We woke after a stormy night, with heavy rain and strong winds. By the time we had eaten breakfast, the weather was improving, but our guides decided to call off the scheduled morning’s walk. Our young journalist and his partner had arrived in city clothing and were certainly not dressed for adverse conditions, but to the more experienced and properly equipped walkers among us it was a disappointing decision.
After some delay, a minibus arrived to take us to Taybeh, the only wholly Christian village left in Palestine, and appropriately, the site of the only brewery in Palestine, the Taybeh Brewing Company. This successful microbrewery follows the German purity law of 1516 which means only malted barley, hops, yeast, and water are used in its products. We had a quick tour, and a sample (well, you just have to…). The beer is available throughout the Middle East, and is manufactured under licence in Germany, but AFAIK is not available in the UK.
Our next stop was St.George’s Church, where we were met by the parish priest, Fr.Raed, for what turned out to be a most entertaining and informative whizz through local history, biblical stories and speculation, current affairs, social action, and Middle Eastern politics. Even the hardened secularists in the party were captivated by this energetic Palestinian, for whom no challenge was too great: there was nowhere in the village for visitors to the annual beer festival – fine, he’d build a hostel; there was no clinic – fine, he’d build one; the Israeli’s segregation wall had come between the village and the only care home – fine, he’d build one of those too.
He showed us his House of Parables – a 250 year old building, occupied by a local Christian family until 1974, with an entrance claimed to be 2,000 years old. It has rooms on three levels – for the family, for large animals and for smaller animals (who also have an access hole under the old wooden door). Fr.Raed uses this to illustrate Gospel stories – no Christian pilgrim to the Holy Land should miss this!
Throughout our walk we had been constantly told by Palestinians how they desperately needed peace to help them build their country. Fr.Raed was the only Palestinian we heard who expressed a desire for peace for the benefit of Israelis too. The present situation of occupation is not sustainable long term, and demeans the occupiers as much as it oppresses the occupied. It was impossible to ignore his Peace Lamp Initiative.
Tearing ourselves away, we had a final look round the ruined old St.George’s Church. Taybeh is the New Testament Ephraim, and there has been a church on this site from at least the 5th century, although the ruins today mostly date back to the 12th century. Our guide told us that local people still occasionally sacrifice a lamb at its ruined doorway, and give the meat to the poor. Possibly a relic of pre-Christian, pre-Judaic, Canaanite practice?
Time to move on, and our guide bustled us into the minibus and off towards Bethlehem, stopping only for a quick falafel sandwich en route. After our somewhat spartan accommodation on the walk, we were delighted with the comforts of the modern el-Beit guesthouse. It’s amazing how much pleasure can be derived from a return to en-suite loos and showers…