By CNN's Deena Zaru
Pope Francis is making his first trip to the Middle East since becoming the leader of Catholic Church last year. And while the spotlight shines on two cities he will visit, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians in Gaza and the West Bank, hope to participate in this religious pilgrimage as well.
Palestinians in the West Bank need permits to enter Jerusalem. During religious holidays, the Israeli government allows a small number of Palestinian Christians to visit the holy sites there.
The road to Bethlehem, which is often riddled with Israeli checkpoints, is so dangerous and winding that it has been dubbed “the valley of fire.”
Taybeh, a Christian village of about 1,300 people, is located about twenty miles northeast of Jerusalem in the West Bank. The road to Taybeh is steep and rocky overlooking green mountains, groves of olive trees and a skyline decorated with churches, steeples and crosses. Patches of yellow, pink and lavender mark fresh signs of spring in the small, well-tended gardens of old stone homes.
Taybeh dates back to the Bronze Age and is biblically famous for having hosted Jesus and his disciples. Tourists frequent its ancient Byzantine remains and the ruins of the el-Khadr Greek Orthodox Church. For the past decade, Taybeh is also known as the home of the only Palestinian brewery.
Dr. Maria Khoury, a woman of Greek-American origin has been living there with her family and her husband David, the former mayor of Taybeh, since 1995 when David chose to return home and invest in his country. She describes Taybeh as “a little light of the world.”
The Khoury family have been living in Taybeh for more than 600 years. After the Oslo Accords David brought him family back from the United States with hopes of peace and a Palestinian state.
David’s brother Nadim founded the Taybeh Brewery in 1994, now a thriving family business and his daughter Madees is the only Palestinian female brewer. Last August the Khoury family harvested and crushed grapes to make red wine that will be bottled in the fall. The brewery and the winery attract thousands of tourists and each year, Taybeh’s Oktober fest draws thousands of Palestinian Muslims, Christians and international crowds for music, Palestinian food and of course, beer.
After the second uprising began in 2001, like other Palestinian villages, Taybeh became more and more isolated from the rest of the West Bank, the checkpoints, road blocks and Israeli constructed walls make access to the village hard and time consuming. Traveling to holy sites in Bethlehem and Jerusalem is arduous and often impossible.
Traveling to see the Pope this Sunday will be no different for Christians like Maria Khoury. Unless granted those special permits by Israel, Palestinian Christians, like her, will be unable to make a trip. Khoury added that even the parish priest and the nuns would need permits.
“There are a bunch of different circular walls closing us in,” said Khoury. “Politics create walls and divisions. We welcome the Pope and pray that a just resolution and a just peace will come to the area. If politics could leave people alone, I think people would get along beautifully, whether they are Christians, Muslims or Jews.”