Israeli Appropriation of Falafel

The Appropriation of Falafel as the ‘National dish of Israel’ and Palestinian National Identity: An exercise in the application of Postcolonial Methodology.

Sinead Dunn • December 2012 • The Glasgow School of Art, Research and Postgraduate Studies, Alumna

Culture, including cuisine, is often used as a symbol of a nations civility. As Edward Said argues in Culture and Imperialism, (Said 1993) cultural outputs are used by imperial powers to used to retain their hegemony over the colonized population. In addition to retaining their dominance, cultural production is often used to white-wash colonial crimes, human rights abuses and the brutality of its imperialism in the face of any resistance to its domination. A nation’s cuisine or national dish, is marketed to become a cultural symbol of that nation — therefore to understand effect the appropriation of Falafel has on the identity of the native Palestinian population it is useful to adopt a postcolonial methodology to undertake this study.

This methodology provides a basis for a comparative critique of cultures between that of the colonizing Israeli culture and the colonized Palestinian culture. It also provides a framework for interdisciplinary analysis between the areas of cuisine, culture, identity and geo-politics. By providing a balance to the biased colonial narrative, a postcolonial methodology can also revive alternative histories, narratives and traditions that have been lost through the suppression of colonized cultures.

However, in order to provide a fuller analysis of the effects this has on the Palestinian national identity I will also use elements from Marxist criticism to consider how the socio-economic structures of the Israeli occupation maintain their control through the superstructures of cultural production. Marxism offers considerable insight into the how colonialist, or indeed any dominant power, works through societies structures to create or instill their hegemony. A particular influence in adopting this methodology is Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci’s theory of the Cultural Hegemony, in which he describes how the ruling class maintains their dominance through the perpetuation of their own values, opinions and tastes through the control of cultural production. Gramsci was writing on Cultural Hegemony during his imprisonment by Fascists in Italy between 1929–1935. The historical context of Gramsci’s writing is worth noting as obvious differences apply when it is then translated in to a contemporary, (post)colonial context. It is the structure of this dominant power (be it a ruling class, a coloniser or an institution), which is relevant when analyzing cultural appropriations within Israel. For Gramsci, all structures of society maintained inequality; it is almost a function of civil society to preserve the class structures and the dominance of the ruling class. (Gramsci 1935:448). It is with this understanding of Cultural Hegemony that will also direct my research.

Key elements of Post-colonial methodology pertinent to this research:


Key to adopting a postcolonial methodology is Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, articulated by him in the book of the same name. (Said, Orientalism 1978) This study describes the process by which the idea of the Orient is constructed in European thinking. Said argues that this thinking of the Orient was constructed and placed in dichotomy with the Occident. This binary distinction, along with the constructed discourse of the orient by the West, allows for the imperial, colonial attitudes of the orient to flourish, through the process of Othering (Spivak 1988). The learning of the orient by the West is therefore a phenomenon built from the constructed discourse of the Orient from within the West. (Ashcroft, Griffens and Tiffen 2007, 153)


Homi Bhabha describes this as a key element in the complex relationship between the colonized and the colonizer. The term suggests the relationship to be in flux between complicity and resistance between the colonial subject and the colonizing power. Ambivalence also describes the way the colonial narrative relates to the colonized, and they way it represents their relationship to them or to others. From within this fluxuation a hybridity is located from which, Bhabha argues, cultural identity is formed. (Ashcroft, Griffens and Tiffen 2007, 10)


Stemming from Said’s adoption of the Foucauldian term describes discourse in its fullest sense, as the marriage of knowledge and power. The construction of such discourses, such as that of the orientalist discourse creates a framework for understanding and acquiring knowledge. By understanding the frameworks for building such discourses, one can then analyse how others acquire and use these constructed knowledge’s. This then gives one the ability to question the origin of the epistemology of the discourse — and then further interrogate the powers controlling knowledge dissemination. This discourse could be attributed to the Cultural Hegemony described by Gramsci.


Key in the construction or reconstruction of a given cultural narrative is the Palimpsest. In postcolonial study, this phrase to describe how narratives, concepts or cultures can contain within themselves the traces of other meanings and identities that have been erased. (Ashcroft, Griffens and Tiffen 2007, 159) From this palimpsest, the traces of the erased narrative, still present in the consciousness of many, can be further investigated, thus providing a more balanced understanding of it’s narrative and the complexities of the development of culture.

