Falafel Wars

The Palestinians are upset about snack food

Perhaps Israel should just take their Nobel Prizes and go home to cry because we didn’t invent falafel?

We just mechanised production first; were the first to market it to Europe and America and adapted it for local conditions as street food.

The Palestinians certainly didn’t invent it either.

You may have seen the video clip complaining about Israel’s latest crime against humanity. Having no history of our own we steal the Palestinians’ culture.

That’s correct. We eat falafel!

Here’s news young lady. Falafel is not exclusively Palestinian. It is eaten throughout the Middle East, Iran and Egypt.

As far back as 2008 the the Lebanese Industrialists’ Association (LIA) attempted to stop Israeli manufacturers using the label ‘Falafel’ because these foods are historically known as traditional Lebanese foods! Palestinian, not so much.

No one has Protected Designated Origin status for the delicious round balls of fried chick peas and/or fava beans. Certainly not Palestine.

So how did it reach Israel, if Israel didn’t steal it?

My first job in Israel was as a photographer at the Ministry of Agriculture Reseach Station, Bet Dagan. The official explanation M.o.A. explanation was that falafel came to Israel with Jews expelled from Egypt, where it is part of the traditional Jewish menu.

In the last couple of days I have heard that the Yemenites introduced it to Israel in the 1930s (or that might be 1950s). Both explanations could be correct. However the Yemenite innovation was ground breaking.

They started to sell falafel in pita bread with humous (there’s arguments about ‘ownership’ of that, too). The Arabs traditionally ate the balls on a plate. Israel had created a street food that can be seen everywhere even if the Israeli contribution is unacknowledged..

It also may have been brought by Mizrahi Jews from Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and even (horrors) already living in Eretz Israel, etc.  Early Ashkenazi Jewish olim adopted the unfamiliar food as it is considered pareve under Jewish dietary laws. It could be eaten with meat or dairy meals.

I read of a Lebanese vendor who claimed that the origin was Turkish. Far from implausible, as the Ottoman Turks ruled the region six hundred years before the victors of WWI imposed current national borders.

So where did it come from?

Google Falafel in a pitaTake your pick of explanations:

  • Soldiers from Alexander the Great’s army returning  from India brought it back to the region. Remember Cleopatra was a Greek not an ethnic Egyptian.
  • It originated even earlier in Pharaonic Egypt.
  • It’s Egyptian, alright, but not Arabic. The Christian Copts developed it as a substitute for meat for the 55 days of vegan fasting for Lent.
  • Chickpea versions originally came from the Arabian Peninsula, probably Yemen, while fava bean versions from Egypt. Intriguingly the Egyptians called it ‘taameya‘ not ‘falafel‘ except in the port city of Alexandria.

Do you see what they all have in common? No Palestinians.

BTW Kheffiya

They are not exclusively Palestinian, either, despite Arafat’s successful branding or this video’s claim.

The kheffiya, keffiyeh or kufiya meaning “from the city of Kufa”, a town in Iraq of religious significance to Shiite Muslims is also known as a ghutrahshemaghḥaṭṭahmashadahchafiyedastmal yazdi (Persian), destmal yezdî (Kurdish)‎ or cemedanî (Kurdish), is a traditional Arabian headdress, that originated in the Arabian Peninsula, and is now worn throughout the Middle-East region. In Turkey it was forbidden to wear a keffiyeh because it was seen as evidence of support of the PKK.

It was even worn by the Jews.


Girl in a pita Falafel – Anime Pita Bread Clipart @pikpng.com

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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