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Palestinian-style Oktoberfest goes down smooth By Adam Pines

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Sunday September 17, 2006

By Adam Pines, Taybeh, West Bank- Few were sober Sunday afternoon in the small West Bank village of Taybeh, as the second annual two-day Oktoberfest came to a close. Priests sat side by side with young fashionable hipsters from neighbouring Palestinian cities and villages, clasping cups of the locally brewed ale, swaying to tracks spun by DJ Jako and a slew of other local minstrels.

Sponsored by the local municipality and the only brewery in the Palestinian areas, the Taybeh beer festival is an unlikely event in the Palestinian territories, where the existence of alcohol has come under severe threat since the radical Islamic Hamas movement gained control of the Palestinian government last January and bluntly stated its intention of ridding the Palestinian areas of any liquor.

Despite repeated attacks on several alcohol-serving bars in Ramallah over the past months, the owners of the Taybeh Brewing company, Nadim and David Khoury, say they are unfazed by such threats.

"The government has enough problems to deal with before they can eliminate alcohol," Nadim says, but the uneasy situation is apparent.

Surrounded by 16 Muslim towns and villages, Taybeh is the only fully Christian town in the Palestinian Authority, a fact that on its own is difficult, but which Nadim says has yet to stifle profits.

In fact, he says, Hamas' rise has given impetus to his longtime hope of brewing a non-alcoholic beer.

The brothers lived in Boston for most of their lives and Nadim - Taybeh's brewing master - learned the trade while working at a local liquor store, though he later received his master's degree in brewery engineering at the University of California at Davis.

After the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israelis, Nadim returned to Taybeh at his father's request, with the vision of brewing the first Palestinian beer.

By his own account, "if Palestine were to be a true democracy we needed a Palestinian beer."

Having returned from Tunis with his father after the Oslo Accords, Nadim received Yassir Arafat's blessing to set up the brewery and "a little while later we were making the only Palestinian beer," he said.

Made in accordance with the German beer purity laws of 1516, Nadim uses ingredients from a slew of European nations, "but the water is Palestinian - that's what makes it our national beer."

As a business idea, it doesn't sound promising. Import the ingredients from abroad, brew alcohol in an overwhelmingly Muslim area, and then try to overcome Israeli and Palestinian bureaucracy in the hopes of exporting it oversees.

But the small micro-brewery has not done badly. The beer is exported around the world and both Nadim and David say it is often difficult to keep up with the demand.

The only other company around the world licensed to brew Taybeh beer is the German Nagold brewery, located outside Stuttgart.

Ultimately the brothers claim the brewery was not set up to yield a great profit. "We are not here to make millions - if that was the reason we would have closed shop years ago," David asserts.

But David - Nadim's brother, business partner, and the recently elected town mayor - says the planning of the festival was a feat in itself.

Though the swashbuckling festival typically falls at the beginning of October, Nadim had to avoid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - in which Muslims fast throughout the day - and the Jewish New Year holidays when Israeli military checkpoints regularly lockdown or severely hamper travel throughout the West Bank.

But on the autumn afternoon, the plethora of concerns surrounding this Palestinian-style Oktoberfest seemed a distant thought. Around the municipality compound the giddy crowd was buzzing, dancing and chatting away.

Eighteen-year-old Maria Khoury from Ramallah said she was waiting for the festival since it first began last year. Arriving with her fashionably-clad, big city friends, she recalls dancing till the late hours the night before.

DJ Jako said the party had not stopped since he played the first track nearly 36 hours earlier.

Throughout the two-day event, local musicians played traditional instruments, clowns entertained the young children, and women sold their homemade crafts.

David grinned as he stepped out of his municipal office to greet visitors. "You know, we might not have our own country yet, but we do have a beer."

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur