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Archive for May, 2015

Israel’s obsession with hummus is about more than stealing Palestine’s food

Posted by uscsjp on May 23, 2015

When Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their villages and homes in 1948, many left with little more than the clothes on their back. Food was left on the stove. Crops were left unharvested. But the land emptied of its inhabitants was soon occupied by new residents.

From 1948 to 1953, almost all new Jewish settlements were established on refugees’ property. The myth of making the desert bloom is belied by the facts: in mid-1949, two-thirds of all land sowed with grain in Israel was Palestinian land. In 1951, “abandoned” land accounted for nearly 95 per cent of all Israel’s olive groves and almost 10,000 acres of vineyards.

During these early years, many Palestinian refugees attempted to return to their lands. By 1956, as many as 5,000 so-called “infiltrators” had been killed by Israeli armed forces, the vast majority of them looking to return home, recover possessions, or search for loved ones. Palestinian women and children who crossed the frontier to gather crops were murdered.

The Nakba in 1948 was the settler colonial conquest of land and the displacement of its owners, a dual act of erasure and appropriation. Citing “reasons of state”, Israel’s first premier David Ben-Gurion appointed a Negev Names Committee to remove Arabic names from the map. By 1951, the Jewish National Fund’s “Naming Committee” had “assigned 200 new names”.

But it did not stop with dynamite and new maps. The Zionist colonisation of Palestine has also included culture, notably cuisine. This is the context for the so-called “hummus wars”: it is not about petty claims and counterclaims, rather, the story is one of colonial, cultural appropriation and resistance to those attempts.

In the decades since the establishment of the State of Israel on the ruins and ethnically cleansed lands of Palestine, various elements of the indigenous cuisine have been targeted for appropriation: falafel, knafeh, sahlab and, of course, hummus.

Though these dishes are common to a number of communities across the Mediterranean and Middle East, Israel claims them as its own: falafel is the “national snack”, while hummus, according to Israeli food writer Janna Gur, is “a religion”.

In a 2002 article on recipes, the Israeli embassy in Washington acknowledged that “Israel lacks a long-standing culinary heritage”, adding that “only a few years ago, Israelis even doubted the existence of their own authentic cuisine”.

Such an admission is hard to find these days, as appropriation has become propaganda.

In 2011, Jerusalem-based chef Michael Katz visited Australia and told a local newspaper how the Israeli government had “decided, through culture, to start improving Israel’s image”.

“They started sending artists, singers, painters, filmmakers and then the idea came of sending chefs.”

In 2010, the Israeli government decided to distribute pamphlets at Tel Aviv airport, to equip Israelis who go abroad with, in the words of then-public diplomacy minister Yuli Edelstein, the “tools and tips to help them deal with the attacks on Israel in their conversations with people”. Included in the literature was the claim that “Israel developed the famous cherry tomato.”

Now, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency put it earlier this year, “Israel has been on the culinary ascent of late, with dozens of food blogs, new high-end restaurants, cooking shows and celebrity chefs, and a fascination with everything foodie”.

It is not just food that is enlisted in Israel’s global PR initiatives. A few year ago, pro-Israel students at Brandeis University, in Massachusetts, held a “hookah night” with the help of campus-based “hasbara fellows”, professional Israel advocates who noted without any irony that “hookah is not specifically an Israeli cultural facet”.

In addition to smoking and snacks, the “cultural” evening also included belly dancers. Explaining the rationale for the event, a member of the Brandeis Zionist Alliance said they had found that “students are more receptive to Israel-related education when we use a cultural lens”.

Now we have “International Hummus Day”, launched by an Israeli, Ben Lang, who is explicit about the propaganda value of his project: “The idea was to connect people around hummus and get more people talking about it and hopefully get people to see the good things that are happening in Israel.”

“I just wanted to make sure that people saw that the initiative started in Israel.”

As everything from food to the keffiyeh is used to “rebrand” the state that colonised Palestine in the first place, Palestinians and their supporters have fought back.

When an Israeli choreographer included the dabke traditional dance in his company’s repertoire in 2013, a New York-based dabke troupe responded with a thoughtful critique that noted how, by “appropriating dabke, and labelling it Israeli”, the “power imbalance” is only furthered.

They added: “This makes us feel taken advantage of. Exploited. Commodified.”

In December 2014, after a campaign by Palestinian students and their allies, the student assembly at Wesleyan University in Connecticut agreed to remove Sabra hummus from campus dining facilities. The product symbolises Israeli appropriation and ongoing brutality; its parent company, the Strauss Group, donates to the Israeli military.

Accusations of cultural appropriation can produce some misleading responses. It’s not about who is “allowed” to eat what, or even about an objection to the natural cross-pollination that occurs in culture through language, cuisine and more.

That is not the point. It is about the claim of ownership in a context of historic and ongoing violent erasure and displacement.

It is about efforts to create an artificial history that justifies the establishment and continued existence of a settler colonial state.

Even a mainstream Israeli food writer like Gil Hovav has pointed to this reality. “Food is about memory and identity,” he told the Israeli media last year. “Claiming ownership over a food is a way to assert a nation’s narrative. Israeli Jews have made hummus their own.”

Cuisine is where efforts to both deny the existence of Palestine and appropriate its land and heritage meet. It is both an act of theft itself, and a way of justifying that theft.

Ben White is a journalist and the author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide

On Twitter: @benabyad

 

–Ben White, The National, May 23, 2015

 

http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/israels-obsession-with-hummus-is-about-more-than-stealing-palestines-food#full

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From Democracy Now! Report: Israeli “Policy of Indiscriminate Fire” Fueled Civilian Deaths in Gaza

Posted by uscsjp on May 5, 2015

A new report based on the testimonies of Israeli soldiers has concluded the massive civilian death toll from last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza resulted from a “policy of indiscriminate fire.” The Israeli veterans group Breaking the Silence released testimonies of more than 60 Israeli officers and soldiers which it says illustrate a “broad ethical failure” that “comes from the top of the chain of command.” More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the assault, the vast majority civilians, while in Israel 73 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers. In a video made by Breaking the Silence, a first sergeant, his voice distorted, describes how a commander told him, “There are no innocent civilians,” and to assume anyone within 200 or 400 meters of the Israeli Defense Forces was an enemy.

Israeli first sergeant: “And I quote: ‘The rules are: Any person at a distance that could put you at risk, you kill him with no need for clearance.’ Meaning, anyone at a distance of 200, 300, 400 meters from us, isn’t an ordinary civilian. According to IDF logic, he must be there for a reason, because an ordinary civilian would flee the area, and so, we must kill him with no need for clearance. For me, it was just spine-tingling.”

–Democracy Now, May 5, 2015

http://www.democracynow.org/2015/5/5/headlines#556

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NPR: Protesters Clash With Israeli Police Over Treatment Of Ethiopian Jews

Posted by uscsjp on May 5, 2015

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israeli security forces battled several thousand people yesterday in Tel Aviv. They were protesting what they call discrimination and police brutality toward Israelis of Ethiopian descent. Dozens of officers and protesters were injured, and more than 40 people were arrested. As NPR’s Emily Harris reports, some Israelis are drawing parallels to events in Baltimore.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: At first, protesters in Tel Aviv blocked a highway, snarling traffic for hours. Police mostly watched. Later, the demonstrations turned violent.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

HARRIS: Protesters threw stones and bottles. Police used tear gas and water cannon. Officers on horseback charged into crowds of demonstrators. This, and similar confrontations in Jerusalem last week, stem from years of discontent among Ethiopian-Israelis. The latest trigger was a video that caught a police officer beating up on an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld says it’s not a pattern.

MICKEY ROSENFELD: Unfortunately, once in a while, our police officers use excessive force; it’s understandable out of the thousands of times that they respond and react to different situations.

HARRIS: But Jewish Israeli citizens of Ethiopian descent say otherwise. Alemo Fahada is among the tens of thousands of young Ethiopians whose parents migrated to Israel after rabbis decided they were descendents of a biblical Jewish tribe. He recently finished his tour of duty as an Israeli soldier and says he’s tired of discrimination against dark-skinned Israelis.

ALEMO FAHADA: We want to stop this because this is going more than 25 years and nobody says nothing. For the government, we are the black people. We are nothing for them.

HARRIS: He and his friends say they see parallels to their experience in the footage they’ve watched of protests and police treatment of African-Americans in Baltimore and other parts of the U.S. But Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, head of an Ethiopian rights organization in Israel, told Israel’s TLV1 Radio he is not ready to draw those connections.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FENTAHUN ASSEFA-DAWIT: I want to believe – I want to believe we’re not there. Although there is discrimination and racism and we see the brutality against the Ethiopians, maybe this should be gone. I don’t want to see like the black Americans in the United States, who’ve been there hundreds of years, still facing that.

HARRIS: He wants the problem in Israel resolved before more anger and frustration build.

Emily Harris, NPR News, May 4, 2015

http://www.npr.org/2015/05/04/404114264/ethiopian-jews-clash-with-police

Jerusalem.

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EI: Lauryn Hill cancels Israel show after Palestinian boycott call

Posted by uscsjp on May 5, 2015

Lauryn Hill has canceled a 7 May concert in Israel, following a request by Palestinians and a campaign by many of her fans.

The former lead vocalist of The Fugees made the announcement in a message on her Facebook page addressed to “Friends and Fans in Israel.”

“When deciding to play the region, my intention was to perform in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah,” Hill writes. “Setting up a performance in the Palestinian Territory, at the same time as our show in Israel, proved to be a challenge.”

She says she wanted to perform in the region “but also to be a presence supporting justice and peace.”

“It is very important to me that my presence or message not be misconstrued, or a source of alienation to either my Israeli or my Palestinian fans,” Hill states. “For this reason, we have decided to cancel the upcoming performance in Israel, and seek a different strategy to bring my music to ALL of my fans in the region.”

A victory

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and Palestine solidarity activists will see Hill’s move as a victory.

Her name will be added to the growing list of artists who have pulled out of shows in Israel which includes Sinéad O’Connor, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, Talib Kweli, Moddi and Carlos Santana.

But Hill’s strategy of seeking to offset the Israel show with one before a Palestinian audience in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank will likely raise concerns.

In its guidelines for the cultural boycott, PACBI states that artists “attempting to visit Palestinian institutions or groups in a ‘balancing’ gesture contribute to the false perception of symmetry between the colonial oppressor and the colonized.”

While Palestinians welcome visits, PACBI says that “solidarity entails respecting the boycott call, which is an authoritative call of the oppressed, and not combining a visit to Palestinian institutions or groups with activities with boycottable Israeli institutions.”

For now, however, Hill has heeded the Palestinian boycott call – a very significant step.

Israel’s Walla! News called Hill’s cancellation a “painful” blow at the hands of “pro-Palestinian” organizations.

Palestinian call

In a letter in April, PACBI told Hill that it was “deeply troubled to learn that you are scheduled to perform in Rishon Lezion’s Live Park amphitheater on 7 May 2015, while Israel continues unabatedly with its settler colonial and apartheid designs to further dispossess, oppress and ethnically cleanse native Palestinians from their homeland.”

“Performing in Israel today is the equivalent of performing in Sun City, South Africa during the apartheid era,” PACBI added.

“Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils have repeatedly declared that Israel has created a form of racial apartheid that is far worse than anything that existed in South Africa.”

A social media campaign, including a spoof of Hill’s hit cover of the song “Killing Me Softly,” had in recent weeks driven home the message.

In a press release, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation thanked Hill for canceling the concert and noted that more than 11,000 people had signed a petitionasking her to do so.

Separately, the director of the Israel Festival recently revealed that the flagship government-backed cultural program has had to curtail its 2015 schedule due to the growing impact of the boycott, especially in the wake of Israel’s killing more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza last July and August.

 

–Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, May 4, 2015

 

http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/lauryn-hill-cancels-israel-show-after-palestinian-boycott-call

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