fellaheen: the farmers
the founding of the state of israel in 1948 was made possible through the destruction of palestine, a place my family has resided in for as long as anyone i know can recall. early israeli promotional efforts touted the newly formed country as one that ‘made the desert bloom,’ while the indigenous palestinian farmers were subject to the devastation of their oft-blooming land. the industrialization of agricultural farmland over time has further weakened the autonomy of the palestinian farmer. this scenario is not unique. all over the world, farming communities are subject to attempts to weaken food autonomy, create dependence on industrial agriculture, and deplete cultural identity and culinary sovereignty.
since 1967, when the occupation of all of historic palestine began, palestinian farmers have been suffering from the chemical pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, mono cropping, pernicious middlemen, and unsustainable prices and wages that appear as byproducts of the agricultural conditions israel imposes. the occupation takes many forms. palestinian farmers have access to less than a tenth of the water that israeli farmers do. palestinian grocery stores are forced to carry israeli products. if one cannot control one’s own food supply, one cannot maintain political and economic independence.
self-reliance is further threatened by the modern conditions of climate change, israeli settler destruction of heirloom crops and olive trees (almost 1 million olive trees destroyed since 1948), military acquisition of terraced farm land, and disorganization within the palestinian administration. The Palestinian Heirloom Seed Library is an effort to combat these forces with a resource which palestinians can use to access seeds particular to the west bank - on the condition that they save and return seeds - and where varieties thought to be long-lost are revived.
as a palestinian-american woman growing up between salt lake city and the west bank, i have experienced both the conditions of living under occupation and the omni-present violence it implies, and the freedom that america offers in the way of opportunity, movement, and growth. watching the media — and gourmet culture in general — assist israel in its obfuscation of palestinians and their contributions is disconcerting. food that my grandmother was served by her grandmother, is now portrayed as israeli cuisine, while she is denied the rights of those that enjoy said cuisine.
is asserting this food as my cultural inheritance an act of resistance? i cannot help but feel that defying cultural and culinary colonialism remains the most viable form of resistance available to me, which is why i have chosen to cook the food that i know to be palestinian.
all cultures evolve in perpetuity, absorbing the qualities of the micro-cultures within their figurative and physical bounds. The lack of acknowledgement of the source of these culinary and cultural traditions, as viewed through the lens of colonialism, creates an imbalance and deficiency in human decency that i cannot accept.