Oktoberfest and occupation

Every now and then it happens that there is a perfect confrontation and clash of expectations and ironies. In the same week that the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and its Jewish counterpart Yom Kippur were converging – a microcosm of this discord being violently administered outside of al-Aqsa Mosque – in a comparatively quiet corner of the West Bank, Oktoberfest was beginning to get underway.

Living in Amman, I decided along with several friends to make the journey to this Jordanian oddity. Taking into account the warnings from several British defence attachés of the potential dangers, we proceeded to the border.

The fi dgety nervousness on the day of the trip, however, turned quickly to boredom and frustration. At King Hussein Bridge we were met with a system of bureaucracy that made rampant disorganisation and suspicious paranoia almost impossible to distinguish from each other. The term “Kafka-esque,” while often clichéd, captures our situation: cordoned-off for six hours, passports seized and, crucially, given no reason as to why. Though we missed the fi rst day of the event, we were eventually allowed through. We made our way to Ramallah, set to join the festival for its final day. 

Upon discovering a lone threat on the Oktoberfest Facebook event that any Israelis present would be attacked, and generally unsure of what the prevailing attitude toward Westerners would be, a friend and I half-jokingly made the somewhat suspect (and retrospectively, somewhat shameful) decision that, should we be asked where we came from, to say we were from Bosnia, accounting for our rather pasty complexions whilst leaving open to inference the possibility that we were fellow Muslims. Yet everyone we encountered was more than accommodating, regardless of our nationality. Upon arrival at the hosting village of Taybeh, we slipped comfortably back into our native habits, taking full advantage of the in-house brewery.

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Taybeh is a small Christian town, with a reputation for being one of the few areas in the West Bank without a mosque. In 1995, the two brothers David and Nadim Khoury returned from Boston to their Palestinian homeland, spurred on to do so by the hope imbued in them by the Oslo Peace Process. They brought with them their ideas, planned out whilst working in a state-side liquor store, and have since established their brand as the “best beer in the Middle East,” made from an accumulative of two million pounds worth of equipment.

Ten years ago, they organised the fi rst Oktoberfest in Palestine and it is now one of the largest sources of wealth for the local region and its other businesses. It hopes to serve as an example of the potential strength that an independent Palestinian economy could bring in the future. It has continually attracted musicians from across the world, though the highlight of the closing night was the home-grown rap group DAM. Performing an Arabic version of KRS-One’s ‘The Sound of da Police’, they also made use of other, earlier traditions of Palestinian expression, incorporating into their songs the works of famous poet Mahmoud Darwish, notably that of ana min hunak – “I come from there.” For both of these, extra security had to be brought in to maintain crowd-control.

In that enclave of empowered music, independent business and hundreds of people coming together because of them, it wasn’t hard to imagine what a free Palestine might look like. When all had come to a close, though, with everyone journeying back to their own hometowns, the roadsides comprised of little more than checkpoints and soldiers. It was a distinct reminder that despite the small circles of autonomy and comradeship, there are still innumerable frontiers to cross.