The theft of the Palestinian cuisine (Pixabay)
The Palestinian cuisine is part of the larger and richer Levantine cuisine. In the Levant, we have two main cuisines in Damascus and Aleppo. And the vast majority of dishes across the Levant – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine – come from these two cuisines. Joseph Massad wrote of the cultural theft Israel is performing against the Palestinian kitchen.
The theft of the Palestinian cuisine
Foods including falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, maftoul, zaatar, olive oil, farmers’ salad (known in the US as “Israeli” salad) or Nabulsi kunafa have been seized and stolen by Jewish colonists in Israel for decades. They are marketed in the West as “Israeli”, and a whole set of justifications have been mobilized to defend these thefts in the Western press.
Some may casually claim that Israeli Jews are now part of the region and therefore have the right to claim its dishes. However, this false logic ignores the fact that European, Asian and African Jewish colonists never became part of the Levant region. On the contrary, the settlers see themselves primarily as being only in the “Middle East” but not from it.
In turn, the former Israeli ambassador to Sweden and Egypt, Zvi Mazel, stressed that “Israel is a Western country, and despite the sometimes-treacherous behavior of Western countries, it still belongs to that classification culturally, conceptually and economically.”
British writer and cookbook author Claudia Roden belongs to an Egyptian Jewish family “Douek” hailing from Syria. She had an interesting take on the matter.
Roden claims that many European Jewish colonists in Palestine “wanted to forget their ancient food because it reminded them of persecution”.
Also, New York Times journalist Ligaya Mishan adds that Jewish settlers “have found in the food of their Palestinian neighbours a connection to the land and their ancestry.”
The only paradox is that Palestinians are not the neighbours of the Israeli Jews, but people invaded by the Jewish colonists who stole the Palestinian’s homeland and cuisine.
How can a cultural theft be irrelevant?
The theft of Palestinian and Syrian dishes by the Israelis has become a very common phenomenon. That can be easily noted in Western cookbooks on the “Middle East” and in “Israeli” restaurants in Europe and North America, where Palestinians are harassed if they dare to open restaurants that refer to their own cuisine.
A Jewish-Palestinian cookbook writing duo had claimed that the issue of “Israeli” or “Palestinian” dish is irrelevant. But is that so for all parties involved?
Is the issue relevant, for example, in the case of a Palestinian restaurant that was recently opened in Brooklyn, New York, if hummus or other stolen Palestinian dishes are defined as an “Israeli” or Palestinian dish?
The owner of this new Palestinian restaurant, described by a New York newspaper as “one of the best new restaurants in town”, has complained of online harassment. Saying that these people have never been to the restaurant, but act out of hostility towards Palestinians.
The owner also told the press that “only defining his restaurant as a Palestinian restaurant opens the door to potential harassment.”
A Part of the Middle East?
Then there is the claim that Jews who come from Arab countries make up half of the Jewish colonists in Israel. Therefore, they have the right to claim regional dishes just as much as the Palestinians have. But this claim is based on the racist and ignorant assumption that the entire Arab region, from Morocco to Iraq to Yemen, has one cuisine of its own!
In fact, the vast majority of Arab Jews in Israel have come from Morocco, Yemen and Iraq, which are areas of the Arab world that have their own regional cuisines. These cuisines do not make neither falafel nor hummus, nor zaatar, nor maftoul, nor tabbouleh. They do not know kunafa or eat it. When they eat it, they would have to eat at a restaurant that serves Syrian dishes!
How then can the Arab Jewish colonists in Israel demand Palestinian food as their food?
Israel is not a natural part of the “Middle Eastern” region. Rather, it became a part of it through colonial conquest. Undoubtedly, most Arabs agree with the conception of the State of Israel as a “Western” state. They consider it an invading European colony planted in the heart of the Arab world. And most of them do not accept its right to exist. But they are also appalled at how their cuisine and their dishes have become an integral part of this full Israeli colonial attack.