The use of a Postcolonial methodology logically leads to a triangulation of research methods. It would be hoped that triangulation could validate both quantitive and qualitative methods. Firstly, before conducting any survey it would also be necessary to do some simple research in to the most suitable times and places to conduct the research. Furthermore, would this survey involve populations within Israel and Palestine, or within the diaspora? Therefore to ensure accurate responses, it would be necessary to make these considerations before commencing the survey. In order to gain information on the general perceptions of the origins of falafel a quantitive survey on customers at falafel stands would be useful — asking the same questions to different populations. A survey could also obtain information of the nationalities of falafel suppliers within a specific area. The results from this can then inform further methods. As this research will be involving a colonized population, official histories and narratives will not provide their version of history therefore qualititive semi-structured interviews, giving precedence on oral histories would be necessary.

With the alternative information gathered from this qualitive research — it would be useful to compare this with the official narrative of historic account. By addressing these dichotomous accounts comparatively — a space emerges in which one can address the ambivalence of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. Qualitive research methods could also be used to ascertain differences in when falafel is eaten, how it is served within different cultures.

Researching the official history can also take many forms from analyzing popular culture, tourism, government policy, history books, educational textbooks etc. In this particular research — it is obviously necessary to compare recipes and the origins of such recipes.

As Claudia Roden states in an Interview for the Guardian Newspaper in 2012: ‘the tastes of a stew, or a soup, or crushed beans, contains not just its ingredients but a whole world history, culture and, above all, stories. (Roden: 2012)

Recipes and local cuisines can contain a unique importance to diaspora populations and colonized communities. Foodstuffs have long been associated with national building and colonialism. Perhaps what makes this issue in particular more ambiguous is both the pan-Arab popularity of Falafel and the fact that unlike other foodstuff production that have been linked to colonialism — falafel production in Israel has not been produced under the labour of the colonized people (like tea or sugar production.)

However as a food source is it inextricably linked to a national land and agriculture — the local cuisine becomes the frontier for disputes of territory and identity. Falafel has gained semiotic status as the battleground of the Arab Israeli conflict.

The invention of falafel is generally attributed to Egyptian Coptic Christians who ate falafel during lent — when eating meat was forbidden. (Raviv 2003) The dish’s popularity spread throughout the Levant, where it was also popular with Mizrahi Jews.

Falafel quickly became popular amongst Jewish immigrants not only because it is parve under Jewish dietary laws, but also because of the high cost of kosher meat. (Raviv 2003). The popularity of Falafel marks the ambivalence of the Jewish immigrant population to the native Palestinians. Jewish immigrants imitating the cultures and customs of Arabs in an attempt to rid themselves of habits associated with their European livestyles. By consuming local food, it ties them to the agricultural production of the land that acts to bond the Jewish immigrant population to it through the ideology of a national dish. Moreover, the quick, no-frills, economic, hearty qualities of Falafel mirrored the community centered, non-bourgeois ideologies of the Kibbutz movement in building the national project, After the Nabka (catastrophe) of 1948, Israel began to distance Falafel from it’s Arab roots, Arab associations became less popular throughout Israel. Falafel became attributed to Yemeni Jewish immigrants.

Nowadays — falafel is becoming synonymous with Israel. Tourist memorabilia, cookery books popular television shows continually present falafel as the national dish of Israel.

The Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs, describes the diversity of Israeli cuisine, built on its immigrant population as a metaphor for the multiculturalism of the Israeli State, however as the website quotes: “Given Israel’s geographical location, one influence on local cuisine has come from dishes that were brought by immigrants from countries close by: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Egypt” (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs n.d.)

This multiculturalism ignores and erases any mention of the Palestinian influences in the national cuisine.

Moreover, the recent gourmetization of Falafel — which has seen it included in high-end restaurants in Israel, and gourmet versions introduced has further angered Palestinians as falafel is becoming a form of high culture for Israeli who are economically benefiting from it’s status as a new fashionable food. This economy is advancing while the constant suppression of the Palestinian economy through the occupying forces implementation of blockades, roadblocks, checkpoints and control of exports.

Globally, the nationalization and gourmetization of falafel by Israel is used as a propaganda tool to market Israel as a viable cosmopolitan nation and white washes the systematic human rights abuses Palestinians face under Israeli occupation. As well as the usual denial of human rights to Palestinians — the erasure of the Arab identity of Falafel, and it’s attribution to Yemenite Jewish immigration further acts as another erasure of the Palestinian historical narrative by their colonizers. By separating the history of Falafel from Palestinian it further perpetuated their alterity. The adoption of Falafel by Israel is therefore another example of their Othering of the Palestinian cultural identity.


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