In 1994, Pierre Dulaine, a native of the Palestinian region recognized as Jaffa, presented a brilliant idea.  While living in New York City, he realized that he could use his passion of ballroom dance to bring together people with vast political, cultural, and economic backgrounds.

Mr. Dulaine was a professional dancer.  Educated at the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, he and his partner, Yorkshire native Yvonne Marceau, went on to become famous dancers in the US, appearing on Tommy Tune’s Broadway production of Grand Hotel.


Although already an accomplished performer, Mr. Dulaine felt that his talents could expand past the artistic realm of dance. He wanted to use his expertise in ballroom to give back to the communities that he felt could benefit from them most. In 1994, he established the Dancing Classrooms Program.  The program aimed at providing an experience in which children could come together and learn not only how to dance, but also how to interact with others. Mr. Dulaine created a diverse space for children of all backgrounds to intermingle.

In 2011, Mr. Dulaine returned to Jaffa, the birth place where he had emigrated from 46 years prior.  Jaffa had a sizable Palestinian population, which made it ideal for Mr. Dulaine’s new project.  He wanted to bring together both Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish children to dance, and in the process forge lasting bonds between them. The program espoused values of equality and compassion. Mr. Dulaine maintained the belief that if one can forge bonds between children, there is a hope for a better tomorrow. After all, children are the leaders of the future.

“If you change the children, you change the future ~ Pierre Dulaine

The Program


Mr. Dulaine’s program involves teaching dance to youth at five schools: Ajyal School, Al-Ukhuwa, Hasmonaim, Open Democratic School, and Weizmann School. The challenges of the program become evident before the first day of lessons begin. Numerous parents express concerns about boys and girls dancing together, which Islam expressly prohibits. Mr. Dulaine tries to allay concerns by providing his own insight. While Islam might not be supportive, Mr. Dulaine asserts that if he was going to teach the children to dance, he has to do it the right way. However, he ensures that no religious laws will be violated in the process.

The subsequent challenges stem from the children. Even before the schools intermingle, it is nearly impossible to convince the boys and girls to touch each other, let alone dance together. In this case, the problem at the Palestinian-Israeli schools seem to originate more from religious roots, such as expressed by the parents previously. At the Jewish-Israeli schools, the problem seems more based on general shyness and cultural norms; however, there are definite racist undertones when Noor, a Palestinian-Israeli girl at the school, is left without a partner on multiple occasions.

The most glaring, and unfortunately predictable, problem comes when it is time for the Palestinian and Jewish schools to dance together at the community center. Neither side is easily-convinced to dance with the other. At one point, according to the Jewish children, the Palestinian children aren’t willing to touch them. After the first encounter, both Jewish and Palestinian children express a general unwillingness to return to lessons. However, over time and with practice, both in the community center and in each other’s homes, the children become comfortable and grow to trust each other.

The program culminates in a ballroom dance competition. The children are split into teams and partnered with someone from the opposite cultural group.  Not only do the children enthusiastically dance together, but social stigmas are broken down and lines of communication are opened.  The parents talk as their children rehearse and perform. Furthermore, the parents permit their children to see each other outside of formal dance sessions to rehearse and play.

In the end, the first group of children to participate in the program prove the success of Dancing Classrooms. The children are able to overcome their differences and see one another defined less by race and more by character.  Furthermore, the parents appear to affably interact with other families whom they previously had viewed as “the enemy.”

The Effect as a Third Space

Mr. Dulaine promotes dance as an intermediary for creating connections between the Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. By utilizing dance as a third space, Mr. Dulaine attempts to deconstruct the ethnic binary that separates Jews and Palestinians. Mr. Dulaine presents candid reasoning for choosing to teach children rather than adults: children are malleable. When a parent challenges Mr. Dulaine’s idea to teach ballroom to Palestinian and Jewish children, Mr. Dulaine counters:

“When you touch someone with respect, now this girl, this boy, he’s not black, Chinese, English, Jewish, Arab. He’s a boy and she’s a girl. He’s human. There’s a person in front of you. I now know you.” ~Pierre Dulaine

Children are not born to hate; they’re taught it. Ballroom dance is a co-creation between two dance partners. In the Dancing Classrooms program, children are taught to see their partner as an equal, independent of a race or ethnicity. Dance constructs a third space for children of different creed or color to band together as one unified human race. Without Dulaine’s program, neither group of children would have had the opportunity to engage with someone outside of their ethnic background. Dance, as a third space, facilitates the interaction apolitically so that the Jewish and Palestinian children will see each other for what they are as children, unburdened by the biases and stereotypes of their external appearance.


Over the last four years, the program has grown worldwide and has had incredible success in Israel.  Dancing Classrooms has turned into a three-month program that culminates in a dance competition where everyone is awarded a silver medal.  The program has expanded in Israel so that it no longer is only in Jaffa.  The four dance instructors in Israel promote positive interactions between Arab and Jewish children in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Holon, Carmiel and Herzliya.  The program also adds in a concentration of incorporating children with special needs. This transition not only serves to help the kids with special needs to integrate into society, it also helps to show that different people are all equals.

For more information, check out these videos:



Perhaps one of the most influential crops in history, wheat has played an important role not only in the Middle East but around the world. While no exact date is known for the origin of wheat as a source of food, it is assumed that this was around 12,000 years ago (“Ears of Plenty” 1). However, this wheat was not farmed but found.  Thriving in areas that were not suitable for other major crops such as rice or corn, wild wheat grew in areas in Egypt, Southeast Asia, and in the “Cradle of Civilization” in what is now modern Iraq (“Wheat Info” 1).  After population began to increase in the Middle East, wild wheat could no longer feed the masses. Arabs began to keep the seeds from prosperous wild wheat and plant them to increase yield the following years. Additionally, various strains of wild wheat were “imported” to the Middle East through various trade routes from parts of Asia. Arabs used these new strains and their knowledge of the local wheat to create better strains of agriculture through a process called “artificial selection” (“Evolution Resources” 1). Over the course of many years, this process was perfected and created a significantly higher yield able to feed a majority of the population. However, this was only possible through advanced agricultural techniques and improvements in irrigation (Watson 44-47).


Wheat is very important in Arab culture as it is used to make a variety of foods such as Freekeh (porridge), Harees (meat and wheat meal), and Kibbeh, (fried dough with meat and spices) as well as multiple varieties of breads. In Arab culture, bread is a very important and is served alongside almost every meal (“Food and Culture” 1). This is because utensils are forgone, as most people opt to eat with their hands; “To eat as the prophet ate – in the Arab style, seated and with the right hand” (Zaouali 27). Bread is easy to make using only a few ingredients (wheat being a major one) and is useful for scooping up and eating food from plates and bowls. While there are a variety of types of bread, most are soft and malleable; easy to eat food with. A traditional form of bread was pita bread.

Pita Bread Recipe (




  • 6tablespoons oil



  1. Mix yeast, water and sugar.
  2. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, dried milk and salt.
  4. Pour in the oil and yeast/water mixture and stir well.
  5. You might need to add more flour or water, depending on the absorbency of the flour.
  6. Knead dough briefly, divide into 18 egg sized balls.
  7. Place on a floured surface, cover and let rest for 15-30 minutes.
  8. Roll one ball out and cook in a skillet until large “bubbles” form.
  9. Flip pita over and cook the other side for a few more minutes.
  10. I flatten it out with a spatula.
  11. Keep bread warm (wrap in a towel or place in a ziploc bag) while cooking the rest of the bread.
  12. These freeze well.

How to Make Pita:

Wheat, as a source of food, was not only important over the course of history in the Arab world, but in modern times. Food security has become a major issue as the population of the earth continues to rise exponentially and has impacted a large part of the world. This issue is extremely prevalent in non-oil exporting countries in the Arab world, as their GDP’s are significantly lower and their economies are based primarily on Agriculture (Saif 1). Other factors such scarcity of resources have led to the increase in food prices; as oil becomes more scare the price goes up, creating higher prices for transportation. Additionally, limited land and water resources have forced prices up due to higher costs of production. For these reasons, the rising prices of food have wreaked havoc in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, and Yemen, leading to massive bread riots and violence (Saif 2-3). As a result, Yemen was forced to abandon further price increases due to violence and Algeria increased wages to counter high prices of flour and oil. While subsidies are being put in place, nothing has solved the current problems as prices continue to escalate (Saif 4). Innovative ways to solve these problems needs to come soon to help these countries gain food security and to increase wheat production both for food and the economy. Clearly, wheat has had a profound effect on Arab culture, food, and history; standing the test of time as one of the world most important and versatile foods.

