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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 September 2007, 05:13 GMT 06:13 UK
Where the West Bank meets Bavaria
By Martin Asser
BBC News, Jerusalem

Taybeh beer festival (Photo: Martin Asser)
A couple of Taybeh locals enjoying the local Taybeh
Probably one of the things one least expects to come across on a visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank is a high-spirited beer festival in full swing.

But that is exactly what visitors to the small Palestinian Christian village of Taybeh were treated to at the weekend.

The village is home to a successful family-owned microbrewery, the Taybeh Brewing Company, whose co-owner, Nadim Khoury, and his sister-in-law, Maria Khoury, staged its third annual Oktoberfest, modelled on the great beer-drinking event in Munich.

One of the curiosities of the original Bavarian version is that it starts in September - something to do with timing of the brewing process.

This year, Taybeh's Oktoberfest also took place in September - although Mr Khoury says he brought it forward out of respect for his Muslim neighbours, who begin their holy month of Ramadan this week.

On Saturday and Sunday, thousands of Palestinians and international visitors milled about in the pleasant late summer weather listening to musical performers - Christians and Muslims.

Many visitors quaffed different varieties of Taybeh beer, at 10 shekels ($1.60) a glass, though Mr Khoury was a very generous host and many a glass was topped up for free.

'Wonderful experience'

"The people are fabulous, gracious, wonderful people, and - oh! - great beer," said Huey Gardner, who is on a Holy Land tour from Alabama.

Because of the Israeli occupation we wanted the Oktoberfest to open up Taybeh to the outside word
Nadim Khoury

"It's been a wonderful experience, so much fun, great people, dancing, learning about the culture," said a lady with the same group.

The festivities continued throughout the day and late into the evening, with mainly folklore music and dance, but also the cutting edge sounds of an Israeli-Arab rap group, DAM, and local hip hop performers, Boikutt and G-Town.

As well as the all-important beer, there were stalls selling local produce such as honey, soap and traditional handicrafts.

The brewery's main challenge is getting its product to market under the strict travel restrictions imposed by the Israeli military on this part of the West Bank.

The only route in and out of the village is controlled by an Israeli military checkpoint, there for the protection of three settlements lying east and west of the village. Taybeh residents and their wares need special permits to use the roads.

"Because of the Israeli occupation we wanted the Oktoberfest to open up Taybeh to the outside word, not just the brewery but all our fellow producers, so people will come here and taste our wonderful beer and see other products," said Mr Khoury.


Taybeh brewery (Photo: Martin Asser)
The brewery had prepared extra kegs ahead of the annual beer-fest
Taybeh - which means "good" and "tasty" in Arabic - makes three varieties of beer, the original Gold, a stronger Dark (which is 6% alcohol) and the latest addition to the stable, Amber, half-way between them in body and strength.

Mr Khoury is currently testing a way of producing alcohol-free beer, which means he will be able to sell in more conservative Muslim areas in the West Bank and beyond.

The beer is brewed using a 500-year-old German purity law which allows only four ingredients: malt, hops, pure water and yeast.

But this means Taybeh has a limited shelf life and is not suited to being left at checkpoints or held up at Israeli ports.

"Many times the Israeli troops stop deliveries to check every bottle, saying they are looking for explosives, though of course they have never found anything," said Mr Khoury's sister, Beth.

"They ask us to open our sealed kegs, but we explain it is not possible as the beer will be spoilt."

"Sometimes our kegs do explode, but only because of too much pressure inside from fermentation," she joked.

Shy militant

Taybeh beer festival (Photo: Martin Asser)
The atmosphere was boisterous, but there was no bad behaviour
As the afternoon shadows lengthen into evening, many of the beer-fest conversations develop a greater volume and an extra frankness.

A couple of Austrian theology students, who have come up from Jerusalem, are delighted to observe an outbreak of Palestinian "schunkeln" - the German word for linking arms and swaying to music seen in the best bierkellers.

But despite the empty kegs of beer being piled up outside the festival venue - the Taybeh municipality compound (Mayor: David Khoury) - there is absolutely no uncouth behaviour.

At one point, a young man who has come from Ramallah confides to me that he is a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant offshoot of the Fatah faction.

This shy young man tells me why he - a Christian - wanted to join the quasi-Islamist group, branded a terrorist organisation by Israel and its allies for a string of suicide bombings in Israeli cities.

Then he looks down at the glass of beer in his hand, and around at the smiling crowds, and says it is the first day he has been truly happy for many years.

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