Why is it that any time someone dares to honor Palestinian cuisine or culture Israel goes ballistics?

Palestinians have seen their land confiscated, their homes demolished, their four-hundred-year-old olive trees uproot to make way for illegal Israeli settlement and they’ll be damned if they will let go of their culinary and cultural heritage. As much as Israel tries to rob them of both, they stand adamant and proud to be Palestinian and celebrating and enjoying a cuisine and its roots that is uniquely theirs is something they feel strongly about.

Joudie Kalla, author of Palestine on a Plate, expressed it best when she wrote “Palestinian food is an identity. It is something that we hold very dear to our hearts since it is drenched in history from generations. And it is about keeping Palestinian history alive.

The land we call Palestine, which has been populated by Palestinians since historical times, has a rich and turbulent history. Historically, it has come under the control of the Canaanites, Amorites, Ancient Egyptians, Israelites, Moabites, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks and the British.

The first time there was a clear use of the name Palestine was in the 5th Century BC in Greece, where it refers to the whole area encompassing Syria and Jordan. Heredotus wrote of a district in Syria called Palestine. It appeared again in 350 BCE from Aristotle. (See Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides.)

What is more fundamental to a people’s history and culture than its food? It is not enough that the Palestinian people have been subjected to fifty years of occupation. Some Israel supporters find the use of the word “Palestinian” offensive. It should be noted that most Israelis, who inhabit this tiny speck of geography with the indigenous Palestinians, refuse to even utter the word “Palestinian,” calling them Arabs.

This travesty recently resurfaced again when Virgin Airlines listed one of the items on its in-flight menu as “Palestinian couscous salad.” Maftoul, a traditional Palestinian couscous, is complemented with tomatoes and cucumbers and seasoned with parsley, mint and lemon vinaigrette. Some Virgin Airlines customers took to social media to accuse the company of being “terrorist sympathizers” for using the descriptor.

This is the latest episode in a pattern of attempts by Israel and its supporters to either erase-or appropriate as “Israeli” Palestinian cuisine and culture.

 Christiane Dabdoub Nasser, author of Classic Palestinian Cuisine,” said, “The world is a sad place when people get offended by the word “Palestinian” and when a company like Virgin Airlines considers removing that word in order to do “right by its customers.” Caving into pressure, the airline renamed the dish “couscous salad.” To add insult to injury, the airline apologized that the mention of “Palestinian” might have caused its customers.

Again, according to Christiane Nasser, “There is constant pressure to kowtow to Israel and to the Zionists under the erroneous, not to say, perverse, belief that acknowledging Palestine or anything Palestinian is offensive to Israel and could be considered anti-Semitic. This is the result of decades of Israeli propaganda, which not only tries to deny the very existence of the Palestinian people, but also their culture, their history and their memory.” (Semites, by defintion, are the indigenous peoples who have lived since millenia along the Levant. Ashkenazi Jews who come originally from eastern Europe, are not Semites.)

In defense of its capitulation to Israeli pressure, Virgin Airlines said, “Our customers’ experience on board is a key focus and we are constantly refreshing our food offerings. We are aware that Maftoul is not a widely known ingredient, so the dish was listed as a Palestinian couscous salad, and later as a couscous salad. We’d like to reassure all customers that our sole intention is to bring new flavors on board, and never cause offense through the naming or renaming of a dish.”

Shame on Virgin Airlines.

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