On Tuesday, May 6, The Daily Cardinal came out with an interesting front-page photo showing two students smoking the Argeelah (Hookah) at an Israeli event. The interesting part of the story is that the Argeelah, often introduced as an Israeli delicacy, has never been a part of the 55-year-old Israeli culture and is a perfect symbol for the violations that have and are occurring in Palestine and on the Palestinian people. This cultural theft is not limited to the pages of the Daily Cardinal or to the Madison media in general, but it is a national and international phenomenon.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Jewish immigrants, fearing persecution in Europe, fled to Palestine to seek refuge. In 1948, these immigrants and their illegal underground militias such as Pal Mach, Haganah, and the Irgun took over the Palestinian lands, completely destroyed 418 villages (damaging many others), and created one of the largest and longest-lasting refugee waves in history. Nearly a million Palestinians, according to United Nation accounts, were and are still displaced into neighboring countries.
However, occupying Palestine was not the hardest part of the mission. After taking over the land, Israel had to convince the world that it was a “land with know man” (a Zionist expression used to promote Palestine in the Western world as a Jewish homeland). Israelis then began the process of seizing the culture of the native inhabitants and calling it their own. This has proven to be their toughest mission of all.
Many Palestinian cultural characteristics have been systematically wiped out through the destruction of entire villages, the demolition of traditional buildings, cultural institutions, and historical sites, as well as the steeling and hiding of any pieces of Palestinian archeology found in the area, which could date as far back as 8,000 years — the official estimated age of the cities of Jaffa and Jericho.
Other characteristics are too difficult to hide. The everyday costumes and traditions that are being practiced regularly by the native population are not easy to “knock out.” These aspects of the culture, imbedded in the region, are Israel’s greatest challenge. Recently, however, we have been exposed to new tactics. Israel is now trying to claim the many traditions and traditional items of the Palestinian people, as their own.
The Argeelah, a water pipe used to smoke marinated tobacco, has been in use for hundreds of years on the banks of the Nile, passing by Palestine and Syria, all the way to Turkey, as well as in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula. It has been a part of the culture of the area long before Israel existed or before Europe’s Jews thought of migrating to Palestine. But lately, it is not uncommon to hear an Israeli calling the Argeelah a “Jewish pipe” or introducing it as an Israeli item, even though most of the ones they use have arabesque decorations on them and sometimes even Arabic writings or verses from the Qur’an.
Hummus, falafel, and Baba Ghanouj are world-famous Palestinian and Syrian dishes; they have been in that region probably since the Canaanites planted the northern and costal planes of Palestine with chick pees — the main ingredient in hummus and falafel. However, if you are to receive a postcard from somebody in Israel, you are likely to receive one that features a Falafel sandwich next and an Israeli flag inviting you to try Israel’s “traditional cuisine.” Similarly, if you happened to have an Israeli friend, he may invite you to a Mediterranean restaurant, very likely owned by a Palestinian, to treat you to some hummus and Baba Ghanouj, calling it “Israeli food.”
Olive trees cover most of the green landscape of Palestine. Olive and olive oil have been a major agricultural crop of Palestine since before the Roman Occupation over 2,000 years ago. But for the last three decades, Israel uprooted thousand and thousands of olive trees and took many of them, mainly the centuries-old looking ones, to be re-planted in cities with predominantly Israeli populations. As a result, Palestinian olive oil is being marketed in the United States and Europe as a “product of Israel.”
The organizers of Israel Day know that they are stealing a cultural identity from the people they have occupied and disposed. They even had the audacity to ask Palestinians in Madison to make the falafel for the festival. If it is their food, why do they need Palestinians to make it? Cultural theft and the occupation of identity are serious crimes. They are no less significant than taking away land, basic human rights or even the right to live, and they are ultimately denying Palestinians the right to enjoy their own culture by claiming it for their own.
Fayyad Sbaihat ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in chemical engineering.