By Maria C. Khoury & Ed. D.
The 19th & 20th of September 2015 is Oktoberfest in Palestine. The Taybeh Oktoberfest is the strangest idea anyone could ever have for an event in the Middle East. During very harsh conditions of closure behind a Separation Wall and hundreds of checkpoints all around a little Palestinian village, who can imagine trying to initiate a German style festival in the heart of Palestine? However, something unique has been happening against all odds in Taybeh since 1994, so a location that has been making a boutique beer (www.taybehbeer.com) advertised as the “The Finest in the Middle East,” can possibly have a new tradition in Palestine.
Taybeh Oktoberfest took place in the village of Taybeh while David Canaan Khoury was mayor (2005-2012). In 2013, the new municipality members did not share the same vision of boosting the economy with an Oktoberfest that had been a great success since it was initiated by a mayor who also happened to be co-founder of the first micro-brewery in the Middle East. Entrepreneurs think big and think out of the box thus collaboration between private sector and the local municipality appeared as a win-win situation with 50% unemployment in the village. The theme of the festival to promote local products made in a rural area seemed great. The festival developed with extensive international media but Taybeh lacked the appropriate infrastructure to host what become to be known as the biggest event in Palestine. But, not all the residents wanted their village to be famous.
Although Taybeh has a lovely history of five thousand years even before the birth of Christ, as one of the most ancient places in Palestine, it did not have such high number of visitors as other holy places. The Taybeh Oktoberfest was really a crying out loud, that Palestinians want to live a normal life and celebrate life and have freedom like the rest of the world. Taybeh Oktoberfest began to be viewed as non-violent action. It was important to promote rural Palestine because it allowed sharing the deep cultural heritage Taybeh known as Biblical Ephraim offers to others. I whole heartedly believed that our beautiful hills, valleys and picturesque village are something others would enjoy. Inspiring people to visit the village and be exposed to Palestinian traditions and customs was a mutual exchange in benefits because the local community had a chance to boost its economy.
The Taybeh Oktoberfest allowed two days for all of the local women cooperatives and small businesses to feature their products like olive oil, honey, soap, ceramic lamps, embroidery, etc. The falafel guy was the first to confess that he made more sales during the Oktoberfest than the whole year. This was a good inspirational sentence to keep hosting the Oktoberfest each year to the point where it outgrew the village because of the thousands of people that had an interest to attend. The municipality grounds got so crowded that people driving three hours away to attend a festival could not get in to see the stage. Every year the autograph book had signatures from places all around the world.
The most amazing part of Taybeh Oktoberfest was the wonderful cultural and musical exchange that was possible with the diverse groups that performed from traditional Palestinian music, dabkeh to rock, rap, and hip-hop. Different groups were sponsored to perform from places where they would return to Brazil, Germany, Japan, Greece, or Great Britain and share with their family and friends not only that Palestine has an Oktoberfest but that Palestinians have a rich culture of music, art, sports, foods, clothing, traditions, etc. Oktoberfest brought a deeply needed normality to Palestine. It reflected efforts to have a liberal, modern, moderate, democratic country.
Since August 2013, people visiting Taybeh can now have a tour of the new Taybeh Winery producing boutique Palestinian wines with the Nadim label. ( www.taybehwinery.com) Canaan Nadim Khoury, our new Palestinian winemaker, returned home to join the family business after his graduation from Harvard. The Taybeh Vinfest initiated 2015 is also a way to establish a new tradition for a winter wine festival. In addition to the pension in the village, and the two guest houses, people can now overnight at the new Taybeh Golden Hotel (www.taybehgoldenhotel.com) offering eighty tastefully furnished rooms overlooking the beautiful olive orchards and Jordanian mountains. The old city still makes for an extraordinary walk while stopping to enjoy a nice lunch and the heritage room at Peter’s Place. Please share the date for Taybeh Oktoberfest, September 19 & 20, 2015, hopefully for another unique celebration in Taybeh. CHEERS!
Dr. Maria C. Khoury has organized nine Oktoberfest celebrations in Palestine. She is also the author of Christina Goes to the Holy Land.