The Christian villages of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt have been submerged in a tidal wave of political, demographic and economic change. But Taybeh remains with its 1,300 Palestinian Christians, its Byzantine Rite domes and its Latin Rite spire proclaiming the faith of the town. Every resident is Christian.
The pretty little village is carved out of almost-rose-coloured stone running up the steep sides of the hills. Today it has only about half the population it had in 1948.
“Where are our Christians?” asked Fr. Aziz Halaweh, the Catholic pastor of Christ the Redeemer parish. “They are in Canada and the States and Latin America and in Jordan. They are leaving.”
Halaweh swears Taybeh will always remain a Christian village. He has even vowed that, if he has to, he will get married and raise Christian children himself — but only if he has to.
“There will be a minority still here (in Palestine) — those who are brave, those who are linked to this land — sure we will be. But how much there will be? How many will stay here? We are a small minority. All over the Palestinian Authority, including Jerusalem, we are just 50,000 Christians from all churches. That means just 1.2 per cent of the population. We are in the land of Christ and we are 1.2 per cent of the population. It is a big problem.”
Whether it’s jobs across the security barrier in Israel or remittances from America, nearly every household in Taybeh is dependent on income that comes from outside Palestine. Taybeh is off the beaten path for pilgrims and tourists, even though it’s where Jesus took His disciples after He raised Lazarus from the dead. One of the hilltops near Taybeh, most of them now home to Israeli settlements, is where Jesus prayed and fasted just before the week of His passion.
Taybeh is also home to Palestine’s national beer. The Khoury brothers make Taybeh Golden, the sort of flavourful, blissful balm of a brew that can erase the desert from your throat. The Khoury family slogan is “Taste the Revolution.”
In 1993 the brothers moved back to Taybeh after 30 years in the Boston area and got the brewery up and running in 1994. David Khoury went on to serve the town as mayor and instituted the annual Oktoberfest.
The date is significant. The Khourys came back because the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. They believed the limited home rule the accords granted to the Palestinian Authority would evolve to a viable two-state solution.
Twenty years later David and Maria Khouriy’s sons are living in the United States. Their doctor-son is doing his residency and their pharmacist-son is working.
“Pharmacists make big money. In one day he might make more money than they would make here in a whole month,” said Maria Khoury.
The Khourys want their sons to return to Taybeh and help build the nation. They see the Israeli settlements expanding on the hilltops all around Taybeh and their Oslo dream eroding. The brewery only makes beer on the two days a week that Israel’s military authorities allow Taybeh access to its spring water. While the homes, churches and businesses of Taybeh store water in cisterns and big black tanks on their rooftops, the settlements are granted water seven days a week.
“Twenty-two years later, we have our own national beer but we still don’t have our own State of Palestine,” said David Khoury.
There’s no mystery to why you will find more Taybeh Christians in Chile, Guatemala, the United States and other countries.
“The reason is they want better opportunities, better education, a better life for their children — a better future,” said David Khoury.
“It’s so much easier to be in Australia or Canada or the United States,” said Maria Khoury. “You have a good life… People do go to a place where they can put bread on the table.”