Amongst the recent skirmishes at Al Aqsa mosque and general unrest in Jerusalem, I was sat on a crowded rooftop at Palestine’s annual take on Oktoberfest – a mini-festival organised by Palestine’s Taybeh Brewery.
It is not often the image of a beer festival springs to mind when we think of Palestine. Yet while tensions were rising in Jerusalem due to Israel imposing increasingly harsh restrictions on Palestinian movement – one media outlet hailing it as the 3rd intifada – here I was drinking a beer brewed on Palestinian soil no less.
Taybeh was the first brewery in the Middle East when it was established by the Koury family in 1994. It plays a crucial role in re-imagining Palestine by enabling alternative representations to those produced by the ferocious and constant media focus on tension and conflict to arise. The brewery plays a role in signifying a heterogeneity of Palestinian voices and everydayness to Palestine as it shows that there are different communities and religious groups in Palestine. Taybeh is one of few entirely Christian villages in Palestine and the irony of a brewery representing a Christian community is nonetheless important because it symbolises that Palestine is a country where some can drink beer, and where festivals take place.
When we drink a beer, a taste moves and travels. I can remember that taste from Palestine but I can also bring that taste with me, I can potentially buy that taste in Scotland. In Palestine so many things cannot travel, cannot move – particularly material things – anything which can is miraculous. Speaking with the owners of the brewery they told me it cost them more in export taxes to get their beer the 70km or so from Taybeh to an Israeli port than to move it all the way to Germany. Israel’s border controls are an important issue here by ensuring any goods coming in and out of Israel become unreasonably expensive and through export and import taxes the Israeli economy benefits while the Palestinian economy suffers. Fuel in Palestine for example costs the same as fuel in the UK, but the average wage in Palestine is about seven times less.
If not through border controls, Israel controls many Palestinian goods through forms of cultural appropriation in which Israel re-labels many traditional Palestinian goods as Israeli. As I walked through Israel’s main airport a few months ago my eye was drawn to a gift shop selling Israeli traditional products. Unfortunately it contained many goods Palestinians would see as central to their culture re-labelled as Israeli: hummus, falafel, and traditional Palestinian pottery designs. This is damaging not just because Israel profits economically but they erase Palestine’s global market presence. This seems so cruel when material objects are so important for many countries: think of whisky and Scotland, Heineken and the Netherlands, wine and France. These objects (excuse the focus on alcohol) are central to the economy of each country but also key to making these countries global players.
Taybeh brewery states as three of its aims: to contribute to the Palestinian economy, elevate tourism, and widen international market presence. Through breweries in Palestine the global and local can intersect in new ways. Different actors are given new mobilities; Palestine now has two breweries (Taybeh and Shepherds) and a nano-brewery – Wise Man – has recently opened up in a Palestinian village near Bethlehem. All these are family run and most importantly local – beer is giving power to local actors – enabling bottom up not top down learning. In this way Palestinians themselves are given the power to re-represent themselves and become knowledgeable actors. As the Taybeh brewery states in its aims, not only does it help the Palestinian economy and increase tourism but an international presence arises. At both Taybeh and Shepherds breweries, the hops are imported from Europe, to give a slightly European taste. The collision of different geographical locations in this beer is important, encouraging us to think of a Palestine as not completely disconnected from the world.
Back to me sat on a crowded rooftop drinking beer at the Taybeh Oktoberfest. I am now listening to Palestinian bands performing, eating delicious food from local eateries, and browsing Palestinian craft stalls. I’m not the only one enjoying myself: Palestinians and tourists surround me laughing.
These moments are important because laughter and enjoyment creates a Palestine in the present. This present is important because the present gives life. Life is lived in the present. Being at the beer festival was about enjoyment. It was also about a future, a material object which isn’t about tradition but for once an object which stands for a future. A future centred around something new and exciting. Visiting both the Taybeh and Shepherds breweries it struck me how new and shiny they were both were – state of the art. Trying to create a future here is not easy when the future here seems so uncertain – everything is so precious because Israel can so take it away.
Of course the festival was not perfect (I heard numerous Palestinians complaining about the entry costs and restrictions on the festival meant it had to finish at 10.30pm) but as the last song played and many – slightly drunk – jumped up and down in front of the stage, I did feel a Palestine filled with smiles and laughter and maybe a different future.