In an ancient city torn apart by modern conflict, can food help to bridge political and religious divisions?
The ancient city of Jerusalem is sacred to three different faiths: for Jews it is the site of their first holy temple; for Christians it is the scene of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection; and for Muslims it is the location of the Prophet Muhammad’s ascent to heaven.
A site of vast historical and religious significance, this beautiful city is also a tragic one – fought over for centuries and coveted by millions who have never set foot in it. It is at the heart of the ongoing and seemingly unsolvable Israeli-Palestinian conflict and everything there is overshadowed by politics.
Jerusalem’s old city enthralls with its bustling markets and vibrant street life, but inside its walls, tensions are never far from the surface. History is a dimension of the present and there is little unity to be found in a city which Palestinians regard as their occupied capital.
In the struggle for the soul of a city, even food – a marker of identity, an expression of history, culture, and values – plays a part, and the roots of certain foods are fiercely debated.
For Palestinians, denied a state and with a national identity which is constantly undermined, food plays an even greater role in defining who they are.
Almost half of Israeli Jews come from Middle Eastern backgrounds where their parents and grandparents lived alongside Arabs in countries such as Iraq, Yemen and Morocco. Many dishes are a reminder of the shared history and culture of Arabs and Jews – something easily forgotten in today’s divided politics.
In a city where Israelis and Palestinians attach great meaning and symbolism to food – whether religious, political or both – we visit a unique place, Eucalyptus, which is jointly owned by Palestinians and Israelis.
There, we sample dishes made by an Israeli Jew, a Palestinian Muslim, an Armenian, and a Palestinian Christian who, as ‘Chefs for Peace’, cook together to bridge religious and political divides. Convinced that ignorance about the other is at the heart of the conflict, the chefs try to educate people about others’ history, traditions, and culture through the medium of food.
This film was first broadcast on Al Jazeera English in July 2008.