Culture is a reflection of each society and community. It can be identified through different factors ranging from traditional heritage, music to art and cuisine, among other elements.
They form the pillars of the identity of nations and countries, but if they are taken away and appropriated by others then what is left of that identity?
To this end, ordinary Palestinians including owners of Palestinian restaurants all over the world feel they have a duty to show the rich culture of their people through showing maps, posters, old photographs and handmade crafts decorating the interiors of their dining areas as well as sitting rooms in Palestinian homes.
It is a voluntary individual educational process to raise awareness amongst non-Palestinians and raise awareness to fight all attempts to forge history and most importantly the appropriation of Palestinian cuisine.
Restaurants are like little microcosms of the Palestinian identity and culture. A fierce cultural war often breaks out when Palestinian meals are mislabeled as Israeli ones whether by online or TV ads or at restaurants owned by Israelis.
Palestinian culture and life revolves around food in every aspect, whether it is an ordinary day or a special occasion. A few books were written about Palestinian cookery and cuisine; it is a reminder that food and national identity are tied together.
Lovers of Palestinian cuisine know where to find their favorite Palestinian dishes in their cities outside Palestine. Not to mention the famous Palestinian cheesy dessert known as kunafaeh.
Maramia, is Arabic for sage – an aromatic herb added to tea by Palestinians – it is one of the few places that offer the taste of Palestine in the UK.
The admiration to the Palestinians’ cause and struggle is not only limited to politics, but also to their authentic typical meals such as musakhan, maqlouba, mansaf, stuffed vine leaves, hummus, falafel and shakshouka.
Cooking styles vary by region, and each type of style and the ingredients used, are generally based on the climate and location of the particular region in historic Palestine and on traditions.
Dining in restaurants such as Shakshouka – another restaurant based in central London – makes you identify with a place called home. Seeing posters of icons of the Palestinian struggle such as 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi, Yasser Arafat as well as Muslim and Christian holy places and traditional homemade handicrafts and embroideries. Shakshouka is a typical Palestinian meal; It consists of eggs poached in a sauce of spiced tomatoes, green peppers and chopped onion.
These kinds of restaurants serve as a hub to Palestinian communities through which Palestinians tell their stories and the deeply rooted narrative of their nation.
They do this to keep their history alive and to bring people closer to their homeland as well as attracting pro-Palestine supporters and sympathizers to enjoy their time and get a partial taste of being in Palestine while listening to Palestinian traditional music, learn Arabic with a Palestinian dialect or watch live performance of Palestinian folk dance known as Dabkah.
While the recipes of the meals vary and are hugely popular Middle Eastern dishes, one thing is crystal clear, you just cannot call hummus, falafel or shakshouka Israeli dishes even if the world’s top celebrity chefs try to convince you they are. Simply put Israel was established in 1948 at the expense of the Palestinian people, who were made refugees scattered all over the world until this moment.
A big percentage of Israeli society consists of Arab Jews who migrated from Arab countries after the formation of the nascent state of Israel some 70 years ago. They brought with them “Arabic” authentic meals from countries such as Iraq, Morocco and Yemen.
The argument revolves around naming the dishes as Israeli, whereas calling them at least Middle Eastern or Levantine dishes would just calm the fumes a bit.
Palestinians often refer to attempts to appropriate their culture and cuisine as “Israeli forging strategy” aimed at stripping them of their identity through the theft of their cuisine as if occupying their land was not enough. They have a valid point as many would agree.
The endless propaganda efforts in which Israeli claims to Palestinian cuisine cannot just change facts because they have no historical base.
Inviting celebrity chefs to cook meals and branding them as Israeli will not succeed in convincing the world that falafel is Israel’s national snack!
All these deliberate and decades old strategies will not erase Palestinian identity and culture.
If you want to taste the real authentic Palestinian cuisine and desserts you need to pay a visit to the old city in East Jerusalem Al-Quds, Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem or Gaza some of the largest Palestinian cities on the Mediterranean under Palestinian control.
If you happen to be in Nazareth, Acre, Jaffa – cities in historic Palestine dominated by Palestinian communities then you have a chance to taste the real authentic Palestinian dishes but be wary and do not be misled if you are told that falafel is an Israeli dish. Palestinians have no sovereignty whatsoever when it comes to their freedom of movement, there is, however, also an attempt to appropriate their food.
Turkish kebabs, Lebanese tabbouleh, Moroccan couscous or Philly cheese steak are dishes that no one can argue were appropriated from other nations, but when it comes to Israel’s efforts to present itself as an indigenous Middle Eastern community, that does not resonate, especially if you call hummus “Israeli khummus.”
Palestinians are proud of their food and they are rightly provoked if they see food stalls in markets in Europe or in the US, for example, selling falafel sandwiches branding it as an Israeli national dish.
Planting olive groves and citrus orchards and fig trees are part of the Palestinian culture, as olives and pickles are a must on the Palestinian dining table.
There is no better taste for Palestinians and their three Levantine counterparts, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon than sitting down to a breakfast that contains zaatar – dried thyme – dipped in olive oil with a cup of tea with fresh mint or dried sage and if you want to something hearty you can have ful, hummus and falafel.
Cultural appropriation is denial of the existence and heritage of the owners of the land – the Palestinians in their millions inside the occupied Palestinian territories, in refugee camps in Arab countries or in the diaspora worldwide.
(Source: The Palestinian Information Center)