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Oct. 6 2009 - 6:15 am | 98 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Oktoberfest in the West Bank

Agitprop was never so delicious.

Agitprop was never so delicious.

For the past five years, the Christian Palestinian town of Taybeh in the West Bank has held an Oktoberfest. Taybeh is home to the Taybeh Brewery, the only brewery in the West Bank and one of the only in the Middle East. This humble reporter was never one to pass up an Oktoberfest, even if it means going through military checkpoints. It was worth it.

Taybeh, a village with 1542 residents located northeast of Ramallah, claims to be entirely Christian. The religious history of the town, like many here, is significant: It is the site of the Torah’s Ofra where Gideon resided and is the Ephraim of John 11:54 where Jesus went into the wilderness.

But that was 2000 years ago. Nowadays, the village deals with unemployment, military checkpoints down the road and the problem of being Christian in a West Bank that is rapidly making a show out of Muslim piety. Taybeh, which previously made light and dark beers, added a non-alcoholic beer for Hamas and other Islamists. It didn’t work:

n a heated debate on the BBC Arabic TV channel, aired on the opening night of the Taybeh Oktoberfest, a Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri called Palestinian Authority Economy Minister Bassem Khoury’s government ”alcoholic”. Masri argued that brewing was illegal in the Palestinian territories, though that is not an interpretation widely understood outside of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Minister Khoury retaliated and spoke of economic benefits that Taybeh Beer, as an important export, offers Palestinians.

But enough politics. On to the Oktoberfest, which was held October 3 & 4.

For two days, the beer flowed and entertainment was provided from everything including Palestinian rappers, visiting Japanese karate experts and visiting bands from Greece and Britain. The Ramallah branch of the Goethe-Institut celebrated the Deutschland theme with free German lessons and the event was heavily funded by Western consultates/representative offices in Ramallah and Jerusalem. There was even a mime with a Palestinian flag painted on his forehead. Here is the program.

More pictures I took at the event are available on Flickr.

We crossed through one of the military checkpoints in search of beer.

We crossed through one of the military checkpoints in search of beer.

Welcome to Oktoberfest, Palestinian-style

Welcome to Oktoberfest, Palestinian-style.

An 11am crowd sits down to watch a folk band. At this time, the only beer available was the golden.

An 11am crowd sits down to watch a folk band. At this time, the only beer available was the golden.

People of all ages enjoying Oktoberfest. Male and female, young and old, internationals and Palestinians... even Israelis.

People of all ages enjoying Oktoberfest. Male and female, young and old, internationals and Palestinians... even Israelis.

A few armed Palestinian soldiers were on the ground in Oktoberfest. Many more were stationed, discreetly and invisible to the crowd, on the high ground overlooking the Oktoberfest. One gets used to armed soldiers quickly in this part of the world.

A few armed Palestinian soldiers were on the ground in Oktoberfest. Many more were stationed, discreetly and invisible to the crowd, on the high ground overlooking the Oktoberfest. One gets used to armed soldiers quickly in this part of the world.

Internationals (tourists? NGO workers? diplomats?) getting a cold one.

Internationals (tourists? NGO workers? diplomats?) getting a cold one.

The shisah is always a big seller.

The shisah is always a big seller.

Palestinian scarves & kaffiyehs were popular among the crowd.

Palestinian scarves & kaffiyehs were popular among the crowd.

Shwarma vendor - whose signs, tellingly, were only in English - late in the day.

Shwarma vendor - whose signs, tellingly, were only in English - late in the day.

The Oktoberfest crowd included many Palestinians and internationals.

The Oktoberfest crowd included many Palestinians and internationals.

Mustard from the NYC supermarket chain Key Food somehow made it to the West Bank Oktoberfest.

Mustard from the NYC supermarket chain Key Food somehow made it to the West Bank Oktoberfest.

Even the United Nations wanted a beer.

Even the United Nations wanted a beer.

Byzantine ruins outside the festival site.

Byzantine ruins outside the festival site.

The event went well. Held over two days, the festival was more crowded on Saturday — when buses full of Israelis (technically banned from entering the part of the West Bank that Taybeh is in) and hordes of diplomats and NGO workers from Ramallah flooded in. I attended on Sunday, which was definitely more local. Visitors at the festival were evenly split between Palestinians and internationals; almost all of the Palestinians, however, appeared to be Christians or secular Muslims. The Israeli presence appeared to be much lower than on the first day, however. This was due to the fact that Sunday — not Monday — is the beginning of the Shabbat-centered Israeli workweek.

But, as usual for this part of the world, tensions existed. The Israelis made sure to speak in English. Armed security was hidden in many corners. The usual Israeli checkpoint outside of Taybeh appeared not to be stopping visitors. A priest at the ancient Greek Orthodox church there pretended not to know any Hebrew to a group of tourists but was later overheard giving a joking “mah koreh” to a Palestinian neighbor. SUVs from the United Nations and the diplomatic corps crowded Taybeh’s narrow main street.

But I’m happy to say that they put on a damn good Oktoberfest. At least, it’s the first Oktoberfest I’ve been to where my vehicle had to slow down on the way back to make way for a shepherd and his flock of goats.

For tourists to next year’s Oktoberfest, Taybeh is reachable by taking a bus to Ramallah from Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, followed by a taxi to Taybeh. Israeli-Palestinian tour guides Tours in English also offer direct buses from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on both days.


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  1. collapse expand

    Hmm… I was at the Taybeh Okotberfest as well and wasn’t nearly as impressed as you seem to have been. I attended with another American and two Palestinian coworkers and we were all a little put off the fact that the West Bank’s Oktoberfest seemed more like and international NGO/foreign volunteer convention with too many people and bad music. Good doughnuts and beer though.

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    About Me

    A New York-based journalist and blogger who has spent extensive time in the Middle East and is currently working on an MA thesis in Middle Eastern Studies. My thesis focuses on the 2009 Iranian election demonstrations and their coverage in the international media.

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