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Very few people these days think of traveling to Judea and Samaria for leisure. Safety concerns and political controversy cause most to rule out any outing in the hills. And even if safety or politics weren't an issue, there are few restaurants - and certainly no pubs or dance bars - that would in themselves warrant a special trip across the Green Line.
A charming bistro in Gush Etzion hopes to change that. Gavna has been around for almost four years as one of the few spots in Gush Etzion (a settlement bloc outside Jerusalem) where local singles or families can grab a bite or a cup of coffee in a caf -style environment. On Tu B'Shvat, Gavna re-opened its doors after a hiatus during which the owners remodeled the place.
"This place comes to reconcile controversy," says Uria Tal from Jerusalem, who owns the place with his long-haired brother, Ben from Bat Ayin. "We wanted to create our own culture for the people here, and for anyone else who wants to come."
He and his brother built the cabin-style bistro with their own hands as a true labor of love. Its careful wooden design and casual environment add to its homey country feel. A large window offers a view of the countryside, Jerusalem, and the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit. On a good day one can see the coast and even Tel Aviv.
And even though Gavna is arguably one of the few dining establishments outside Jerusalem where youngsters flaunting orange ribbons can feel at home, the owners like to keep politics at the door.
"I distance politics from this place. That's why it attracts different people," says Uria, who doesn't define himself as religious. He notes that the name Gavna means "hue," reflecting the diversity of patrons he hopes to attract - religious, non-religious, young and old, singles and families. He estimates that about 20% of his customers come from outside Judea and Samaria.
However, by virtue of its location and character, Gavna stands as a kind of statement. Especially now, with the settler community under pressure - not only physically but also culturally and politically - Gavna serves as an example of outreach to Israelis who wouldn't normally tour the settlements. It gives them a chance to see the "normal" side of the religious-Zionist community - a community which, ever since the Gaza withdrawal, has been associated more with political upheaval than day-to-day culture.
And those concerned about dining on land that doesn't belong to Jews can eat in peace. Gavna was built on the grounds of the former Kibbutz Masuot Yitzhak, a religious kibbutz founded in 1945 on land purchased by Jews in the 1920s. The kibbutz fell in a bloody battle to the Jordanians in the War of Independence. Eventually, members of Kibbutz Masuot Yitzhak rebuilt it in the center of Israel, while other Gush Etzion residents, who waited to return, founded settlements in the area after the Six Day War. The Gavna owners received special permission from the Gush Etzion municipality to build a restaurant in the area, which is not immediately surrounded by Jewish housing, because of its cultural contribution.
For those who have never been to Gush Etzion, getting to Gavna is part of the Gavna experience. Those coming from Jerusalem, for example, have to drive not only across the Green Line, but also on dirt roads and through woods. During the day, Gavna is an ideal meeting spot for hikers. It's surrounded by historical relics and structures, as well as springs, woods and meadows.
The Tals want to make Gavna more than just a bistro, but a cultural meeting place. They plan to hold summer jazz concerts and other cultural events.
In terms of food quality and diversity, Gavna can easily rival any dairy kosher restaurant in "little Israel." The menu includes home-made breads, salads, toasts, pizzas, pastas, quiches and fish cooked by the experienced chef, Eliyahu.
Having started out as a teahouse, Gavna offers a respectable selection of teas and coffees. Those who want to feel like they're in a pub can order liquor, beer or cocktails from one of the four bar stools. And Gavna proudly serves wines from Gush Etzion wineries.
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 5 p.m.-12 a.m. (buffet 5 - 8 p.m.)
Friday: 12-3 p.m. (buffet and Shabbat take-out)
Saturday: From an hour after sundown to 12:30 a.m.
Tel: (02) 533-6036