June 8, 2023

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Oktoberfest under occupation: first Palestinian female beer brewer

Oktoberfest under occupation: first Palestinian female beer brewer

The annual Oktoberfest this weekend at Taybeh brewery in the occupied West Bank is a beer festival like no other.

Ever since 1994 it has operated under challenging circumstances. Now the Palestinian brewery is run by a woman, Madees Khoury, adding an extra layer of complication.

Khoury says she is the first, and perhaps the only female brewer in the Middle East, and heads a beer dynasty which has turned the small Christian village of Taybeh in the Israeli-occupied West Bank into a global beer brand.

It was not a normal childhood for Khoury, who spent her early years around the huge vats in Taybeh brewery.

“I grew up in the brewery since I was nine years old, I was running around making trouble,” she told AFP.

“I just watched my father and uncle build a business and I grew to love it,” she said.

After graduating in 2007 from university in Boston in the United States, she moved back to Taybeh to learn the family business.

Now she has risen to operations manager and is the face of the company’s lauded Oktoberfest, launched in 2005.

Run as a two-day event over Friday and Saturday, Oktoberfest at Taybeh is as much about Palestinian identity as it is about drinking beer.

It is a combination of dabke, a traditional dance, pale ales and serious politics.

“In order to build a state of Palestine, we have to invest our own money, education and hard work into the country by opening businesses ourselves, not relying on foreign aid that might be cut off at any minute,” said Khoury.

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Brewing beer under occupation

Brewing beer as a viable business is no mean feat in the West Bank.

“Other than being under occupation… there are water shortages, no borders, and moving around and transportation is very difficult,” she said.

On top of that, Khoury is a woman in a male-dominated industry.

“Women in the beer industry in general have it very difficult,” she said.

“But I think I have it extra difficult being in a male-dominated country, an Arab country and under occupation – so it’s four or five times harder than for anywhere else.”

With only nine Christian towns and villages in the West Bank, the Khourys were always going to be forced to sell overseas.

Today the brand is sold around the world, from Japan to the United States, with the brewery producing around 1.8 million bottles a year.

Organisers said as many as 16,000 people were expected to attend this weekend’s Oktoberfest.

For Bassam Baseem, a Taybeh resident, the beer has put what was a sleepy village on the map.

“This beer has made our village known across the world,” he said.