By MATTHEW KALMAN / TAYBEH
Thursday, Oct. 08, 2009
Madees Khoury's favorite days are the ones where she wakes at 5 A.M., slips out of the house, enters the huge shed in the yard and, still in her pajamas, climbs the ladder to the top of the stainless steel tanks to begin brewing beer. A graduate of Hellenic College, Boston, Khoury, 24, is the only woman brewer — or brewster — in the Middle East. She is being groomed by her family to take over the Taybeh brewery, home of the only Palestinian beer.
With just 2,000 residents, Taybeh is the last remaining all-Christian village in the Holy Land. It rests on barren biblical hilltops between Ramallah and Jericho that have barely changed since Jesus stayed here. Madees's father and uncle were born here, and moved to Boston. When they returned to start the brewery in 1995, they met open hostility from the 16 Muslim villages surrounding them. Alcohol is banned by Islam. (Watch TIME's video "West Bank Brew: The Beer That Made Taybeh Famous.")
Today, Taybeh Beer is a potent symbol of the emerging Palestinian state and its tiny Christian minority — which is less than 2% of the population. The brewery turns a tidy profit, produces 600,000 litres a year and is brewed under license in Germany. Half the sales are within the West Bank, 40% go to Israel, and the rest are exports to Japan. Taybeh even had a nearby rabbi certify its product as kosher. Last year the brewery introduced a zero-alcohol brew for Muslims. Taybeh billboards with the slogan "Drink Palestinian — Taste the Revolution" tower over the main street of Ramallah. "Taybeh beer is our way of struggling," Madees Khoury tells TIME. "This is our resistance to the occupation — just to make beer and make people happy." (Read a story about the constraints on doing business in Palestine.)
Christians have fled the Holy Land in recent decades. There are more Taybeh natives living in Michigan than in the village. Madees hopes to inspire others to return. "I hope people look at me as a role model," says Khoury, adding that she supports "any Palestinian that lives here, goes to study abroad, then decides to move back to Palestine and invest their knowledge and their experience into anything in the country."
Last weekend, more than 10,000 visitors thronged Taybeh village for the fifth annual Oktoberfest, a celebration of music, dance, food and beer. Villagers sold more olive oil, honey, embroidery and other items in those two days than in the whole of 2009. But it wasn't easy for Taybeh to learn to thrive — and still isn't. After a promising start, business collapsed during the Palestinian intifada uprising. The Khoury brothers weathered the storm but new restrictions at the Israeli security barrier have now turned what used to be an hour-long delivery to Tel Aviv into an expensive two-day journey. Even the fresh water piped from a spring two miles away is under Israeli control and only flows for half the week. (See a brief history of oktoberfest.)
There are more serious hazards. Days before the festival, a car belonging to Madees's uncle David, who is also mayor, was torched, for still unknown reasons, outside the municipality building during a council meeting. A couple of years ago, he was shot at and someone tried to burn down a new commercial center he was constructing. In 2005, 14 homes were torched and the brewery nearly destroyed when a mob descended on Taybeh after a love affair between a Taybeh man and a Muslim woman from the neighboring village.
But the mayor, who still has a business interest in the brewery, told TIME he was not discouraged. "We are trying to show all foreigners and locals that we are a people that love life and liberty and are willing to live in peace with our neighbors, whether Jews or Muslims, and to show the other face of Palestine, that we are not terrorists," he says. "Some people want to interrupt my giving to my village," says the mayor. "I came after 30 years being in the U.S. in Boston. I left all the wealth. I left all the relaxing on the beaches and everything else and I came because I want to do something for Palestine, to invest in Palestine first. I want to do something for Taybeh. I want to help raise the living standards. I want to help create jobs in this village. I want to clean up the city. I want to put Taybeh on the map."