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Hugh Fitzgerald: Food Fight: “A Brutal Attack Against the Palestinian Heritage”

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The “Palestinians” are up in arms, not for the first time, over what they see as Israel’s “theft” of what they claim are quintessentially “Palestinian” foods — hummus and falafel. This is one more way to continue the narrative of Israel as a foreign body, stealing not just “Palestinian” land, but also stealing “Palestinian” culture, including its clothing, its keffiyeh, and its food.

Here’s the latest complaint by a Palestine Authority spokesman:

Official Palestinian Authority television recently accused Israel of stealing falafel, hummus, and other “Palestinian foods” as part of a conspiracy against “Palestinian heritage.”

The claim was made by a reporter for the PA television channel’s show Palestine This Morning on October 3, 2018 as part of a report on a local food festival, translated by Palestinian Media Watch.

“We are talking about a brutal attack against the Palestinian heritage in general, including Palestinian foods,” the reporter claimed over images of a cook preparing various dishes.

“There has been theft of the Palestinian falafel, the Palestinian hummus, and some popular foods by the occupation,” she added.

“Holding [food] festivals like these is essential in order to preserve the heritage and also the Palestinian foods,” the reporter said.

Falafel and hummus are, in fact, generic Middle Eastern foods and are eaten by many peoples across the region and beyond. They have also become popular as delicacies in Western countries.

PMW [Palestine Media Watch] noted that the incident is by no means the first time such accusations against Israel have been made. Mohammad Shtayyeh, a central committee member of the Fatah party, once claimed Israel “fabricated the falafel.” A member of the PA Parliament has also made a similar accusation, saying the Jewish state “falsified the falafel ball.” In 2011, Palestinian columnist Muwaffaq Matar charged that Israel had “stolen our clothing, our keffiyeh, our falafel, and our hummus.”

There are several things wrong with this claim. First, no one knows for sure where falafel originated, but it certainly was not with the “Palestinians.” Most food historians believe it was first prepared in Egypt in 1000 A.D., and what’s more, its first preparers are believed to have been Coptic Christians. As Alexandria is a port city, it would have been easy for falafel to have migrated to the Levant, taken by sailors who brought the dish with them. Some maintain that  falafel may have originated in Egypt as early as Pharaonic times. Another theory is that falafel may have originated in India, which has many deep-fried dishes in its cuisine, and was brought back to the Middle East by Arabs or Turks. Still another theory claims that falafel originated in Yemen. But no one has ever mentioned the “Palestinians” — that is, the handful of Arabs living in Palestine — as the originators of falafel, save the “Palestinians” themselves. And Jews in Israel did not have to “steal” falafel from the “Palestinians.” Mizrahi Jews had been eating falafel and hummus for many centuries, and when they arrived in Israel as refugees from Arab lands, they naturally brought the dish with them.

It is the same with hummus, which the “Palestinians” claim as their own, and accuse Israel of “stealing” it. Hummus, like falafel, is eaten all over the Middle East and North Africa, by Christians and Jews as well as Muslims, and by non-Arabs (Kurds, Berbers,Persians) as well as by Arabs. The dish is first mentioned in Egypt in the 13th century, which is most likely where it originated. It certainly did not originate with the “Palestinian people” who were created, for propaganda purposes, after the Six-Day War.

Why are the “Palestinians” making such a big deal about Israel “stealing” hummus and falafel from them? They have created for themselves a whole narrative to buttress the claim of a separate “Palestinian people.” They have “Palestinian folk songs,” which turn out to be songs shared by all the Arabs of the Levant. They dance the dabke, and carefully call this circle-and-line dance, again common to all the Arabs in the Levant, a “Palestinian folk dance.” And they call falafel and hummus, two dishes that are eaten all over the Middle East, that have long been eaten by Mizrahi Jews and Coptic Christians, with the weight of authority supporting the claim that both originated in Egypt, “Palestinian” foods “stolen” by Israel. Of course, the Israelis did not “steal” anything. Mizrahi Jews have been eating hummus and falafel for more than half-a-millennium, centuries before the invention of the “Palestinian” people. Nor do the Jews of Israel claim these dishes as their own; they forthrightly recognize them as part of “Middle Eastern” or even of “Arab” cuisine. But the Jews of Israel have their own distinctive religion, language, folklore, and even two separate “cuisines” — that of the Middle Eastern Mizrahis, and that of the East European Ashkenazis. Unlike the “Palestinians,” the Jews of Israel have no need to fabricate an identity; it’s already theirs.

It is the “Palestinians” who, in fact, are “stealing” from their fellow Arabs, by claiming hummus and falafel as distinctively their own, and thus part of “Palestinian” identity. It would be amusing to see the reaction of their fellow Arabs –Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, and Egyptians –to the claim that hummus and falafel are “Palestinian” dishes.

As for the further claim that Israel “steals” “Palestinian” clothing, including the keffiyeh, there is no evidence of this “theft” among ordinary Israelis. Nor is there any evidence of “Palestinian” clothing being distinct from that of the Jordanian or Syrian Arabs. Many “Palestinians” dress like tens of millions of other Arabs in the Levant, but their online propaganda is careful to describe this clothing as “Palestinian.” Other “Palestinians,” of course, such as Mahmoud Abbas, have completely abandoned traditional Arab dress and adopted Western clothing. The Israelis have not accused Abbas of “stealing Israeli clothing,” but it might be instructive, in a two-can-play-this-game sort of way, to do so. A way to make fun of their hysterical claim about the “brutal attack [by Israel] against the Palestinian heritage in general.”

But we cannot end this discussion without admitting that there is one task which requires a few select Israeli Jews to wear both “Palestinian” clothes and the keffiyeh, though only most temporarily, and out of real necessity. I am referring to the borrowing (not “theft’) of “Palestinian” clothing and keffiyeh by those tremendously talented Arabic-speaking Jews who conduct undercover operations in the West Bank, and need to dress accordingly.

The Truth Must be Told

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