The village of Taybeh, population 2,000, is a far cry from the holiest site in the West Bank. A sleepy hilltop village encircled by magnificent olive groves, Taybeh boasts just one biblical reference and a handful of crumbling historic sites—a paltry offering compared to neighboring Jerusalem, just 20 kilometers and several military checkpoints southwest.
But, for two wet and wild days every October, Taybeh Brewery becomes an unparalleled epicenter of modern religious and cultural worth. Here, thousands of lederhosen-clad, keffiyeh-wearing, and beer-loving tourists join curious Palestinians and brave Israelis for the world’s only Occupied Oktoberfest. Politics are put on a rare hold, and glasses are raised for a different, if less divine pilgrimage: beer sampling in the Holy Land.
Taybeh Brewing Company was established in 1995 by Palestinian-American Nadim Khoury. Named for the town itself—which fittingly means “delicious” in Arabic—it remains the only brewery in the Palestinian Territories and the first microbrewery in the Middle East.
Taybeh is one of the last remaining Christian-majority villages of the West Bank, but Christians aren’t the only beer lovers in town. “The one percent of Christians left in the West Bank can’t consume a million bottles of beer each year,” Khoury says with a wry smile, “so someone must be doing a good job.”
The brewery’s single, long room is packed with giant steel barrels, twisting pipes, empty cases, and thick brown bottles. Boiling vats shoot thick plumes of steam, and slippery floors emit the sweet, rich smell of malted hops. Tiny Palestinian flags are draped across the ceiling, along with banners proclaiming, “Taste the revolution.”
For more than 15 years, this little brewery has resisted political, social, and economic oppression to brew original takes on all-natural dark, amber, and golden ales. In full accordance with Reinheitsgebot, the 1516 Bavarian purity law, the beer contains nothing but malted barley, hops, yeast, and pure water from the nearby Ein Samia springs.
“Everyone thought I was out of my mind to open a brewery in a Muslim country, under occupation,” Khoury says. “But I wanted to make something for my homeland, for Palestine. We believe this is how the state of Palestine can be built—by Palestinian brands and products.” All beer must pass through Israeli checkpoints. Though Taybeh is just a few-minute drive from Jerusalem, security laws require inspection nearly two hours away. Uprisings and protests can close borders in an instant, making planning impossible and patience necessary.
During the Second Intifada, from 2000 to 2005, the situation became so dire that owners had to haul beer to Jerusalem strapped to donkeys. It’s still the fastest way to cross checkpoints.
As if brewing and selling beer in the West Bank wasn’t enough work, in 2005, Nadim Khoury’s brother David became the first democratically elected mayor of Taybeh. They decided it was time to raise Taybeh’s profile once again. Capitalizing on Taybeh’s status as the “beer capital” of Palestine, nothing seemed more appropriate, or perhaps bold, than a beer-laden Oktoberfest celebration.
For the past eight years, Taybeh’s Oktoberfest has hosted an eclectic mix of international musical acts and local vendors selling honey, oils, soaps, embroidery, and other homemade products. Performers have included Palestinian hip-hop group DAM (the first time the group set foot in the West Bank), a Greek Orthodox school folklore show, Brazil’s Truo Dona Zefa, and even Bavaria’s own Musikkapelle Leobendorf Band. Rugby matches—and plenty of cold kegs—fill time between bands. It is, to say the least, a unique scene.
Lead organizer Maria Khoury, perhaps as unlikely a host to an Oktoberfest as the West Bank itself, says pulling off the celebration each year has been “nerve-racking”. An author of Orthodox Christian children’s books and a world-renowned human rights activist, Maria is also the wife of David Khoury, Nadim’s mayoral brother.
“It’s challenging to have a normal celebration of life when there is violence all around or the political situation is not stable,” Maria says. “It’s like walking on eggshells, planning music events months ahead not knowing how the political and social atmosphere will be.”
Yet despite the enormous occupational challenges, Taybeh’s “Occupied Oktoberfest” has become one of the most distinctive international celebrations in Palestine. Last year, over 16,000 people descended on Taybeh for the gathering.
While not everyone in the West Bank supports such liberal and libationary events, few can deny that “tasting the revolution” is a sweet way to celebrate Palestine. Just don’t expect a pub crawl any time soon.