Hummus and falafel are already “Israeli.” Now they’re coming for Palestine’s olive oil too

Zionism’s cultural appropriation of indigenous Palestinian folklore and cuisine – such as hummus, falafel and maftoul – as “Israeli” has long irked Palestinians, especially when these same cultural products are used in international propaganda and marketing efforts which deny Palestinians’ rights and history.

Now, Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank are attempting to steal perhaps the most important symbol and source of economic sustenance for rural Palestinians: olive oil and olive culture.

A professionally made YouTube video released by the “Matteh Binyamin Regional Council” – an entity that represents dozens of illegal Israeli colonies in the occupied West Bank – aims to convince Israelis that Jewish settlers, not Palestinians, are the true caretakers of the region’s olive trees and the historic heirs of its olive culture.

The video is an example of the of the increasingly slick and sophisticated propaganda efforts being aimed at the Israeli population as well as the outside world.

Synoposis of the settler video

The title of the video is “The miracle of the oil canister and the plate of hummus,” an allusion to the Hannukah myth known as the “Miracle of the Oil.”

The action is a comedy sketch set in what appears to be a restaurant in a Palestinian town within Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries.

An Israeli is seated at a table eating hummus and olive oil. He is a caricature of a naive liberal and secular Israeli.

He finds the olive oil delicious and asks one of the two Arab waiters (the Arabs are also depicted in a stereotypical fashion as among other things deceptive) how the oil is made.

The Arab waiter tells how oil has been made for “thousands of years.” While he is speaking, the video cuts not to scenes of Palestinians harvesting olives and making oil, but rather to religious settlers wearing skullcaps doing it using modern technology.

The gag is that at the end: the Israeli diner finishes his meal thinking he ate delicious oil made by Palestinians. But then the two waiters go to the kitchen and have a joke about the fact that the oil is made by settlers and they serve it in their restaurant. They reveal the Hebrew label on the bottle which says “Binyamin Oil, Olive Oil, Fine cold-press.”

A reminder: Israel’s destruction of olive trees and olive culture

Israeli settlers and the Israeli state routinely destroy Palestinian olive trees, and the settlers regularly attack Palestinians attempting to care for their trees or harvest them as The Electronic Intifada has reported. B’Tselem has also documented and filmed the settlers’ regular attacks on Palestinian olive farmers.

But there’s nothing new in this. After Zionists expelled much of the Palestinian population from the country in 1948, they had to decide what to do with olive groves all over the country. As Meron Benvenisti recounts in his book Sacred Landscape (2000):

At first officials responsible for Jewish settlement thought that the production of olive oil might constitute a profitable venture, but it very quickly became clear that the Jewish agricultural sector was not set up to sustain this labor-intensive branch. Only a fraction of the olive groves were cared for and cultivated, whereas the vast majority were neglected. Tens of thousands of dunams of olive trees were uprooted to make room for field crops. (165)

It is in this historic and present-day context that the settlers are now claiming to care for the olive trees.

Settlers cloak themselves in stolen Palestinian culture

At the end of the video, the following messages appear:

To the mountains of Binyamin and Shomron, Hebrew farmers returned, to grow olive trees lovingly as per the traditions of their forefathers, which is thousands of years old.

The olive groves cover 3,000 dunams and the olive presses produce 500 tons of fine olive oil per year.

Who made the video?

As mentioned, the video is “Presented by the Matteh Regional Council,” but toward the end, a logo appears for an online public relations firm called Rogatka. The company’s website states:

Our clients include the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the Likud, ‘Latma’ – media watchdog and satire, and others.

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs is a think tank for Israel’s military establishment and it was there that NGO Monitor, an extreme group that launches defamatory attacks on Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and others who criticize Israel, was founded.

Latma TV is a “satirical” web-based show, run by The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick. But rather than producing satire, it disseminates Islamophobic and racist incitement, including a recent video that spread the lie of a Muslim “rape epidemic” in Norway.

And of course the Likud is the political party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Rogatka, it would seem, is one of the key shops pumping out propaganda for Israel (Phan Nguyen has more about Rogatka and who is behind it, on Mondoweiss).

And here’s another interesting connection. One of Rogatka’s clients is the Adelson Center for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem, which was established with a $4.5 million gift from billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson was recently in the news for giving a campaign group linked to US Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich a $5 million gift, soon after Gingrich claimed the Palestinians are an “invented people.”

The goal of this particular video – aimed as it is at Israelis – is first to convince the local population that all of the olive trees, like the land, belonged always and only to Jews, perhaps before taking the same campaign internationally. In effect, it is part of a campaign to ‘un-invent’ the Palestinians, to destroy their culture and claim what’s left as “Jewish.”

With thanks to Dena Shunra for providing translation and contributing analysis.

Videos documenting settler attacks on farmers and destruction of olive trees

A couple of reports remind us how settlers really feel about olive trees.