Saturday, October 30, 2010

Palestinian Oktoberfest! Can Peace Be Far Behind?

After months of seemingly unending bad political and economic news, it was a sheer delight to find this story about a little brewery that was making a go of it in the unlikeliest of places. Businessweek carried this story titled: In the West Bank, a Palestinian Oktoberfest.

The last Christian enclave in the West Bank is a small town of 1,600 named Taybeh, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem.
“Nadim Khoury returned to Taybeh, his family's ancestral village, after nearly two decades in Boston, even as other Palestinian Christians were abandoning the West Bank. David joined him there in 2000. The brothers and their father sold stocks, a house, and two liquor stores in Massachusetts to come up with the $1.2 million they needed to start Taybeh Brewing. "People thought we had gone completely nuts," says Nadim.”

“There's the disdain that many of his Muslim neighbors have for alcoholic beverages. There are the Israeli checkpoints where beer can spoil as delivery trucks wait for hours under the hot Levantine sun. There's the lack of any outside financing for such an unlikely enterprise. ‘We are running this business against all odds,’ says Khoury, 51....”

“After years of scraping by, the brewery today returns a decent profit and is expanding to meet growing demand. The company has 15 employees, and sales in 2009 topped $1.5 million, with production up 25 percent in the past two years. "We do this due to our shared love of the motherland and making beer," says Nadim, who discovered his passion for brewing three decades ago and went on to study beer production at the University of California at Davis.”
It didn’t hurt that David Khoury was elected mayor of Taybeh in 2005. Nor did it hurt that the name of the town and the brewery, Taybeh, means “delicious” in Arabic.
“As mayor, he has promoted Oktoberfest, the annual autumn celebration of beer culture, to draw tourists to the town—and sell more brew.”

“Over the weekend of Oct. 2, the Taybeh Oktoberfest drew thousands of beer fans to the hilltop town where Jesus is said to have walked. Visitors watched a Brazilian bossa nova band, Palestinian hip-hop performers, and Sri Lankan traditional dancers. The menu featured pita with Labaneh cheese, falafel sandwiches, grilled lamb skewers, and blonde and dark brews from Taybeh....”
They have gone not only national, but international as well.
“About 30 percent of the Khourys' beer is sold in Israel. Although the brothers spend almost nothing on advertising, they have built a thriving market in a handful of pubs and restaurants such as Jerusalem's American Colony Hotel, a watering hole for many diplomats and journalists. David says they would like to find a distributor in Israel to help increase sales. An additional 10 percent of production is shipped overseas, much of it to Japan....”
And now, my here is my favorite part of the story.
“Taybeh beer is getting more popular in pubs in West Bank towns such as Ramallah and Bethlehem—which Nadim says is likely due to growing sales to Muslims. ‘The amount of alcohol we sell in the Palestinian territories,’ he says, ‘cannot be drunk by the Christian population only’."
I am going to take this as a sign of progress, and I will let it cheer me up, at least until I hit the news sources again in the morning. Some cultures could benefit from a little erosion. Perhaps the United Nations should take a fraction of that money they spend, often to little effect, and support Oktoberfests all over the world. Perhaps they could create an international “Share a Brew with an Enemy Day.”

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