Glen Johnson: Brewing Beer in the West Bank
Brewing Beer in the West Bank
by Glen Johnson
They live under military occupation, stateless, in one of the most unstable areas of the world, but that hasn’t stopped a Palestinian family from building a successful beer brewing company – and with production at record levels, 2009 is set to be a boom year for the company.
The Taybeh Brewing Company in the West Bank village of Taybeh sold 600,000 litres of its 100 percent organic beer last year, and General Manager Nadim Khoury says this year will be even bigger.
“We don’t have a country, but we have a beer.”
Founded in 1995, the company brews five varieties of “Taybeh” beer in its hilltop microbrewery : Amber, Dark, Golden, Light, and a non-alcoholic beer.
The beer is sold by the bottle and by the keg in the West Bank, Israel, Japan, and under licence in the UK and Belgium.
“We were encouraged very much after Oslo and my father wanted us to do something for our country: not to keep waiting for US aid, or European aid.
“Factories and shops is the permanent aid Palestine needs. Then we can show the world that we can produce quality products and live side-by-side with our neighbours. ”
The five varieties of beer have distinctive flavours. Strong on hops, the Golden variety has a light, fruity finish, while the more restrained Amber variety is fairly heavy and complex.
Mr Khoury said it was a constant struggle to get the business on its feet and the company’s history had been one of ups and downs.
The advertising of alcohol is prohibited in the Palestinian territories, so marketing is a big challenge.
All the ingredients, barring water, are imported: with hops from Bavaria and the Czech Republic and malted barley from Belgium and France.
Permits for production are required from both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
And the company operates in territory militarily occupied by Israel since 1967.
“We suffer so much from the occupation, the siege, the closures. Keep in mind that our beer is 100 percent natural. This cannot resist the sunlight at a checkpoint for five-six hours.
“We start at 6 a.m, drive to the checkpoint in a truck with Palestinian plates, the beer is checked, then loaded onto a different truck with Israeli plates. Two drivers, two trucks, a waste of time, a waste of money.”
He holds a 30 litre keg out. It is cut in half. He did this to show the Israeli troops at checkpoints that the kegs can’t be used to smuggle explosives into Israel.
“We need freedom, we need to toast peace and live normal lives, inshallah (God willing).”
The Palestinian economy has largely dribbled along since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000.
Numerous checkpoints, inspection of goods, military operations, the siege of Gaza and the West Bank wall have all hindered the Palestinian economy’s growth.
However, a recent report by the International Monetary Fund found that the Palestinian economy could grow by as much as 7 percent for 2009, if Israel extended its recent efforts to ease restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement.
These efforts have come into place as a result of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s initiative to offer Palestinians “economic peace”, which has seen some of Israel’s West Bank checkpoints removed, allowing a freer flow of goods.
Mr Khoury said that he had had no trouble from radical Islamist groups operating in the West Bank and that he hoped Taybeh beer could bring a nationalistic feeling to Palestinian products.
“We lost our identity a long time ago. We were ruled by the British, the Turks, Jordanians, and now the Israelis. We need to make our own products and feel proud of them as Palestinian.
“Jordan has had a country for so long and they are brewing Amstel beer under licence, shame on them.”
Several years ago, a relative of Mr Khoury’s had a relationship with a woman from a neighbouring village.
She was killed by her family: an “honour” killing.
The family came to Taybeh and burned 14 homes to the ground, then attacked the brewery.
“We stopped them. My sisters and brothers and I held hands and went outside and stopped them.”
In the immediate future, Mr Khoury is gearing up for the “Oktoberfest”: a beer festival held annually in Taybeh and modelled on the famous German beer festival.
Over two days, thousands of people from the West Bank and Israel will pour into the village to sap up the late summer sun and enjoy local food, music, crafts, tours of the village’s churches, and beer.
“In the past, when you had a bombing a lot of journalists come and need to drink, so there was always a demand. But this is not a normal life. This is not how it should be.
“If we have peace, then we have celebrations, parties, more freedom and this is best for Palestinian businesses.”