There was an international flavor in the air of the West Bank this weekend as the tiny Christian town of Taybeh welcomed thousands of visitors to its seventh annual Oktoberfest beer festival.
The village – home and namesake to the only beer brewery in the West Bank – saw an influx of foreigners, locals and seemingly half of Tel Aviv's leftist community as thousands gathered in the compound of the municipal hall.
Cheerful event. Oktoberfst in Taybeh (Photo: Mati Milstein)
A furious flow of beer accompanied this cheerfully alcoholic event in the only Christian village in the area, perched on a picturesque hilltop just outside Ramallah and surrounded by Israeli settlements and Muslim villages.
The two-day festival hosts a wide range of local vendors offering all that's good from the Middle Eastern kitchens, plus less authentic fish and chips, as well as homemade olive oil, posters, ceramics, henna tattoos and face-painting, mostly (but not exclusively) for the kids.
Someone even brought a python for photo-ops. His money-making scheme jostled for originality with that of the enterprising group who set up shop directly outside the festival, and were selling drafts of the Danish beer Carlsberg for five shekels per glass, half price of the Palestinian brew being celebrated inside.
But Germany was definitely the theme of the weekend, given that Oktoberfest hails from the Rhineland. A poster next to the entrance welcomed visitors with: "Would you like to enjoy your beer and learn some German at the same time?"
The crowd was also German-heavy, dotted with groups of Japanese, Americans, Swedes and a sizeable proportion of Israelis. This was apparently surprising to some, as one participant yelled to his friends: "That's Hebrew! Guys, did you hear that? That was Hebrew!" Barely any security was visible, though, and certainly not needed.
To give the event that authentic feel, someone even turned out in lederhosen, and the members of the clergy enjoying the show included a group of nuns heartily tucking into shawarma.
Kebab or falafel? (Photo: Mati Milstein)
An advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
also popped up, perhaps to give the event an official seal of approval. Although lacking in Bavarian outfits, there were a couple of other authentic garments on view, such as one display of cleavage worthy of a Munich maiden.
The entertainment also struck a global note with musical interludes from Depka, a Sri Lankan traditional dance troupe, and a Celtic rock band from Spain. But the best performance of the day was that of Toot Ard (Arabic for 'strawberry'), from Majdal Shams, whose performance featured a Fatah flag hanging upside down on the side of the stage, perhaps inadvertently.
Finally, the beer competition got underway. This was not, as one would expect and perhaps to the disappointment of many a German present, a chug-fest.
Instead, presumably to not overdo the alcoholic side of the festivities and in a show of respect for the village's Muslim neighbors, contestants were holding full beer mugs in outstretched arms in a test of strength and stamina.
It wasn’t all beer-based though. A little way up the street a street hockey contest was held throughout the day, no doubt appealing to those who wanted something a little more energetic than lifting a glass to the lips.
Beer competition underway (Photo: Mati Milstein)
By nightfall, the steady flow of visitors had swelled to a crowd jockeying even for standing space, proof that the festival was a raging success. Amazingly, the whole event rests of the shoulders of just one person - festival organizer Maria Khoury.
Khoury is married to the Taybeh mayor, David Khoury, and is the sister-in-law of Nadim Khoury, owner of Taybeh Beer. Usually she does the brewery's PR, but during the festival, she's a volunteering octopus.
"Every year I vow I won't do this again, as it's becoming a little too big of a festival for me to handle, but here I am,” she told Ynet during a brief break in her office at the town hall.
“If they need an announcement to move a car, they come to me; then they need a rope to fix a broken umbrella, so they ask me for the rope; and then the electricity went out. I should have maintenance people for these things, no? I even have to get the bands water!"
Street hockey contest (Photo: Mati Milstein)
She turned as brew master Nadim Khoury steps in, clad in a smart suit and with finely combed white hair and beard, and exclaimed: "I hope they're not charging you for the beer!"
Even if overloaded, Khoury greeted every passer-by (“I owe you a beer!”), congratulated all the musicians on jobs well done, and apologized constantly for having to deal with every request. But apparently she wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's amazing to see people come and enjoy themselves in our village. There are so many locals, so many foreigners, secular, religious, all ethnicities in a very diverse crowd on a very beautiful day – and we're celebrating life, as diverse human beings."