Saturday, July 26, 2008

Cultural struggle

"I then remembered that in the cuisine of Sephardim from Lebanon yogurt-cucumber sauce is a traditional accompaniment for majadrah - lentils with rice."

As if the other people of Lebanon do not eat yogurt-cucumber sauce with majadrah (mujaddarah, an ARABIC word!)? Only the Sephardim do? Then I must be a Sephardim. Can I claim the right of return now?

Irony aside, the sauce is common to many cuisines, it is called cucumber raita in Indian cuisine. And rice with yogurt is the most common thing you eat in Lebanon when you have a bad stomach or when your parents can think of anything to feed you. And I love it how labaneh (LABNEH!) became euphemistically a "Middle Eastern" food. A few years ago I was at a conference on traditional foods and an Israeli delegate stood up and starting telling the audience about Labneh, the Israeli traditional dish which, like the Greek Feta cheese, needed intellectual protection because it was being imitated. I did not have to say anything, the Greeks were quicker than me.

As the joke goes: They took Haifa, we didn't say anything, they took Jaffa, we didn't say anything, they took Al Quds, we didn't say anything. But that they take the falafel!!?? This is where we draw the line.

This joke used to be told in Lebanon by the anti-Palestinians as an example of powerlessness of the Palestinians and of the futility of their struggle. But think about its symbolism, it is not so silly: this is about a whole culture, that of the Palestinians, being denied, usurped, swallowed and dissolved in order to deny the existence of a people (the Palestinians); while they are being decimated and ethnically cleansed. Keeping culture and identity alive and associated with their rightful owners is worth struggling for, perhaps even more than for lands or cities. And I don't care whether falafel is Arab or Palestinian, this is not about falafel, it is about the principle. In fact I think I have read somewhere that falafel originated in India, so there.

No comments: