Taybeh on tap

Palestinians enjoy a two-day festival of beer and street hockey in a small Christian village, but politics is never far away.

Jerusalem street hockey team 521  (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Jerusalem street hockey team 521
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
‘This is our first concert outside Spain. We didn’t know much about the politics here except what we see on TV, but since we got here everything has been really perfect. We are staying in west Jerusalem, and our consulate has helped arrange everything for us.”
Miguel Ibanez, the lead guitarist of Metal Cambra, a Spanish heavy metal band, explained how his band had found its way to perform at the small Palestinian Christian village of Taybeh in the West Bank. Their soulful, ear-splitting tunes were one of the main events of the seventh annual Taybeh Oktoberfest that took place last weekend. The crowd of several hundred people, made up mostly of Europeans who work for NGOs or diplomatic missions in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, were excited by the performance. A few even tried to create a little mosh pit down by the main stage, dancing and screaming frenetically. A dozen older people, mostly village elders wearing keffiyehs, were an odd contrast to the music.
On October 1, Taybeh opened its annual beer festival, which celebrates the locally brewed beer that the village has become famous for. Taybeh is located in the undulating hills about 20 minutes’ drive north of Jerusalem in what is classified as Area A (full Palestinian Authority control), which Israeli Jews are forbidden by Israeli law from entering.
This year’s festival attracted 17 sponsors, which included the PA Tourism Ministry, the consuls general of the US and Italy, a Japanese NGO, the Catholic NGO Caritas, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the local representatives of several other countries.
The Taybeh Municipality estimated that more than 16,000 people would attend the two-day event, although it was difficult to assess by the number of people coming and going if it would reach that number. Ahmed, who works with the travel guide center visitPalestine.ps in Ramallah, thought the turnout was heavy. By 7 p.m. the streets of the small village were crowded with cars.
Taybeh beer and its village are a family business. The company was started by Canaan Khoury and his sons Nadim and David. Today David is the mayor, and Nadim is the master brewer. David’s wife, Maria, is the organizer of the Oktoberfest and a spokeswoman for the brewery. The owners of Taybeh are proud of their Palestinian heritage.
“The logo of the company was designed by a local artist from Ramallah to illustrate not only the traditional style of brewing, but it also includes an image of the countryside around Taybeh in the background… We wanted to change the perception of Palestine through the beer, to show a peaceful and economically stable side of the country,” says Maria.
She is also deeply attached to the Christian heritage of the village. “This is one of the places mentioned in the New Testament, when it was called Ephraim. It is connected to the Old Testament village called Ofra by Jews. Christ came here, and we have this beautiful Byzantine church.”
The Byzantine church ruins are prominently displayed on the municipal brochures, and the image of St. George killing a dragon is carved on many houses.
DAVID KHOURY sits behind a large desk in the municipal offices. Near the desk are architectural plans for a sports complex, and Khoury avidly lists the projects he has helped get international funding for, including a road built by USAID, a public park and a new Orthodox school.
“We do this Oktoberfest Palestinian style, which means not like in Germany with a whole month of celebrations. We do two days, and even that takes a lot of preparation,” he says. “This was originally my brother Nadim’s idea because he traveled to Germany; and since we are brewing according to the German tradition, it was a natural step. When I became the first democratically elected mayor of Taybeh in 2005, I inaugurated this festival with support from the municipality. We are thinking of expanding the festival next year to the old town of Taybeh and maybe having it last longer.”
Khoury is also very clear that this is a festival that should celebrate the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. “We started this as a new peaceful
resistance to occupation…We want to show the world that Taybeh people are not what they thought. People stereotype Palestinians as terrorists, but here visitors see food, beer and culture. We Palestinian people are suffering and now, after 63 years, this is a historical moment with the [planned] declaration of statehood.”
To show its support for the Taybeh festival, for the past three years the PA has sent ministers to open the event.
This year, Khouloud Daibes, the PA minister of tourism and antiquities, welcomed the assembled group of villagers, internationals and diplomats. Khoury, happily greeting those in attendance, was proud to note that the PA had supported the festival to the tune of $15,000 to help excavate a large courtyard near the municipal building where the stage was set up.
“The total cost of the two days of events is about NIS 100,000,” he explains.
This year the day began with a Sri Lankan dance troupe, followed by a performance by a Brazilian band called the Rodrigo Lessa Trio.
Just around the corner from where Metal Cambra was performing were a dozen stalls selling local food, mostly felafel and shwarma. In another corner was a sign exclaiming “Sushi from Japan,” supplied by a Japanese group that has been supporting Taybeh’s festival for several years.
Outside the main venue, a half dozen local men worked security, large Christian-themed tattoos stretched across their bulging biceps that they were only too happy to show off. Security was everywhere, with dozens of Palestinian policeman patrolling the area. The Palestinian security looked on in amazement at the copious amounts of alcohol being consumed, either in awe or in shock at a Palestinian festival celebrating alcohol.
Maria Khoury said that Taybeh had introduced a nonalcoholic line of beer in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the PA elections in 2005 precisely because many Palestinian Muslims are strict in their abstention from alcohol.
DOWN THE street in the courtyard of the Latin Patriarchate Catholic School, around 50 people had gathered for the annual street hockey competition.
There are two street hockey leagues in the region, one in Ramallah and the other in Jerusalem. The players are mainly made up of Westerners who work for organizations like the UN and the Red Cross. In Jerusalem, the enthusiasts practice at the Anglican school on Hanevi’im Street. Aaron, a Canadian who plays for the Jerusalem team, was sitting adjusting his knee pads before going in to play.
“The street hockey club is an incredible opportunity to bring the international community together in body-checking and fun. We play every week to have fun and relieve some stress. Once a year we have this annual playoff,” he said.
That day Jerusalem was in the lead, up two games to one, with several more to play. The Ramallah players had designed a shirt with a logo resembling the Hezbollah flag, but in place of an AK-47 is a hockey stick. The back of the shirt declares “2st ever! Palestinian Street Hockey Tournament.” The “2st” typo is as incongruous as the fact that there don’t seem to be any Palestinians on the team, despite the name of the tournament.
Down the main street, two Palestinian Muslim women with broad smiles were eager to share their thoughts. Shareen Abu Rubbe and Imtiaz Moghrabi had come to see the festival.
“It is our second time here, and I think it is much better than last year. It is really nice. David’s sister Bethania, who works in the brewery, is my friend and we went to see the beer factory. They took us on a three-hour tour. It is really unique,” Shareen said.
Imtiaz, a Muslim from Ramallah who specializes in media studies, was wearing a head scarf, one of the few women wearing them at the festival.
“We are open-minded people,” she says. “This festival is popular and a lot of people love it, even though it is true that for Muslims beer is forbidden.
You can see here how the country is developing despite the occupation, and it is important for the people to see that not all of Palestine is religious. I am really proud to be here and see our tourism minister supporting it. It reflects our struggle [for independence].”
Back at the main venue, inside the municipality’s main hall, a half dozen local artisans had gathered to sell their wares. Local honey, olive oil and soap were on display alongside traditional Palestinian dresses.
The middle-aged women from the village, members of a women’s society, were selling their handmade knitted wallets, quilts and pillow cases for NIS 30 to NIS 100. One woman said, “We are doing really good business today. It is really great for the local economy.”
Next to them, two men were chatting in Hebrew.
One of them, named Eitan, explained, “There are Israelis here, mostly people who are involved in Leftist movements. I’m not an anarchist or anything like that, but I thought it was important to come to an event like this that brings people together. I don’t feel strange speaking Hebrew here; we haven’t had too many stares or anything.”
Back at the shwarma stand, a young German named Max was trying to find someone from whom he could borrow paper to roll a cigarette. “I came to Israel to volunteer at the Reut Institute near Tel Aviv,” he said. “I took three sheruts [shared taxis] to get here today. From Ramallah the taxi was full of internationals coming to the festival. For me, it isn’t a political thing. I really like Israel, but I’m a German after all, and this is a beer festival.”