Why ‘Israeli hummus’ infuriates Palestinians

No matter how much tahini you might add: hummus, falafel and shawarma will never taste good so long as Israel continues to serve it alongside the violation of Palestinian dignity.

At first glance, the fury Palestinians feel when seeing hummus labelled “Israeli” on a tub in the store, or “Israeli falafel” being sold in food trucks at music festivals, may seem disproportionate and unjustified. But our fury is neither disproportionate nor unjustified, rather a reaction to a culmination of violence inflicted on Palestinian communities by settler colonial forces.

The question has never been about whether or not Israeli citizens today consume hummus, falafel or shawarma in large quantities — it is an undeniable fact that these are foods widely eaten across the lands of historic Palestine, the Levant and North Africa — but the real problem lies in the insertion of Israeli presence into regional history, the normalising of the Israeli state, and the violence of cultural theft and appropriation. 

I had the pleasure to interview Sarah Shaweesh, owner of Khamsa, a Palestinian plant-based cafe in Newtown. She shares my fury over the fuckery that is “Israeli hummus”.

How does it make you feel when you see other businesses selling and marketing hummus and falafel as Israeli?

It makes me feel angry, on so many layers. You have this choking feeling when you see an Israeli restaurant selling Palestinian food. They are trying to erase us. Pretending like we don’t exist and that they’ve always been there — this is an attempt to rewrite history.”

She called this all a depressing affair. 

“I’d love to see an Israeli restaurant have Israeli food, not Palestinian food labelled as Israeli.

Instead, they’re appropriating our food and our culture, not only to re-write history and normalise the occupation, but they are making a living out of it. This is appropriation and cultural genocide.”

The anger we feel may seem an overreaction to the liberal West, but that is simply not the case. The Israeli state took our land. They exiled our people and to this day deny them their right to return — a right enshrined in international law under UN resolution 194. They maintain a system of oppression and racialisation against Palestinians. The 1948 Nakba — the catastrophe which ensued for Palestinians when Zionist militia established the state of Israel through violence — never ended, and continues today through military raids, assassinations, collective punishment, mass arrests, home demolitions, indiscriminate aggressions, forced evictions, torture, blackmail, denial of freedom of movement, and the continued construction of the Apartheid wall. The Nakba hasn’t ended. The tools have simply changed and strategies have shifted so as to project a facade of progressivism or neutrality to the international community. 

As Israel’s government has been descending into straight-up fascism (far-right nationalist sentiment founded in Jewish supremacy which has been the very basis of the Zionist project from the beginning), it is abhorrent to be celebrating Israeli “culture” founded on the theft and appropriation of Palestinian thaqafa. In the past 8 months, Palestinians have faced the deadliest attempt of systematic genocide since the UN began reporting on Palestinian deaths in 2008. Palestinians don’t get the luxury of resting — both in Palestine and across the diaspora — instead we are constantly re-traumatised by news of raids, evictions, home demolitions, and assassinations of our freedom fighters. One of the only spaces where we can feel a sense of pride is through our culture — our thobes which are carefully embroidered with oral histories through the practice of tatreez, our dabke, a traditional Palestinian dance signifying celebration at weddings, and our hummus which is a simple dip that was able to unite the Levant (or before British & French divisions, balaad al shaam). 

No matter how much tahini you might add: hummus, falafel and shawarma will never taste good so long as Israel continues to serve it alongside the violation of Palestinian dignity. 

In light of this, it’s a slap in the face to be Palestinian, walking through Woolworths, and seeing a tub of “Israeli hummus,” as though stealing our land is not enough.

In any case, here is a recipe for “Israeli hummus”:

  • 2 cans of Apartheid
  • 1 teaspoon of military occupation
  • 4 garlic cloves, tortured & beaten
  • 1 siege, aged for 16 years
  • 1 coerced confession
  • 1 Nakba, continued & ongoing