In a commentary focusing on food as a unifying element in the Middle East, (Could palates, rather than politics be the key to peace in the Middle East?, Aug. 13) ‘Comment is Free’ contributor Rachel Shabi couldn’t help but lament that ‘some countries’ in the region, for obtuse nationalist reasons, claim ownership of legumes that aren’t their own.
More often, we hear about the politics of Middle Eastern food in the context of nationalistic battles over ownership. Israel sparks fury with its ubiquitous postcards of falafel skewered with an Israeli flag and a strapline declaring the pitta-nestled chickpea balls to be their “national snack”. President Obama unwittingly picked that barely-covered scab when it was revealed that he’d be served falafel by the Israeli president on a recent regional trip.While questions remain as to where precisely in the Middle East the deep-fried round patties (made from ground chickpeas, fava beans or both) originated, as Shabi surely knows, nearly half of Israeli Jews are Mizrachi – descendants from Jewish communities in the Middle East. So, to suggest that Israelis are ‘colonizing’ the ubiquitous street food is not only petty, but ahistorical.
The anti-Israel cru's relentless rants regarding "Zionism’s cultural appropriation of indigenous Palestinian folklore and cuisine" (thats a direct quote from the Electronic Intifada) reflect not only lack of understanding regarding basic cultural interactions, but also their characteristic inability to see anything beyond the prism of their eternal victimhood.
Petty and ahistorical? We can play that game, too. Check out this photo from the facebook page "Palestine Food"
Yep. Apparently olives, cucumber and tomato have been appropriated and are now exclusively "Palestine Food".
Its a war crime.
In reality, the food of the Middle East is reflective of its location at the crossroads of civilizations, as well as the waves of immigrants that settled the land.
For a much more nuanced view of food in the Middle East, check out "Beyond Falafel: Food Culture in Israel" , a short film made by Bay Area high school students. Funny how high school students get these basic concepts of intercultural communication and sharing that appear beyond the intellectual grasp of the Electronic Intifada.
And check out the wonderful cookbook "Jerusalem", written Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. From Tablet magazine: Can the ‘Jerusalem’ Cookbook Bring About Peace? From the looks of it, yes. The authors write about how the food culture of Jerusalem helps break down boundaries:
"You can see people shop together in food markets, or eat in one another’s restaurants. On rare occasions, they work together in partnership in food establishments. It takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it--what have we got to lose?--to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will."