Drinking in the politics

Drinking in the politics

By JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN
October 15, 2009 12:38
3 minute read.

NIS 10 pints and NIS 5 falafel just about sum up the attractively priced Taybeh brewery's annual Oktoberfest, a two-day celebration held on October 3 and 4 in this West Bank village populated by Christian Palestinians. Usually held at the end of September, this year's event was postponed, just a bit, in deference to Ramadan. Revelers from the West Bank, Israel and the rest of the world - from diplomats to backpackers - came together for the chance to eat, drink and be merry with friends and "the other." And the atmosphere was jovial, considering this impressive mix of people at a beer festival in a predominantly Muslim area. To that point, this past year, in addition to the golden, dark and amber varieties of the only Palestinian beer, the non-alcoholic Taybeh Halal was introduced and available by the bottle. Founded by brothers Nadim and David Khoury in 1994, in light of the Oslo Accords signed a year prior, they released the first Taybeh, golden, a year later. The dark and amber varieties were introduced to celebrate the millennium. And Taybeh recently went twist-off. There was an attempt at Taybeh light, but this suffered the same ill fate as the Israeli-brewed, industrial Goldstar's attempt at such a beverage. Israelis and Palestinians, it seems, take their beer very seriously. The crowd, which seemed to double the village's population of 1,452, included Ilan Fathi, a 27-year-old Israeli who works with activist organization Breaking the Silence. Fathi first attended the Taybeh Oktoberfest a few years back when some international activists asked if he'd like to join them following an event in Hebron. "I think that 1 percent [of the crowd] are Jewish Israelis. And 90% of them are activists," Fathi estimated, adding that he recognized many of the faces from his own work. But for him, the real pleasure was seeing all those faces at a festive event, where they could relax and enjoy themselves and throw back a few pints. Located 35 kilometers north of Jerusalem and 12 km. northeast of Ramallah, the brewery is just a hop, skip and a jump from both cities - but you'll meet more folk from the latter. Peter, a German, left the comfort of his home near Cologne to work with the German Development Corporation. He has enjoyed Taybeh in Ramallah, where he now resides. "I must say, it's a very good beer," he offers, a Taybeh in his hand. It is easy to find in Ramallah, he says, adding that there are plenty of spots in the city reminiscent of the Western lifestyle to which he is most accustomed. Conversation quickly turned political, a difficult point to avoid, but with all comments made off the record, it was clear that the day was really about the beer. In the cool evening air, crisp and refreshing as the beer itself, Peter said it was easy to see how good life could be. Also provided was live entertainment, performed on a stage in front of a huge banner advertising a Palestinian telecommunications company. A crowd was gathered, sipping brews of course, under the huge, shaded courtyard of a community center, enjoying shows from children's fare to some almost avant-garde hip hop provided by the Ramallah Underground. Over at the brewery, located further inside Taybeh, we were greeted by Buthina Khoury, "the sister," who is responsible for brewery tours. She is also a filmmaker who produced the brewery's welcoming video and a film about Taybeh beer titled Taste the Revolution. She commented that "when people drink they put politics aside" - a decidedly hard sell considering how much politics was discussed that day. But it is fair to say that these discussions lacked animosity, which was a welcome change. Taybeh used to be certified kosher by the rabbi from the Ofra settlement, located not too far from the brewery. But this ended when it didn't help bring about the hoped-for profits from the religious Jewish market. After all, it is a business. And it is clear that for Buthina, as it seems with all the Khourys and Taybeh residents, there is much pride in their product - so much so that she offers an "inshallah" in the hope that Taybeh will be an integral player in the development of local beer culture.


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