West Bank brewery taps thirst for peace

By Shira Rubin, October 10, 2013
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Drinkers at Taybeh Oktoberfest included Arabs, Christians and Jews

Drinkers at Taybeh Oktoberfest included Arabs, Christians and Jews

Glittering, pretty young things swayed to local funk-rock bands, flipping their wrists in the style of the dabke, the Palestinian folk dance.

Thousands of Palestinians, Arab Israelis, foreign aid workers and tourists descended on a Ramallah hotel to celebrate Palestine’s first and only microbrewery, but there were also Jewish Israelis among the revellers.

“People ask me: Why do you go to the West Bank, isn’t it dangerous?” said 30-year-old Itiel Sharaby, who travelled to the West Bank mainly out of curiosity to see what is happening just minutes from his home. “I always say, Why not?”

The Taybeh Oktoberfest has, since its inception in 2005, hosted plenty of Israelis eager to learn about a different kind of Palestinian culture — one in which both the traditional and the modern are embraced, and peace and multiculturalism are the vision for the future.

Here’s to co-existence: a reveller at the festival (Photo: Getty images)

Here’s to co-existence: a reveller at the festival (Photo: Getty images)

And at this weekend-long party, where small-batch beer and meeting up with friends are the topics for conversation, normality is exactly the point.

West Bankers were glad to welcome Israelis, or anyone else, said a local tour guide, Tamer Alhesi, who explained that all the partygoers were here to drink and have fun, not to talk about political tensions.

“That doesn’t mean that you have to come and speak Hebrew, because we’re in the conflict,” added Mr Alhesi, “but that does not mean they cannot come.”

Some Palestinians argued that an event involving Jews, Arabs and Christians should not take place while the conflict rages. Critics such as the art group Ramallah Syndrome say that attempts to promote normality also promote a “five-star occupation”, undermining Palestinian independence.

In the scenic Christian village of Taybeh, where the sale of beer is legal — unlike in the surrounding Muslim villages — local Palestinians are more open to engagement.

US-educated David Khoury is the founder of the Taybeh brewery. He has attracted millions of dollars’ worth of investment into the infrastructure of the historic village, and the place has become a major tourist attraction.

But in recent years, the village’s former mayor has been shot at and his car vandalised.

This year, opposition came from the municipality, which demanded half of the Oktoberfest earnings, as well as some locals, who objected to hosting a liberal, international crowd in their quaint village.

As a result, the festival was moved to the Movenpick hotel in Ramallah. Here, a red-rope, corporate club vibe has deterred some of Taybeh Oktoberfest’s fans, who believe the festival belongs in its original biblical landscape.

“Its terrible,” said Kanan Khoury, son of David, as he fervently tends bar. “I just came back from the US a month ago, and this has been one of the first experiences I’ve had with the government, with the people.”

Regardless, he says, “this is where I’m from, and I’ll stay, definitely.”

Last updated: 12:37pm, October 10 2013