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Despite the best efforts of Israeli border guards, Taybeh exports its beer to Germany, Japan and beyond.
TAYBEH, West Bank — It may not be what signatories of the Oslo Accords had in mind, but optimism generated by the 1993 peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians had a relatively underreported positive result: beer.
And not just any beer, as an expected 10,000 participants in the Taybeh Oktoberfest being held in this small Christian village outside Ramallah over the weekend, will attest. The beer made at Taybeh Brewery — named for the town where it was first brewed and, incidentally, the Arabic word for "delicious" — is not only popular among Palestinians (there's a non-alcoholic variety for teetotalers), but has a following in Israel and beyond. It is stocked on shelves in Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and even Japan.
What began with a home beer-brewing kit in Boston for Taybeh's founder, Nadim Khoury, almost 30 years ago is now one of the only microbreweries in the Middle East. This will be its fifth annual Oktoberfest event.
Khoury, 50, and his brother David were enticed back to their native Taybeh in 1994, they say by the optimism of the optimism of the Oslo Accords, and the first bottle of Taybeh Golden was made the following year. Then Oslo collapsed, the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion increased, and the Second Intifada broke out. The choke of more checkpoints and closures prevented Taybeh trucks from moving around, even in the Ramallah district that is its immediate market. Sales plummeted.
As Khoury fields phone calls and issues marching orders from a brewery floor littered with posters advertising Oktoberfest, he recounts his beer’s comeback.
“Now we make 600,000 liters of beer a year. See those Hebrew labels?” Khoury says, pointing toward a team of workers slapping clear stickers onto individual bottles before returning them to their cases. “That beer’s headed to Jerusalem.”
The German-style microbrew is crisp and full of the hops imported from Munich — nothing like Egypt’s fickle and watery Stella, or Syria’s often-flat Barada brand.
Taybeh is sold throughout the West Bank, though only in Christian areas. “There’s an old Jordanian law that says alcohol can only be sold in Christian communities,” Khoury says, which means Taybeh is available in Ramallah, but not nearby al-Bireh, in Bethlehem, but not Nablus.
For the European market, Taybeh has been produced under license in Germany since 1997 — the first Palestinian franchise to achieve that.
But its sale in Israel attracts the most attention.