This weekend we went to the Taybeh Oktoberfest in the hills of the West Bank, just outside of Ramallah. Taybeh is the only brewery in the Palestinian Territories, and in the name of experiencing some Palestinian fare, we decided to go and check it out. My very limited Arabic (currently extending to “mumkin kebab”) combined with no knowledge of the service bus made getting there a little complex. In the end, we resorted to walking around the centre of Ramallah calling “Taybeh? Taybeh?” into taxi windows, sort of the equivalent of walking down Oxford Street shouting “Stella? Stella?” and hoping to be taken in the right direction.
What I’ve found successful in London can obviously translate well into this country as we eventually found the bus and drove through the beautiful valleys around Ramallah at sunset. Dusk here is truly as you’d imagine an Arabian night and I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of the hazy sun as long as I’m here. When we arrived the atmosphere was brilliant, and getting straight to the point of our visit, I had my first pint of Taybeh. Taybeh means “delicious” in Arabic (I can now say “mumkin taybeh kebab”) and delicious it certainly was; at only ten shekels (just under 2 quid) it went down most enjoyably in the balmy evening.
Taybeh is a true Palestinian success story – overcoming the multiple obstacles it faces in a largely teetotal Muslim country, with bleak economic conditions and the extra costs and challenges that make-up Israel’s occupation, its output has increased threefold to 600’000 litres a year since re-opening, after being closed by the Israelis during the Second Intifada. However, they still face problems. One of the vendors I was chatting to told me that because the beer is made without additives or preservatives, once bottled it is supposed to be packed in a dark and dry place. However, often when crossing the checkpoints to reach its distribution points, the soldiers keep the trucks in long waits in high temperatures, opening the crates for “security purposes” knowing full well this will spoil the beer.
However, as I am quickly coming to learn since arriving in Palestine, the resilience and vitality of the Palestinians is limitless and this did not stop them conducting a booming trade this weekend at the festival. In 1994, the family who owns the brewery put up the 1.2 million dollars themselves to start their business, after no bank or aid agency would fund a project as unlikely to succeed as a Palestinian brewery. As I looked around the festival on Saturday, with Taybeh and conversation flowing, a delicious assortment of meat grilling on the BBQs, and Palestinian hip hop blasting from the speakers, I thought – not for the first time – that perhaps banks and aid agencies hadn’t got a clue.