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The Oktoberfest Controversy: Future of Taybeh’s OktoberFest in question
By Maria C. Khoury
The Taybeh Oktoberfest was the craziest idea anyone could ever have for an event in Palestine. 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 “The Finest in the Middle East,” can possibly have the excuse to celebrate with people from all Palestine and the world. So why the controversy?
Taybeh Oktoberfest took place eight years in the village of Taybeh while Daoud Canaan Khoury was mayor (2005-2012) and co-founder of the first micro-brewery in the Middle East, Taybeh Beer. But last year, the new municipality members did not share the same vision of boosting the economy with another Oktoberfest that had always been successful. Entrepreneurs think big and think out of the box, thus collaboration between private sector and the local municipality appeared as a win-win situation in 2005 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, even though, Taybeh lacked the appropriate infrastructure to host what became known as a very popular event in Palestine. But, local residents viewed thousands of people visiting in one weekend as absolutely wild. And, even more wild was the loud and diverse music the visitors enjoyed that clashed, with traditional old fashion culture.
Taybeh Oktoberfest was a clever way to place a small Palestinian village on the world map, but on second thought not all the residents want their village to be famous. It was a way to inspire people to visit a tiny spot in the heart of Palestine that normally they might not think of visiting since all of the major Holy Land tour locations are very competitive.
When you cannot compete with sacred holy things, although Taybeh has a lovely history of five thousand years even before the birth of Christ, you use beer to entice others to visit you. And not just any beer but a hand-crafted boutique micro-brewed product (brewed by a father daughter team) that gives a different face to Palestine.
The Taybeh Oktoberfest was really a shouting out loud to the world 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 under military occupation. It was important to promote rural Palestine because it allowed sharing the deep cultural heritage Taybeh, known as Biblical Ephraim, offers to others. The three illegal Israeli settlements around Taybeh continue to confiscate more land and have water access 100% of the time while the village has no running water five days each week.
I whole-heartedly believed that our beautiful hills, valleys and picturesque village are something others would enjoy. So I personally passed out so many invitations to the festival to encourage people to be exposed to my husband’s village with its unique history and the old city magnificently renovated by RIWAQ. At one point it became an obsession since I sounded like a broken record telling everyone to visit Taybeh. Inspiring people to visit the village and be exposed to Palestinian traditions and customs was a mutual exchange in benefit 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 of being open for business.
This was a good inspirational sentence to keep repeating 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, arts, sports, foods, clothing, traditions, etc.
When the new local municipality members in 2013 did not have the same vision and did not support to host Taybeh Oktoberfest in the village, it was a very difficult decision to think out of the box and find a solution so that the event would not be canceled. The idea came about to have a travelling or “mobile” Oktoberfest in a different Palestinian city each year and return to Taybeh when possible.
Thus as the Taybeh Oktoberfest boosted the economy and image of Taybeh in inspiring rural tourism, it could possibly boost the image of Palestine in promoting liberal and modern activities. This was easier said than done because many people had enjoyed their visit to the village. The capacity of people attending Taybeh Oktoberfest at the new venue of the Moevenpick Hotel in Ramallah was limited.
It is frustrating when a successful event cannot have the blessing of the local municipality council members. The smooth collaboration that had occurred for eight years between private sector and municipality just deteriorated. The biggest loss was for the local vendors who did not have an opportunity to turnover their products. Visitors missed out enjoying the atmosphere of the village and at the end Taybeh Oktoberfest 2013 turned out to be a big party in a hotel instead of a village celebration. While in many locations in Palestine many towns began to host festivals for the very first time, in the village of Taybeh, the Oktoberfest became the biggest controversy discussed daily.
With the new Taybeh Municipality members continuing their lack of appreciation for Oktoberfest activities, and the terrible backward vicious cycle of violence that just started in search of the three kidnapped teenagers it remains to be seen if there will be an Oktoberfest back in Taybeh in 2014. We pray for peace and stability so we too in Palestine can simply do things that people around the world take for granted.
(Dr. Maria Khoury is a Christian Palestinian based in Taybeh, Palestine in the Israeli Occupied West Bank. She is an author and writer and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or atwww.saintgeorgetaybeh.org.)
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Palestine Christian Writer, Blogger at St. George Greek Orthodox Church
Maria (Kouremenou) Khoury is the author of Orthodox Christian children's books including Christina Goes to the Holy Land, walking the footsteps of Christ. She is a graduate of Hellenic College (1982), Harvard University (1985) and Boston University (1992) with a doctor of education degree. Born in Tripoli, Greece, she was raised in Denver, Colorado. On Dec 31, 2009 she was included on the top 4 Human Rights Champions list by DC Human Rights Examiner including the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Hilary Clinton.
Maria is the author of Witness in the Holy Land (distributed by www.HolyCrossBookstore.com), a publication reflecting personal experiences living under military occupation with her husband the former Mayor of Taybeh, David Canaan Khoury and three children Elena, Canaan, and Constantine. Her articles have been published world-wide in numerous newspapers and magazines and have been translated to various languages bringing awareness of the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
Maria Khoury has been the Taybeh Oktoberfest organizer since 2005.She divides her time between her homes in Boston and Taybeh, travels throughout the world promoting the Christina Books and making presentations about the dwindling Christian community in Palestine.She encourages people to stay at the new Taybeh Golden Hotel and experience rural life in Palestine.