Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Sweetness, the Sorrow

I am cooking for a gathering of Jewish lesbian friends, a time of sweetness; the cookbook, Jerusalem, compiled by the Palestinian author-chef, Sami Tamimi and the Israeli author-chef Yotam Ottolenghi has been my bible for the past few days as I measure out my sumac and whole coriander seed. On the pages of this book two cultures live in vibrant colors of streets and shared ingredients, any moment of mutual appreciation so valued and then I turn the page and read:
Za'atar [a spice mix consisting of powdered dried hyssop leaves, ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt, part and parcel of the Palestinian heritage] has now also become central to modern Israeli cuisine. Regrettably, za'atar has joined the long list of thorny subjects poisoning the fraught relationship between Arabs and Jews, when the Israeli authorities declared the herb an endangered species and banned picking of it in the wild. Though a compelling argument was made about preserving the dwindling population of wild za'atar, the decree was taken without any form of dialogue with the Arabs, who see it as a deliberate violation of their way of life.

Not even this pleasure, this memory of spice in the mouth, can be allowed. From the smallest seed to the huge gray wall, the Israeli State crushes Palestinian possibilities for pleasure. I stir my pot with sadness at this huge petty insult to human life.

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