June 29: Taybeh in the New Millenium
Dear Friends of St. George Taybeh,
Praying and hoping all of you are well and receiving many blessings from God on this most holy day. Christ is in our Midst! Thank you for helping us with our church projects in Taybeh whether financially or with prayers. I would like to share with you an update and the following article that was written for This Week in Palestine (July issue) reflecting the general work in Taybeh under my husband’s leadership as mayor which we hope is coming to an end but the elections scheduled July 9th were cancelled again. The Taybeh Education Fund established in Norfolk, Virginia will have a new home with the Annunciation Church in Little Rock, Arkansas where we are getting help to be a non profit charitable organization with the $60,000 raised to serve as an endowment educational fund helping our college students with an annual scholarship for local tuition in Palestine. The Taybeh Orthodox Housing Project is building the 19th and 20th home this summer which means the tenth duplex building with the grand total raised since 2000 reaching $165,000. Most of the homes are skeleton unfinished units but six families have completed their home on their own and settled in while others are partially finished. Fr. David Philip Khoury, our first cousin just finished an amazing renovation project of our St. George Church and the interior looks more beautiful than ever. Come visit us! Please feel free to share our news with others, any church, blog or your local paper; and know we continue to survive with your prayers. Ask your church to provide a link to us, www.saintgeorgetaybeh.org,
In Christ’s love,
Taybeh in the New Millennium
By Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.
Trying to be a different face for Palestine is, in itself, a great challenge for a small town that could not be found on any map before the turn of the new millennium. Taybeh has tried to stay in the forefront of economic development and job creation projects since May 2005, when David Canaan Khoury become the first democratically elected mayor. He leads a nine-member council and heads up the Joint Service Council, which includes Ramoon and Deir Ejreer. The first few years were so rough due to the international financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority that it was almost impossible to even come up with the salaries for municipal employees.
Recently, however, one could say that miracles have been happening in Taybeh, with amazing million-dollar infrastructure projects that include paving the main entrances to the village and its side roads, a $750,000 ANERA grant for the Orthodox school, a new public park, renovating the historic city centre to preserve culture and heritage, promoting the new motto to keep Taybeh clean and one of the most beautiful places in Palestine, especially with the brand new $100,000 sanitation truck from the Danish Government. The Taybeh Municipality has found creative ways to capitalise on the unique character of the village and to overcome traditional barriers in order to be recognised and distinctively known to the global community.
Since some of the local people do not always share the mayor’s vision, it’s a constant challenge to work toward making the village part of a liberal, modern, moderate, and secular Palestine. When others are happy with their ancient traditions it’s even hard to convince them to upgrade one of the most basic aspects of their daily lives, for example, the sewage system.
The European Commission recently awarded an amazing three million Euros for a project to create a sewage system with agricultural irrigation benefits in Taybeh and Ramoon, thereby upgrading the current septic tank system. But if local people have to give up even an inch of their agricultural land to accommodate the central recycling sewage-water facility, it becomes a full-time job to host meetings and constantly explain the benefits of upgrading the system to a standard that people around the world take for granted. Those who fight for a better environment and safer food remain persistent, resilient, and committed to keeping alive the undying hope for a better life.
Some international visitors might say that the historic area is one of the most precious locations in the village. Local Christians would say that the site of the fourth-century ruins of St. George Church is the most valuable spot in Taybeh, not only because of its spiritual value but also because of its archaeological worth, as it is built on one of the most ancient spots in Palestine and in the highest mountain region of the West Bank. But don’t bother to ask any members of the Khoury family, since they truly believe that the Taybeh Brewing Company, which attracts thousands of visitors each year and produces what is called “the Finest Beer in the Middle East,” is the most precious spot to visit in Taybeh. Why should we argue about any site when many get confused with the other four “Taybeh” locations in the Middle East?
This October, the Taybeh Municipality hopes that international and local visitors will be inspired to show up in Biblical Ephraim for the Seventh Annual Taybeh Oktoberfest, which has been a successful municipality-sponsored festival since 2005, and a significant economic booster for this village which has an unemployment rate of 50 percent. Given the creativity and ambition of Taybeh entrepreneurs, the village has been viewed by many journalists as a micro-economic success story and a great role model for others.
The 2010 Oktoberfest honoured women leaders who provide support to development projects in Palestine and in Taybeh, including, Mrs. Claudette Habesch, Secretary-General, Caritas Jerusalem; Lana Abu Hijleh, Country Director, CHF International; Dr. Jantien Dajani, former Director, Spafford Children’s Center; Dr. Laila Ghannam, Governor of Ramallah and El Bireh; and Her Excellency Seham Barghouthi, Minister of Culture. The Oktoberfest opening celebration included over twenty ambassadors, consuls general, and heads of representative offices to the Palestinian Authority. This tiny village craves this support and solidarity as it struggles to survive peacefully among three expanding illegal Israeli settlements.
Taybeh Municipality has spent almost US$800,000, in cooperation with Riwaq, in beautifying the historic area of Taybeh. Various grants have been received from the Spanish government, CHF International, and the Swedish International Development Agency to give the historic area the facelift needed to attract international and local visitors and to advance rural tourism with preventive architectural improvements. The new Taybeh Zamaan Public Park, made possible by a grant of US$270,000 from CHF International, gives a spectacular view of Taybeh and all the surrounding villages. When finances fall short, the Taybeh people abroad, headed by the United Taybeh American Association, continue to support their beloved village as specifically seen in the brand new Taybeh Post Office building, which is meant to be an income-generating and long-term sustainable project for the Taybeh Municipality.
David Khoury – with his extensive international business background, sophisticated negotiation skills, and teaching experience in Birzeit University’s finance and marketing departments –reflects the type of mayor who inspires people to think outside the box in creating economic opportunities amidst the harsh realities of Israeli military occupation and a fragile Palestinian economy. With very few resources, Taybeh Municipality has continued to give all local services to the community and has tried to improve the living conditions of rural life. Against all odds – even having been shot at and enduring numerous attacks, including the burning of his car in front of the Taybeh Municipality – the mayor insists that Taybeh is the flame of peace. His vision, personal inner peace, and commitment and devotion to Taybeh, in particular, and Palestine, in general, have helped bring about international recognition of the distinctive character of this small Palestinian village in the new millennium. To top off his optimism, David Khoury seriously believes that a toast to a just peace in Palestine will be made with Taybeh Beer!