Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day 136- Za'atar

Dear Mr. President,

Tonight I baked bread topped with olive oil and za'atar. I bought the spices from a shop in Pike Place market, along with some dates. The old man who runs this shop was born in Jerusalem, and when I go there, we discuss the things I have seen and the things he remembers. We don't talk politics; the tragedy of me, a white American with no ancestral ties to that land, being allowed to move more freely through it than he who was born to a family that had lived there for generations would be too much for either of us to acknowledge. Instead, we stick to the small things; the smell of bread baking on the street corners by Damascus gate, the shapes of the rolls and the sesame seeds on the outside. The beauty of the sun on the dome of the rock, the superior quality of the olive oil or hummus or tomatoes. The conversation is short, and I, at least, leave his shop feeling closer to a land that I love as though it were my own.

The taste of tonight's meal, each round of flat bread sizzling in the oven with an egg on top, smothered in the fragrant blend of thyme and other spices that make za'atar so addicting, reminds me of the first time I ate this. It was our morning meal, the bread carried along in insulated bags to keep it warm, eaten about 2 miles in to our hike. We rested near a cave, marveling at the scenery and the heat; just beginning to emerge from the shyness that still made us strangers to one another. It is amazing to me, the way a scent and a flavor can bring back these small moments, make them so real I can almost feel same sun, hear the same voices.

Sometimes it is easy to explain why I feel the way I feel about Palestine. There are certain events, certain injustices, slogans that fit nicely onto tag-board signs, which make it easy to illustrate why my values require me to feel the way that I do. Sometimes, it is not about politics or values or anything more than the smell of za'atar and fresh olive oil bread, about enjoying the memories of some one else's home. One bite, and I am back at every kitchen-table mezze, being urged to eat more.

A military and a government like Israel's can do many things; it can take away rights, and lives, and livelihoods. It can take away freedom, restrict movement and education, it can keep out old men for fear of their ideas; it can reduce identity to the color of a card. It can demolish homes and shoot protesters and wall off every piece of land worth cultivating. It can change history and re-tell stories and pretend that a whole nation has never and will never exist. But it cannot harm the smell of bread baking, the taste of dates. It cannot change za'atar. Palestine is real, Mr. President, all five of my senses and my heart tell me so. It is time that maps and globes and laws reflected this truth, as well.

Respectfully yours,



  1. Pure garbage.

    The reason that non-Israeli Palestinian Arabs cannot move into Israel is because they launched a civil war against the Jews directly after the Holocaust... you moron.

    And, further, the Palestinians can have a state when they finally accept a state. They've turned down every single offer. They turned down the offers in '37, '47, 2000 and 2008.

    Get back with me when they wise up and decide to live in peace next to Israel.

  2. You moron? Thanks for keepin it classy, Oakland. Ok, so here at my blog I welcome dissent, but I do prefer if you rely on some facts. In your case I'll make an exception, but let's clear up a few things. First of all, the war in 48 was not a civil war, which, if you recall our own civil war from middle school history, is between two factions that belong to the same country. Since the palestinians (and Egypt and Syria and Jordan who actually had armies and yet retain THIER statehoods) were fighting off a group taking their land and driving them from their homes, it's not the same thing, at all. And you bring up the holocaust. Since the Palestinians weren't the germans, it may have been difficult for them to welcome the idea of providing the reparations for some one else's genocide. Also, I'm not sure if you're makin up your dates or getting them from some one equally I'll-informed, but the dates you have for the rejection of statehood are incorrect. I'll conede that statehood offers have been rejected, but they were unreasonably unfair proposals. Also, especially in the years right after the nakba, it's difficult to imagine the Palestinians would accept an offer of a state half the size of what they already had. If I break into your house and offer you statehood in the garage, are you going to take it or try to force me out? Now, 60 years later Israel is a political reality, a forgone conclusion, but at the time, it was not so.

    Finally, you bring up peace. Hamas and Hezbollah have, in their combined histories, killed far fewer israelis than the IDF did in gaza in 2008 and Lebanon in 2006 alone. Like their methods or not ( and I don't) you can't deny they are acting in response to a violent occupation that threatens their own peoople's daily lives. How about we get back to this when ISRAEL is ready to live in peace next to Palestine. moron.