Works Cited:

“Ears of Plenty.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 24 Dec. 2005. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

“Evolution Resources from the National Academies.” Evolution Resources from the National Academies.

N.p., 2008. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

“Food and Culture.” Food and Culture. World Press, 17 Jan. 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

Saif, Ibrahim. “The Food Price Crisis in the Arab Countries: Short Term Responses to a Lasting Challenge.”

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2008): 1-6. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

Watson, Andrew M. “A Medieval Green Revolution: New Crops and Farming Techniques in the Early

Islamic World.” Production and the Exploitation of Resources (The Formation of the Classical Islamic World). Aldershot: Ashgate/Variorum, 2002. 29-49. Print.

“Wheat Info: Fast Facts.” Wheat World. National Association of Wheat Growers, n.d. Web. 23 Sept.


Zaouali, Lilia. Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 Recipes. Berkeley:

U of California, 2007. 3-60. Print.

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Co-ops as a “Third Space”

“Peace and social well being are not only relevant to co-operatives but co-operatives are relevant to the peacemaking process in communities and societies throughout the world.” -Dr. Yehudah Paz (founder of AJEEC-NISPED, and dedicated his life to working towards peace in Israel and Palestine)

A cooperative or co-op is a business or organization that is jointly owned and operated by its members. Studies have shown that co-operatives are important in peacebuilding. Co-ops promote collective action and mutual understanding which in turn fosters democratic principles which lead to peace building. Co-ops can address and provide solutions to social issues that lead to conflict. One way that they help to address conflict is by providing services to aid local communities through fair and equitable distribution and mobilization of consumer goods. According to Rafi Goldman “conflict resolution is linked to sustainable human development and people-to-people peace process is a vital element of peace agreements negotiated by governments… Co-operatives could play a role in enabling both.”

Although Co-ops are a valuable resource in peacebuilding they will not be enough to alone create peace in the extensive and enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, co-ops and coexistence do provide a valuable “third space” for Israelis and Palestinians to come together and work toward a shared goal.

Peace Oil

Peace Oil is a company affiliated with the UK charity, Charities Advisory Trust, which focuses on encouraging Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian cooperation on economic ventures.  Though Peace Oil itself is focused on producing olive oil, it “hopes to bring Peace Oil is a company affiliated with the UK charity, Charities Advisory Trust, which focuses on encouraging Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian cooperation on economic ventures.  Though Peace Oil itself is focused on producing olive oil, it “hopes to bring economic prosperity” to the region and “[encourage] others to follow their example” of economic co-mingling with their neighbors.Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 11.55.11 PM

        Since 2006, the project has been growing olives and producing the oil at the base of the Carmel Mountains in northern Israel.  While it seems like this project of having Jews, Arabs, Druze, and Bedouin produce the exquisite extra virgin olive oil together, Peace Oil has not
been without its criticism.  Many organizations have urged leaders to purchase Palestinian olive oil rather than Peace Oil because the latter does not allow for fair competition.  With olive oil being “the backbone of the Palestinian Authority’s agricultural economy,” it’s reasonable to understand other groups’ issues with Peace Oil dominating the market.  Zaytoun director Heather Gardner even addresses the unfairness of the cooperative effort also.  “Israelis use Arab labor as a matter of course” and there is no equality in how the different groups work together.

        Still, Peace Oil has caught on around the world in its effort to increase cooperation among differing ethnic groups.  Alongside Peace Oil, many other groups have also sprung up to promote the unique agricultural products that can be grown in the region while also supporting the concept of peaceful coexistence together.   One of those groups is creatively named Peace Oil as well.  A U.S. organization, Peace Oil also sells olive oil but focuses on oil from the West Bank “where economic assistance is most needed.”  As stated in its mission statement, Peace Oil (UK) “hopes to bring economic prosperity… [and encourage] others to follow their example.” Peace Oil has certainly inspired others to join them in the promotion of Middle Eastern economic cooperation.

