms available in your hotel. Arriving in an unfamiliar town or city without knowing where you will spend the night is generally not a good idea.

Overall your safety and risk in the West Bank is a matter of common sense. Be aware of the potential problems, as you would in any unfamiliar country. But don't let concern about these issues hold you back from enjoying the culture and history of Palestinians, exploring Israel, and learning about the Occupation and possibilities for a real peace.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jerusalem Tour . . . . for one

Fred Schlomka
Yesterday I received a call from a lady while I was driving in to Jerusalem. She was interested in a private Jerusalem tour and I just happened to have a few hours available in the afternoon. This young woman had just completed a United Jewish Appeal (UJA) tour of Israel and wanted some balance since her entire visit had, of course, been from the Zionist perspective. It was quite a brave thing for her to do since her friend who accompanied her on the UJA tour refused to come because she was too afraid to visit Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. So I picked the lady up at the Old City's Damascus Gate for a tour of Jerusalem area settlements, the Separation Barrier, and my discourse on the Occupation.

I love these types of tours. They give me a change to have one-on-one conversation with people who are truly interested in the Israel/Palestine situation. As usual she was impressed and shocked at the size of Ma'ale Adumim, the second largest settlement in the West Bank which essentially cuts Palestine in half. She also has the erroneous assumption that most settlers were kippa (yalmuke) wearing radicals.

I explained that the vast majority, about 85%, of settlers were ordinary people who moved to the settlements because of the subsidized cheap housing, tax benefits, and higher quality of life. Most large settlements are leafy suburbs with nice public ammenities such as swimming pools and parks. Since many settlers could never afford such housing or lifestyle inside Israel, it seems like a step up for them. Most are also oblivious to the real issues of their residence - illegal under international law, living on stolen land, and becoming part of the problem, another obstacle to peace.

All of these issues, and more, are discussed on the Jerusalem tour, illustrated by visiting the facts on the ground.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Jericho in style - Intercontinental Hotel

Fred Schlomka
My wife and I needed a weekend off so we took the kids and headed off to the Intercontinental Hotel in Jericho. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat built it in the heyday of the Oslo era, complete with a casino that attracted droves of Israelis in the mid-nineties. However it was closed for several years after the Intifada erupted.

Today, after extensive renovations it is one of the more elegant hotels in the region with all the amenities one expects of a luxury hotel. The casino however remains closed. Getting there is an easy 40-minute drive from Jerusalem, passing only one Israeli checkpoint staffed by sleepy soldiers, and a Palestinian checkpoint with a smiling policeman. No-one asked for a passport. Turn right just past the checkpoints and there's the hotel.

My kids enjoyed the pool and spent most of their time there, in between lounging in their room watching cable TV which we don't have at home. My wife and I alternated between the pool, the jacuzzi and the gym. The food was very reasonably priced and we enjoyed glasses of Taibeh beer brewed by a Palestinian family in the Christian village of Taibeh, just northeast of Ramallah.

One of the fascinating things about the hotel is that most of the clientele are Palestinians from Haifa, Jaffa, Ramallah and Hebron. It's one of the few places in the country where they can fully relax in an Arab environment and mix freely with people from both sides of the Green Line. There were also a few international tourists and United Nations personnel.

I took the family into Jericho for a few hours. We had seen the archeological and other sites before so spent the time shopping for products not available in Israel, interesting coffee, Turkish delight, and a pair of fine leather sandals. I also got a nice hair cut (20 shekels - $6).

The Intercontinental is 550 shekels for a double room (about $166 at current exchange rates).

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Ariel-Third Largest Settlement in the West Bank

Fred Schlomka
It was a clear day today as we drove up into the hills from Israel into the West Bank, driving along the fine four-lane highway that reaches from Tel Aviv into the heart of the Palestinian Territories where 25,000 Israelis live in a nice middle class surburban town called Ariel, the third largest settlement in the West Bank. This week I had only two young ladies from the USA on the scheduled Friday tour from Tel Aviv. As we drove into Ariel though the checkpoint they were amazed at the size of the settlement. We entered a broad boulevard that swept up the hill to the center of town. Along the left side of the road we passed neighborhoods of neatly kept row houses and small apartment buildings.

We kept driving up to a new neighborhood being built on the northeastern edge of the town and paused at a lookout point to review the vista below. We could see several acres of caravans which are still in use for new immigrants, and the Ariel University which dominates everything on the east side. The visitors from the US were a little taken aback by the normalcy of the town: street after street of nice normal homes inhabited by nice normal Israelis. Not a radical settler in sight, just average people who were attracted by the cheap homes, subsidized mortgages, tax breaks, and other incentives that the Israeli government still uses to encourage people to move east of the Green Line. There's also quality of life. Just a half hour from Tel Aviv, this community is high in the hills far above the coastal pollution and some of the nicest views in the country on a clear day. All public amenities are available: swimming pool, gardens, community centers, etc etc. What's not to like?

Ariel, the third largest settlement in the West Bank, is considered by Palestinians to be a serious obstacle to peace.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Palestine/Israel off the Beaten Track

Fred Schlomka

I had a request today from a tourist who wanted to get off the regular tourist routes in Israel by himself so I made this suggestion:

There's a great Saturday market in the Arab village of Tira in the center of Israel, just west of the Green Line. The market is a mix of a flea market, fruits and vegetables, factory seconds, and even a few stalls with tourist trinkets. Lots of great Arabic-style fast food. There's rarely any tourists there although hoards of Israelis flock to the market every week.

The stall owners are also mixed, and it's one of the few places in Israel where you can see a hijab-wearing Muslim woman selling iced lemonade and pita sandwiches, next to a stall where a Sabra (Israeli born Jew) is hawking cheap shoes, next to a Russian Jewish immigrant pushing plastic kitchen products, next to an old Bedouin selling water pipes and crafts. Although few Jews went there at the height of the Intifada, when times are good, it's coexistance at its best.

You'll need a car or taxi. Tira is quite close to one of the main north/south highways, Route 4, about 20 kilometers NE of Tel Aviv. Check the map - Tira is just north of the town of Kfar Saba. From Tel Aviv take route 1 north to route 5 east, to route 4 north, after about 15 kilometers you'll come to the 'Ra'anana/Kefar Saba exit. Don't take it. Keep going another 2 kilometers to the next exit. ('Ra'anana Tsomet Tzafon' in Hebrew). TURN RIGHT towards Kfar Saba. Go to the second light. TURN LEFT. You'll then be on Tchernahovski Street. Keep going straight for about six kilometers to Tira. You'll find the road leading to the village lined with cars. I suggest that you park at the first spot you see and walk a few hundred meters the rest of the way.

There's no buses from Tel Aviv on a Saturday and a taxi will cost about 150 shekels. The market is open from 9am-3pm. Have a great time!

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