Sunday, April 02, 2006

Houmous v Felafel - The great debate?



An interesting story was brought to my attention this morning about a new course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for BBC staff, introduced by Jeremy Bowen. This is of double interest to me as I sat in the dentist chair on Friday right after Jeremy Bowen and my dentist told me that he was a very fair observer of the conflict here.
According to an article in the Telegraph, "if the BBC's Jeremy Bowen is to be believed, understanding the origins of houmous - mashed chickpeas with oil, lemon juice and garlic - and falafel - deep-fried chickpea balls - provides the key to unlock the Middle East."
Bowen says houmous and falafel are national dishes for Palestinians and Israelis. "They both claim to have invented them. There are two versions of the truth," he says.
"Now, what about the life-and-death issues here that really matter? Jerusalem; the Holy Places; the control of land and water; the future of Palestinian refugees? Well, just like houmous and falafel, there are two competing narratives."
One BBC employee said that the course was an insult to staff who risked their lives covering the conflict. "It has not gone down well with staff who have spent a lot of time in the Middle East. "
A BBC spokesman said the courses had seen a positive response. "The course on the Middle East introduces some very serious issues."
My reaction to this is that is a good attempt to give an analogy to the wider conflict, but at some point, unlike food there are answers. In the origins of food worldwide, many foods which are national dishes are actually created elsewhere and sometimes differing parts are taken from different previous recipes. Sometimes to claim any dish as native and home-grown is largely incorrect.
The wider Israeli-Palestinian issues do have a factual basis. Although history can be argued there are certain facts that are beyond refutation. Just as a example: Jerusalem has never been the capital of any other people since the Jews were exiled (apart from a brief Crusader presence in the Medieval period). I have never heard anyone seriously claim that Jerusalem; was ever a Muslim capital despite it being in Muslim hands for hundreds of years.
So as the great the great Houmous-Felafel debate continues, Israel advocates will understand that there are opinions, half-truths and assumptions but there are also stone-cold facts and these we have to bring to the attention to the outside world.

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