The Middle East Falafel Conflict

image via Falafel Road


The Arab-Israeli conflict is playing out over a pita sandwich.

Does the falafel belong to the Arabs or the Israelis?
This is no ordinary food fight. It might seem like a silly and inconsequential question, but it captures the essence of a conflict that has been one of the most world’s most complex and intractable struggles for nearly a century. Whether it’s the falafel or the West Bank, it boils down to the same issue of the legitimacy of claims, and in the Middle East, both sides take it very seriously.

Here in the U.S., we have a hard time comprehending its significance.
We’ve always been culinary magpies. We’re content with borrowing hamburgers from the Germans and pizza from the Italians, and tossing it all into our great melting pot. Cultural expressions like food take on new meaning when your society is threatened with eradication. To Arabs and Israelis, dominion over the local dish demonstrates a toehold on the land.

In the 1960s, there was a deliberate effort to create a collective Israeli identity along side the nation building campaign. Falafel was an obvious symbol: it’s made from local, desert foods and is a parve dish that fits with kosher laws. It had been eaten for centuries by the Mizrahi, the Middle Eastern Jews who then comprised 70% of Israel’s Jewish population and are still the majority. It quickly became an icon of Israeli culture and the official national dish of the young state.

The problem is that falafel is also a staple of the Arab diet. Israel’s Arab neighbors saw it as another way in which the European-descended Jews appropriated what was theirs. It became part of the wider conflict, finding its way into debates over territory and history.

The debate has spilled over into international courts, with the Lebanese Industrialists Association claiming copyright infringement over falafel recipes. Arts groups like Falafel Road and the theatrical production the Arab-Israeli Cookbook have examined issues of culinary colonialism through culture. And there is an ongoing battle for supremacy in the record books, as national teams compete to fry up the world’s largest chick pea fritter. It’s even crossed oceans to Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue, where a long-established Palestinian falafel stand is facing a challenge from an Israeli-American owned food truck.

At the center of the controversy is the humble falafel, a spicy fried rissole made from mashed chick peas or beans that is the most unlikely of political footballs.

You can see the conflict play out in the West Bank Story, a musical spoof of West Side Story that tells the story of the forbidden love between David, an Israeli soldier, and the Palestinian cashier Fatima, the children of rival falafel stand owners in modern day Israel. It won the 2007 Oscar for best live action short, and is available on Netflix.

Read about McDonald’s failed foray into the falafel : McDonald’s Israel. But is it McKosher?

 

Related Posts

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Is it appropriate conversation for the dinner table? Then it should be fine.

Web Analytics