Monday, June 25, 2012

Peaceful Resistance, One Pitcher at a Time

On a rocky hillside in the ancient village of Taybeh, the fragrant smell of roasting barley emanates from an inconspicuous factory.  Inside, the Khoury family is busily overseeing several tanks of brewing liquid which will eventually be bottled and packaged as the Middle East’s only microbrew.

The brewery occupies an interesting position in Palestinian politics, history, and economics. Its founders, David and Nadim Khoury had escaped the violence and instability of the West Bank to attend college in Boston, Massachusetts. There, David fell in love with brewing beer. When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1994, the brothers decided to move back to their home village of Taybeh and support Palestinian people by bringing business: beer business.

Alcohol is forbidden under Islam making Taybeh’s position in the majority-Muslim West Bank a precarious one. The beer is produced in Palestine’s last remaining entirely Christian town, but this fact alone has not dissuaded extremists from targeting the Khoury family and the town of Taybeh in acts of violent protest. David’s car has been torched, someone has shot at him, and the factory was nearly burned down in 2005 during a period of religious riots following the honor killing of a Muslim woman from a nearby town after it was discovered she had engaged in a relationship with a Taybeh villager. Fourteen homes were destroyed and the West Bank nearly lost its only brewery. 

Explicit violence is not the only challenge the family faces. The occupation of the West Bank results in stringent regulations and policies that dissuade business and make life particularly hard for beer brewers. The water for Taybeh comes from only two miles away, but this water source is under Israeli control. The water is prioritized for the Israeli settlements built on the hilltops surrounding Taybeh who receive a constant flow, while Palestinian villages in the region are pumped water half of the week, and only after they purchase it from Israel. After the production of the beer, it must be transported through several checkpoints to reach distribution sites within the West Bank, and particularly stringent checkpoints to enter Israel for local use and export abroad. Brew Master Madees Khoury explained that several times, shipments have spoiled while awaiting inspection or have been refused entry into Israel, impeding all foreign export.

Despite the many challenges facing the small operation, the family produces one terrific set of beers earning their moniker “The Finest in the Middle East” (my personal favorite is their “Dark,” a rich and smooth stout). The business remains viable, surviving its greatest challenge yet during the Second Intifada and becoming a point of Palestinian pride in more liberal cities where alcohol is legal. Their billboards often read: “Drink Palestinian, Taste the Revolution.” 

More than anything, the Khourys see their business as a form of civil resistance. Born in a moment of hope after the historic Oslo Agreements, the family dreams to someday see a free and prosperous Palestinian state.
“The Christians of Taybeh have lived through countless occupations since the time Jesus entered this town,” Maria Khoury explained to me, “and they have always responded through peaceful resistance. This is a matter of great pride in our village. We are not a violent people, and we will support Palestinian independence not by strapping on bombs, but by brewing beer, providing jobs, and investing in Palestine.” 

Cheers to that.

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