Saturday, January 16, 2021

The 14th annual Taybeh Oktoberfest: a time to forget the occupation

By Myriam Purtscher - September 16, 2018
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [Taybeh Beer] [Taybeh Oktoberfest ]

Nestled deep within the eastern ridge of the rugged Judean mountain range in the West Bank is the village of Taybeh. According to the old testament, Jesus visited the town with his disciples to fortify his spirit and expose himself to temptation. These days, a new pilgrimage of temptation is reshaping the last remaining all-Christian town in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The liberated beer-drinking ethos of 'Oktoberfest’ seems like a foreign entity considering the first brewery in Palestine was built under occupation, separated from the world by a segregation wall built by Israel. But, for the past 24 years, the Khoury family’s Taybeh Brewery has been resisting apartheid, peacefully uniting all sides of the political and cultural divide – one beer (non-alcoholic options also available) at a time.
The Taybeh brewery was established in 1994 - just after the signing of the Oslo Accords during a time of renewed optimism for Palestinians - by the Khoury family who had returned to their Palestinian homeland from America to found the first microbrewery in the Middle East.
At the brewery’s 14th annual Oktoberfest, founder Nadim Khoury’s son and Brewmaster, Canaan Khoury discussed the challenges of brewing under occupation to Palestine Monitor as he poured thirsty punters cups of locally flavoured herbal beer, sourced from the region.
“Oh, I can easily write books about the problems we face,” Canaan laughed. “From water shortages, importing and exporting issues, not having our own borders, social constraints, technological difficulties. Yeah, we have many, many issues we have to deal with in Palestine.”
Tight water restrictions are a big challenge for the brewery as beer is 95 percent water. And although the Palestinian population has doubled, they must still survive on the water rations stipulated in the Oslo Agreements - living off 13 percent of the water, while the remaining 87 percent goes to Israel.
“Our ability to operate under these conditions is something we hope gives hope to other people who remain here and fight the occupation in such a way; in such a peaceful way,” Canaan added.
Looking around the Oktoberfest, there was a noticeable mix of different cultures and backgrounds. Not only people of all ages, but also Israelis mixing with Palestinians. Canaan said this inclusivity is something their family strives for. “It seems like beer is the only thing that can draw people together in this part of the world,” Canaan said smiling.
But political differences aren’t the only barriers Taybeh Brewery are tearing down. Gender divides are also being bridged with Madees Khoury, Nadim Khoury’s other child and general manager of Taybeh Brewery.
Regarded as the only female brewer in the Middle East, Madees considers her job fun and exciting, but also challenging in a strong patriarchal society.
“I’m a woman in a man’s world and supposedly in a man’s industry, so I have double the challenge. Women brewers all over the world face these same challenges but being under occupation makes it more challenging.”
Madees explained how the masculine mentality and culture affects doing business in Palestine.
“I’m not just a brewer working in the factory with only the tanks and the beer,” Madees said, describing the reaction she gets. Many people are still surprised and often unsure how to deal with a female in this line of work. “I also deal with people [through] importing and exporting. It’s crazy, I mean doing business in this country is unlike anywhere else in the world.”
Looking out from the festival site, under a dynamic palette of changing colours with the setting sun, the vast rolling countryside of Taybeh seemed never ending. It’s easy to forget the road to Taybeh from the Palestinian de-facto capital of Ramallah was dotted with Israeli military checkpoints and illegal concrete settlements, a constant reminder of occupation.
Self confessed festival-chaser and Oktoberfest patron, Ammar al-Deek doesn’t drink alcohol, but said Oktoberfest and other festivals make him feel normal, and explained how it gives the next generation of Palestinians a chance to defy the tired, war-torn narrative which they grew up with.
“When I see people, drinking and feeling free, dancing, eating, families, boys and girls together, foreign bands, Palestinian bands - it makes me feel like I’m of out the system, out of the prison. I mean, especially in Palestine you know,” al-Deek said. “Because Palestine is the biggest prison in the world.”
Al-Deek said he wants foreigners to understand that Palestinians also love to live and party, but that it means something more for people in the West Bank. “We are young, wild and free no matter how old we are, no matter how much the Israelis are surrounding us, killing us,” al-Deek said. He referenced the recent news of two teenagers being shot in Gaza and the seemingly endless demolition of villages to make way for encroaching illegal Israeli settlements.
“We dance not just to dance. We dance to forget that we are under occupation, to forget that we are under their system.” 

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