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Straight outta Taybeh: Beer, good times flow at Palestinian Oktoberfest

Annual festival hosted in Christian village shows Palestinian partying subculture is well-alive among largely conservative society

TAYBEH — Thick shouldered guards rushed through the crowd in this West Bank city, and three young men were spotted hopping the fence. If they wanted to get into the jam-packed, lively party — in which teenagers and adults from around the West Bank and Jerusalem get down on the dance floor, while brushing shoulders with priests and diplomats — they were going to have to pay the NIS 20 fee like everyone else.

The fence-hoppers were trying to break into the 11th annual Oktoberfest, which was hosted on the grounds of the Palestinian beer brewey, Taybeh. The brewery is located in an all-Christian Palestinian village also called Taybeh — Arabic for tasty — located northeast of Jerusalem.

One 19-year-old teenager who came with a group of friends from East Jerusalem, who all spoke in a mix of English and Arabic, said the party was “like an American block party without the pool.”

Is the party, which was attended by an estimated 16,000 souls, including 20 heads of diplomatic missions and Bishop Youseff Joel Zraiy of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, well-known in Jerusalem?

The teenager took a sip of his NIS 15 300ml beer. “Of course.”

The Germanesque bonanza has captured the attention of Palestinians and international media since it first began in 2005.

The mass consumption of beer, and even NIS 10 pork sausages, in a public festival shows a Palestinian subculture well-alive within a population that is primarily made up of traditional and conservative Muslims who don’t drink.

Christians make up an estimated 1-2 percent of the West Bank’s 2.7 million Palestinians.

In the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank, advertisement of alcohol is illegal. Taybeh Brewery co-founder Daoud Khoury said the Oktoberfest festival was a way to bypass this law.

Daoud Khoury, co-founder of Taybeh Brewery. September 25, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Daoud Khoury, co-founder of Taybeh Brewery. September 25, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The Times of Israel visited the brewery on the second day of the festival. Most attendees appeared to be Christian, as deduced from the crosses dangling from their necks. But there seemed to be a fair amount of non-Christians as well, who came from Ramallah and East Jerusalem to enjoy the beer, hip-hop and house music booming across the party stage and echoing through the West Bank’s rolling hills.

Some said Day 1 of the festival, which took place on Saturday, had a more international vibe.

There were also a few groups of Jewish Israelis who came to dance the night away with their Palestinian neighbors.

One Jewish-American Israeli from Jerusalem, who asked to remain anonymous for work-related reasons, said it was his second consecutive year at the festival.

“What I really appreciate about it is the opportunity to experience Palestinian society first-hand rather than through a screen. Just seeing Palestinians having a good time is an extremely valuable experience in itself.”

Nadim Khoury, co-founder and master brewer of Taybeh Brewery in the West Bank. September 25, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Nadim Khoury, co-founder and master brewer of Taybeh Brewery in the West Bank. September 25, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Many Israelis fear going into the Palestinian territories, which they are legally forbidden to do because of safety concerns.

“I certainly don’t advertise that I’m Jewish,” said the American-Israeli, “but I’ve always felt perfectly comfortable here. Security is very tight. People are very friendly and nice.”

The most surprising thing for him? “The number of kids. This is really a family affair. It’s not a traditional beer festival.”

A Palestinian ‘resistance’ brewery with a kosher certificate

The Taybeh micro-brewery was founded in 1995 by two brothers, Daoud and Nadim Khoury, who were born in the West Bank, but educated in the US.

Daoud told The Times of Israel on Sunday that they returned to their native village after the signing of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, when there was great optimism a Palestinian state would come to fruition.

Yet until the Second Intifada broke out in 2000, Israel was Taybeh beer’s most popular consumer.

In fact, in 1995, Daoud drove to the nearby settlement of Ofra, picked up a local rabbi and drove him back to the brewery. The rabbi inspected all the beer’s ingredients — made according to the German purity law — and concluded the brew was kosher.

For many years the Hebrew kosher certificate hung above Daoud’s desk in the brewery.

But during and after the Intifada, according to Daoud, suddenly Palestinians didn’t want to drink Maccabi, the Israeli beer that had been popular in the West Bank. Instead, in their nationalist fervor, Palestinians turned to their native beer made in Taybeh.

Today, the invalid kosher certificate no longer hangs above his desk. It’s no longer necessary, Daoud said, adding his beer now captures 70% of the Palestinian market, while also exporting six varieties to Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Israel. The Khoury brothers also founded a Taybeh winery in 2013.

Above: click and drag on the video for a look around the festival

Nadim, who is the master-brewer of the family, told The Times of Israel that Oktoberfest is more successful every year.

“This is a peaceful resistance to the [Israeli] Occupation, the good face of Palestine,” he said.

“Making business in Palestine, especially beer business, is not like anywhere in the world. We have no borders, no airport, no ports. Religion, culture, education, advertisement, there are so many obstacles,” Nadim said.

“But we are determined to produce good quality beer and show the whole world Palestinians are normal and love to enjoy life.”

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