You've got to hand it to them. The spunky Khoury brothers, David and Nadim, returned to their West Bank village of Taybeh after the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords. The Christian brothers had been businessmen in the U.S. for 35 years. And what did they do? They invested the family money and their considerable talents in opening a brewery in the heart of a Moslem population. This is akin to opening a pork sausage factory in Mea Shearim!
Now as far as I know, Christians and Jews have been making arak and other distilled spirits in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Jordan for generations -- but I've never heard of any beer brewers.
So not only is the Khoury family a ground breaker in the Islamic world, but they were also the first craft brewery between the Mediterranean and the Jordan to challenge Israel's industrial beer makers.
|Taybeh means "delicious" in Arabic.|
And . . . they make good beer. I remember tasting Taybeh shortly after they began brewing in 1995, and licking my lips. Today, the Taybeh brewery produces 600,000 liters of beer a year(!), selling half of that to Palestinians, 40% to Israelis, and 10% abroad, including Europe and Japan. The beer is also brewed and bottled under license in Germany. They are no longer a microbrewery.
Taybeh makes five beers, each labeled according to its color. There's a Golden, a Dark, an Amber, a Light, and a non-alcoholic beer (something to keep religious Moslems happy, I guess). There is nothing especially "Palestinian" or even Middle Eastern about these beers. They are all brewed in the tried and true German traditional style. But they are all very drinkable; excellent alternatives to our industrially brewed beer. We should be celebrating.
But yet . . .
The Khoury family has chosen confrontation over fermentation. Although the Taybeh website is free of politics (except for the press clippings), the Khourys never miss an opportunity to attack Israel, the "occupation," the "settlers" around Taybeh. If their company isn't growing fast enough, its the fault of the Israeli security checks and bureaucracy. If shipping their export beer takes too long, it's because Israel discriminates against them. "Anti-Israel" has become as much a part of the Taybeh Beer brand as the "pure brewing" and "building Palestine" narratives.
"Drink Taybeh and taste the revolution" is one of their slogans. Which "revolution" is that? Is that the one that Yasser Arafat started out of the barrel of his gun? Or is that the one that the Khourys started by brewing beer in a hostile Moslem environment? "This is our resistance to occupation," is what Nadim Khoury says in one of their videos, while he takes part in another titled, "Palestine, Beer and Oktoberfest -- Under Occupation."
His sister-in-law, Dr. Maria Khoury, the wife of David, is particularly vicious, blaming Israel not only for all the family's problems but also for the emigration of Christians from the West Bank, as if Islamic extremism plays no role.
|Fermentation . . . or confrontation?|
I understand the need for the Christian minority living under PLO rule to show that they are no less nationalistic than the Moslems. They are a community under constant harrassment and attack. Young Christians are leaving the West Bank as Moslem rule becomes less and less bearable. The Palestinians who had come back to invest in their homeland following the Oslo Accords were caught by surprise when Arafat started his 2000 intifada. Almost all of them fled back to where they came from. But the Khourys had invested too much to flee. They stayed and today feel beleaguered. I understand.
But show some balance, some humility. The Israeli security measures are not aimed at keeping the brewery business small, but at keeping Israelis alive. Before Arafat's intifada there were no problems with security checks. The Khoury brothers know this.
The truth is that the Palestinian Authority frowns on all private initiative that it does not control, that does not stream money towards its corrupt officials. [See: http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/4076/palestinian-economy-sabawi]
Another thing: Since 2005, the Taybeh Brewery has been hosting a beer festival known as the Oktoberfest in Taybeh village. (Since the only beer served is Taybeh, it's not much a beer festival, but that's another story.) Thousands of people come from Israel, the West Bank and even foreign countries to drink beer, buy Palestinian handicrafts and eat felafel.
|Oktoberfest: Kicked |
out of Taybeh.
The independent Palestinian state that the Khourys give lip service to, will not be tolerant and democratic, any more than the Palestinian Authority is today. If Hamas and other Islamist parties take control, as many commentators say they might, the alcohol-marketing Khoury family may end up as the fifth ingredient in their beer kettles.
After the Oktoberfest was cancelled in Taybeh, Nadim Khoury himself admitted that Palestinian culture "is not one of working hard and making wealth. The culture here is . . . one of jealousy, corruption and blackmail." So maybe everything isn't Israel's fault after all.
I call on Nadim Khoury and his family to end the anti-Israel double talk, to get out of politics altogether and just brew beer. Not for the glory of Palestine or for "resisting occupation," but for the taste and the pleasure it brings. Chill out. Sit back and pour a beer and try to dissipate some of the hate you harbor for those Jewish neighbors on the hill. You'll find they may be important allies in your fight for religious tolerance, minority rights, private initiative and government reform in your homeland. They may even turn out to be your best customers in all of Judea and Samaria -- even if it's one day called "Palestine."