West Bank Beer Festival Attracts Jewish Israelis

Each year, the Palestinian village of Taybe holds a festival to celebrate its popular brand of beer. The festival has become a symbol for young, often westernized Palestinians who use it as a showcase for music, art and culture. it's a rare chance for people to come and see a different side of the Palestinian territories.

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The Palestinian territories may seem an unlikely place to hold an Oktoberfest beer festival. But since 2005, one small West Bank village has been doing just that. During the festival, the village's largely Christian community swells to nearly 10 times its usual size. Thousands of visitors arrive to sample the many brands of beer produced by the local brewery. And as Sheera Frenkel reports, it also gives the territories a chance to show off a side of itself that many would not have guessed existed.

SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: I'm standing at the entrance to the Taybeh Oktoberfest and it has the feel of giant street party. Toddlers are here getting their faces painted like tigers as adults stand around and sip beer, enjoying the afternoon sun.

JOZI FAYED: I think it's excellent. I like seeing all the people around here. It's beautiful. It's absolutely amazing.

FRENKEL: That's Jozi Fayed. He just turned 18 and is the designated driver for his group of friends at the Taybeh Oktoberfest. Beers in hand, he and his friends are eager to point out that Taybeh beer is just as good - better even - than its Israeli and foreign rivals.

Over the last eight years, the Oktoberfest celebrations here have become an annual pilgrimage for many young Palestinians. Started by the Taybeh Brewery, which produces the West Bank's only beer, it has grown into a larger cultural gathering for innovators and promoters of the made-in Palestine brand. And most importantly, say the organizers, it's a rare chance for people to come and see and another side of the Palestinian territories.

ALEX STEIN: The average Israeli, they would be very wide-eyed. They wouldn't really believe this, which says a lot about certain prejudices among Israelis. But also the, kind of, breakdown in trust and how easy it would be to challenge that.

FRENKEL: That's Alex Stein, a 31-year-old British immigrant to Israel. He lives in Jerusalem, less than a half-hour drive away from Taybeh. But like many here, it's his first time visiting the village. He came in a busload of Jewish Israelis who hoped to break barriers, and their stereotypes of Palestinians.

STEIN: It's the legacy of the conflict, which really just completely destroyed the trust between both sides. The situation is very, very different on the ground now.

FRENKEL: Tourism in Palestinian sites in the West Bank has steadily increased in recent years, helped largely by the decrease in violence and media campaigns by the Palestinian Tourism Ministry.

While the World Bank has warned of an impending financial crisis for the Palestinian authority, private Palestinian businesses have shown small but steady growth in recent years, though they say they continue to be limited by restrictions in movement and Israel's military occupation of the West Bank.

Stein says he was impressed with many of the wares and projects on display at Taybehfest, and he thinks others would be too - if they paid a visit to the West Bank.

STEIN: What needs to happen next is for the West Bank to be completely opened up, complete freedom of movement between the West Bank and Israel. And it likely could be done. And it would have a massive impact - massive positive impact.

FRENKEL: As he speaks, the Palestinian hip hop group, DAM.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FELL IN LOVE WITH A JEW)

DAM: (Rapping) Her skin is white and my skin is brown. (Unintelligible)

FRENKEL: The headliners of the evening entertainment at Taybeh, DAM chose to open their set with one of their most popular new releases - "I Fell in Love with a Jew."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FELL IN LOVE WITH A JEW")

DAM: Mama, I fell in love with a Jew.

FRENKEL: The crowd raises their beers, and sings along.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FELL IN LOVE WITH A JEW")

DAM: (Rapping) Oh, I'm in love with a Jew. What? I fell in love with a Jew. Her skin is white and my skin is brown. (Unintelligible)

FRENKEL: For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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