Taybeh, West Bank, Sep 3 (EFE).- Palestinian dances, Arab music and beer drinking contests marked the return of Oktoberfest to the Christian Palestinian city of Taybeh, where the Khoury family opened the first craft brewery in the Middle East in 1994 which has since become a hallmark of Palestinian identity that is exported to 17 countries.
In its 16th edition, after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic, the Taybeh Oktoberfest, the local Palestinian version of this important German festival, this weekend saw hundreds of people – many foreigners, but more and more Palestinians – gathering this weekend in the mountainous West Bank village.
DÉTENTE AFTER THE INTIFADA
“I made the first Oktoberfest in 2005. We were coming out from the Second Intifada and (it was) a pricey one. I wanted to show the whole world that Palestinians can resist the occupation and to show that we are normal people who like to practice their daily needs,” Nadim Khoury, co-founder and CEO of Taybeh Brewing Company, told EFE.
Since then, it has become an eagerly awaited event every year – a few weeks before the Oktoberfest in Munich which the Khoury religiously attend every year – in the Palestinian territories, despite the fact that the majority of its Muslim population does not drink alcohol, and even some Israelis are starting to attend.
Robby, a Jewish-Israeli resident of Tel Aviv, proudly shows off his kippah as he tastes Taybeh beer for the first time – “some of the best I’ve ever tasted” – and advocates holding “more such festive events to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together.”
Although Taybeh is in “Area A” of the occupied West Bank, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Robby has defied a ban on Israelis entering under an Israeli law due to “security risks” to attend the increasingly popular Oktoberfest in the village, which features beer, local food and folklore, with performances by Palestinian bands dressed in traditional costumes and the traditional kufiya.
Like Taybeh’s Oktoberfest, the birth of the brewery is also linked to Palestinian history. Nadim, who emigrated as a young man to the US where he studied business administration, decided to return to his homeland in 1994, spurred on by the 1993 Oslo Accords, which revived the dream of an independent Palestinian state and economic prosperity.
“This is my country. I was born and raised here and I have a family here of 600 years in Taybeh. Every time my father used to come to the USA and visit us, he told us you should come back and do something for Palestine. My father and my brother, they both encouraged me to continue and launch the first microbrewery in the Middle East,” says Nadim of the beginnings of his brewery, where his sons now also work.
Back in the US, Nadim made beer as a “hobby” but he decided to make it his livelihood when he returned to Palestine after training at the University of California Davis in fermentation science and graduating as a brewing expert.
Despite the failure of the Oslo Accords, the brewery managed to prosper and today produces 600,000 liters of 10 varieties of beer that are sold in 17 countries, most of them with an established brewing culture, such as Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, the United States, Japan, Jordan and Chile – where the largest Palestinian community in Latin America lives –, as well as Israel.
“That tells you something about the quality of our beer. We are very proud,” says Madees Khoury, Nadim’s eldest daughter, who at 39 has taken the reins of the business after becoming the first female brewmaster in the Middle East.
She admits it has not been easy: “It’s very challenging. Women in the beer industry all over the world is very difficult but to be in an Arab, male-dominated country, and under occupation is like extra, extra challenging. I haven’t always been taken seriously. So you’re always on your toes, trying to find solutions to never ending problems, which is fine, never boring, and helps you grow.”
Despite the difficulties, Madees didn’t think twice and after graduating in the US age 21, she decided to “pick up a one-way ticket and come to work with the family and I’ve been here since.”
In 2007, she expanded the range of Taybeh beers to varieties such as IPA, ale or pilsner, since her father only produced lager and stout, and now her brother experiments with artisan versions in which he introduces Palestinian spices such as zatar or sumac, and flavors such as watermelon, pineapple or Arabic coffee or cocoa.
Today, the small town of Taybeh is known thanks primarily to the beer, which has become a popular brand beyond its borders and is now a hallmark of Palestinian identity.
“We feel very proud. My family loves this village very much and they brought us here from the US, they taught us to love the business and love the town,” says Madees. EFE