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West Bank enterprise.

ONLY THREE YEARS AGO, THE main activity of Taybeh was the Intifada. Now, the sleepy, predominantly Christian village of 1300 residents - sandwiched between two Jewish settlements - is more concerned with brewing beer than brewing trouble.

Its new claim to fame - as the home of the first Palestinian beer which has been named after the village and means "delicious" in Arabic - is steadily spreading throughout the West Bank and even across the greenline into Israel.

The man behind the new venture, Nadim Khoury, learned the art of beer-brewing while studying for his degree in business administration at Helena College in Brookline, Massachusetts, in the United States.

"I worked in a liquor shop selling wines, beer and also special beer-making kits for home brews," recalls the thirty-something entrepreneur. "During summer vacations I would experiment with various home brews that I then poured into Amstel and Heinekin bottles. My friends didn't even know they were drinking home brewed beer." It was the 1980's and the micro-brewery business was all the rage, Mr Khoury fondly reminisces, providing plenty of opportunities to hop from beer festival to brew contest all year round.

Determined to gain further expertise, he decided to compliment his full-time hobby with a brewers' course at the University of California. He went with a sample of Taybeh's nearby Samia Spring water in hand for analysis and was encouraged by an instructor who told him that it would make nice beer.

Mr Khoury had thought about opening a brewery in his home town on the West Bank, but it was only with the start of the peace process that he felt sufficiently optimistic about the area's economic future to set up shop.

From behind one of the gleaming new stainless steel vats he says: "When we heard of the Oslo agreement it encouraged me and my brother to think seriously about opening a brewery in Palestine." So, the Khoury brothers decided to leave the US and come home to try their luck. Today, the brothers employ 15 workers and produce 50,000 bottles of all-natural beer from a US$1.2m production line in their brewery located a stone's throw away from the family residence.

Despite the relatively limited output - small even by Israel's Macabee beer standards - they are confident of taking the local market by storm. Less than two months after the opening of the brewery, Taybeh beer is available in liquor shops and restaurants serving alcohol in Ramallah and East Jerusalem, as well as small Christian villages dotting the West Bank. And Mr Khoury reports that more recently he has found a handful of enthusiastic distributors in West Jerusalem and Tel Aviv who have taken a keen interest in his product.

For the future he sees a market in Jordan and possibly even Syria and Lebanon. A little closer to home, Mr Khoury says he has no objections to selling his brew to his Jewish settler neighbours - arguing that good beer transcends politics. He is even willing to obtain a kosher certificate, if this makes economic sense.

Mr Khoury believes that educating the public about the virtues of good beer - one like Taybeh, made without chemicals and preservatives - and paying a shekel or two more for it, is the greatest challenge facing his business venture. However, given the Muslim ban on alcohol consumption, the Khoury brothers will not be attempting to cultivate a clientele among all sections of the community.

So far, Mr Khoury claims, he has had no problems from Islamic fundamentalist leaders. And on the West Bank, he may indeed find a market given the relative tolerance and western tastes of much of the population. He is also planning to promote and distribute Taybeh beer in the less economically developed Gaza Strip - where fundamentalist politicians have a stronger base - in the near future.

He argues that times are changing in Gaza. Since PLO leader Yasser Arafat returned to the strip more than a year ago, the self rule enclave has begun a process of social liberalisation. New cafes, restaurants and clubs are springing up along the coastline - and business is far from bad.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Genkin, Stephanie
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Feb 1, 1996
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