One of the timeliest traditions in life is sitting around the table, sharing a meal–you know, family dinner.
I learned to cook at an early age. Growing up in a traditional Palestinian home brought with it a love for food, and a love for sharing a meal with company. Many of you can relate, I’m sure.
No matter what our religion, ethnic background or country of origin, family dinners are usually a shared tradition.
Food is a tie that binds. As people from all across the globe interact, share ideas–and spices–dishes evolve and adapt thanks to this cultural exchange. Cultural diversity is always appreciated, and if you’re offering us food, it’s even better.
Just look at the United States, for example. It’s a perfect example of how immigrants shared, shaped, and diversified the American palette over the decades.
Little known fact: Food can also be a divider, one that loses its unifying factor when a group decides to stop sharing, and instead, uses food as a political weapon of domination.
One of the most contentious topics today in the cooking world is the cultural appropriation of ethnic cuisine. Case in point, Arab dishes, specifically Palestinian ones, which have been dubbed “Israeli.”
Why is this a big deal, you ask?
Well, because Israel now has the opportunity to not only steal land and commit massive human rights violations, but to also rob Palestinians of age-old cuisines and tradition that belong to the Middle East.
Hummus is a prime example. It’s a popular dish in every country in the Middle East, but no country in the area claims it as their own–except for Israel. Why do some Israelis and their Hasbara campaigners feel it necessary to claim hummus, among many other dishes, as their own? The reasons are both historical and political.
During Israel’s inception in 1948, the country was largely founded by European Jews who, around the 1960’s, shamed Middle Eastern Jews into relinquishing their Arabized cultural heritage. It was a strategy used to adopt European cultural norms because of the belief that Middle Eastern cultures were primitive and inferior to more “civilized” European cultures. Yet, in the past couple of decades, Israel has sought to reclaim this “Middle Eastern” heritage in order to eradicate Israel’s past as a European colonial creation transplanted onto the Middle East by dying colonial powers, with its progenitors, largely Europeans, who had internalized European racism against “Oriental” peoples.
Therefore, traditional Middle Eastern dishes, as well as other cultural artifacts, were co-opted as “Israeli” to erase this European colonial past, and solidify and legitimize Israel as a natural extension of the Middle East, rather than an abrupt European creation.
More tellingly, they seek to erase Palestine. The best way to replace Palestine with Israel is to eradicate Palestinian cultural heritage by appropriating it into the cultural fabric of Israel.
By rendering the culture and history of the indigenous people of Palestine void, Israel is able to mask the brutality of its inception, and the history of violence that continues up until today.
In addition, Israel’s current leaders seek to replace reality–occupation, dispossession, the implementation of the Apartheid wall, checkpoints, and brutal military violence unleashed upon Palestinians and Arabs in the area–by creating and perpetuating the myth that Israel is comprised of an indigenous people simply defending itself from hostile “squatters.”
Throughout the past several years, there has been a concerted effort by Israeli chefs, restaurateurs, and the Israeli PR machine to brand Arab foods such as hummus, falafel, salad, and even knafeh, to name a few, as “Israeli.”
Their platforms have been plenty. I’ve seen this ill-intentioned effort upheld by popular magazines like Bon Appetite, and even on the Food Network. In their September 2015 edition, Bon Appetit featured an “Israeli hummus” recipe “published with permission from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov.”
Really, Bon Appetit? According to Solomonov “Hummus originated in the Middle East long before Israel, but Israelis have adopted it as their own.”
Really, Michael Solomonov? “Adopted it as their own?” As if hummus was the red-headed step child of the Middle East, unwanted and unloved, until Israel came to be.
You don’t “adopt” a food and give it a nationality; you don’t take a recipe from a problematic cookbook and just label it “Israeli” and call it a day, either. It takes a village–a community–to hand down and share beloved traditions. You can’t just kidnap it and adopt it.
Israel and Zionist Israelis claim they are part of the Middle East, but they don’t seem to want to participate in the idea that it takes a village; they’re too busy destroying, occupying, and settling in them.
The general public doesn’t have a good grasp on the fact that oppressed and marginalized groups are politically–and culturally–invisible. This means they aren’t included in the conversation. They aren’t included in seemingly worldwide movements demanding rights for indigenous people, farmers, access to water, and more healthy food options.
Palestinians have been actively engaged in mainstreaming the narrative of their historical truth, their culture, their land, their music, and their right to exist for decades.
The contributions of modern Palestinian women like Laila El-Haddad, author of The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey and Rawia Bishara, author of Olives, Lemons & Za’atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking are a testament to the fact that Palestinians and Arabs are building a place for themselves at the international table of humanity.
Growing up, there was always a meal that my mother would see fit to share with our neighbors. With each meal she carried across the sidewalk, she also carried a story of tradition. My mother–our mothers–did not merely teach me to cook to prepare me for a life of domesticity. What she taught me was an appreciation for every morsel I put in my mouth, as it was always accompanied by a lesson and story in what it means to be Palestinian.
Written by Shehnaz.
You should also check out…
How to Make the Bomb.com Hummus (and Smash Patriarchy)
Israeli Designer Attempts to Erase Palestine Through Fashion With Her Keffiyeh Collection
It’s Not Just a Keffiyeh
Israeli Designer Appropriates the Palestinian Kuffiya… And Calls It ‘Couture’
#KeffiyehDay: Here’s Why We’re Reclaiming the Keffiyeh for Palestine
How Do You Rock Your Keffiyeh on World #KeffiyehDay?