Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Using Alcohol on your trip

Many people like to have an alcoholic drink now and again. Some like to party on a regular basis. However every country has it's customs and regulations regarding alcohol. Israel and Palestine are no different.

ISRAEL and JERUSALEM
Inside Israel, west of the Green Line, the laws are clear. The drinking age is 18 years but not as rigorously enforced as some European countries and the USA. Places that sell alcohol are many and varied in Jewish areas, from the local petrol station, to the ubiquitous neighborhood kiosk, to most cafes and restaurants. Virtually all 4 and 5-star hotels sell alcohol, and many of the smaller Christian-run hotels and guest houses. However all the Muslim towns and villages are 'dry', and most of East Jerusalem.

Try and remember where you are when ordering an alcoholic beverage. A 4-star hotel in East Jerusalem will be happy to sell you a beer. However these establishments cater almost exclusively to tourists. Once out the door you will be entering an Islamic ethos and will find no alcohol in neighborhood restaurants or cafes. The exceptions are the Christian run places in the Old City. If in doubt look at the interior walls. Most Christian cafes will have a cross or religious icon somewhere on display whereas the Muslim places will perhaps have an image of Al Aksa Mosque or other Islamic art or inscription.

That's not to say that all Muslims are teetotal. However when they have a beer or whiskey, they do so in the privacy of their home. Or they trek over to a tourist hotel, Christian or Jewish pub, and have a discreet drink. I live in a mostly Jewish town and have an occasional beer in a working-class pub that caters to local people and Muslims from a nearby village. It's one of the few places near my home where Arabs and Jews sit together and talk about the recent lottery results, the latest political scandal, or watch a football game on the giant screen. By unspoken agreement, nationalist politics are not discussed.

The WEST BANK
The vast majority of the population in the West Bank are Muslim, so finding a beer can be tough. Ramallah is an exception since many residents there are Christian, hundreds of internationals live there, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere has developed in the city. There are many chic cafes, night clubs and restaurants that serve alcohol. Nablus, a city of 450,000, is completely dry, and bringing alcohol from outside the city is frowned upon.

The all-Christian village of Taybeh, near Ramallah and Jerusalem, has it's own micro brewery and sells it's beer wherever it is permitted in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The beer is very good, on a par with the best micro-breweries in Europe and the USA. The Bethlehem suburbs of Beit Sahour and Beit Jalla are also mostly Christian and alcoholic beverages can be found there. There are also a few Christian-run wineries in the Bethlehem area.

So don't despair, you will be able to tipple a bit on your trip to our lovely country.

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