Women Creating Peacewomen

Joint Ventures for Peace is a joint social-economic venture of Israeli and Palestinian female entrepreneurs that provides a unique space for women from diverse backgrounds to work as equal partners and discuss peace. The women are from all over Israel and Palestinian; they are Muslims, Jews and Christians. The effort is co-organized by Negev Institute  for Strategies of Peace and development in Israel and the Shorouq Society for Women in Palestine. The Venture takes a holistic approach to cooperation in its monthly meetings with the 40 women participants. During their meetings the Women deepen their understandings of one another through shared life experiences, they learn about and discuss the conflict, work on business development strategies, and create sustainable business initiatives.Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 11.38.42 AM The women work in partnerships or small groups to develop joint business visions, create the products and then sell them in international markets. Some examples of products include olive oil soap in handmade ceramic dishes, baskets weaved from date trees, various types of jewelry and clothing design. Some women also write poetry about conflict and peace. Joint Ventures for Peace holds exposes to showcase the women’s products which are attended by an international audience. The Venture has more recently begun promoting access to microfinance as a means for women to finance their products. This cooperative approach is working to further understanding and peace in response to the Palestine-Israel conflict.Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 12.09.00 PM

“These Israeli and Palestinian women refuse to give in to the violence, fear and hatred characteristic of our region. They are true peacemakers who stand committed to peace and social justice and reach out to all who wish to join them in this empowering and necessary journey.”

Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-SalamScreen Shot 2015-09-23 at 11.56.26 PM

Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom is one of the more ambitious and literal attempts at cooperation and coexistence. It is a small village in Israel that is home to Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. The hope is that members of the village can live together in mutual respect of each other’s identities and religions. A resident of Neve Shalom sums it up with this: “The Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam experience humanizes the conflict. The village has many difficulties but at least we are not being broken. We do have personal squabbles as in any village, but we are living the conflict instead of fighting it.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 11.56.54 PMThe idea for the community came from Bruno Hussar. Hussar was Egyptian born with non-practicing Jewish parents. He eventually converted to Christianity while he was studying in France in the 1940s. It was during this period that he first experienced European anti-Semitism. After the war, he became a priest of the Dominican Order and was sent to Jerusalem to establish a center for Jewish studies. He gained citizenship in 1966. In 1970, he leased land from the Monastery of Latroun (who later gave it to the village) and with the help of others began to establish the village. In 1977, the first family arrived and by 2006 there were 52 families living in the village. The residents of the village own the land and public buildings.Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 11.57.56 PM

One of the more important parts of the village is the School of Peace, established in 1979. It was created not only to educate the younger members of the community but as a resource for studying peace and conflict resolution. It also teaches people to take responsibility for making change within their communities. The school hosts lectures and seminars for Arab and Jewish youth and adults.



Music and its Potential as a “Third Space” in Social Movements, Activism and Conflict Resolution

In general, music as a means of mobilizing social movements has followed two trends: the grassroots and the top-down. The top-down musical movement refers to leaders and elites manufacturing propaganda songs for their followers or constituents; the grassroots movement refers to a bottom-up system whereby small communities or groups create or come together around a type of music or specific song that they feel represents their social movement. Qualitative data conducted by Fulbright scholar Bryan Tom in Southeast Asia regarding music and conflict shows that overwhelmingly, grassroots music movements tend to be counter-radical and invoking of peace, whereas top-down musical movements lean heavily towards being radical propaganda (save songs created to encourage people to wash their hands, clean their water, etc). Though music is not a solution to a conflict as complex as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it can provide a means through which people can express feelings of pain, suffering and hope. It is analogous to the “third space” or common ground that seems to be lacking in a lot of conversations surrounding the conflict – and while on a policy-making level this may not be incredibly influential, music as a means of communications, particularly with youth, has significant power.

Palestinian History of Music

Palestinian music, especially folklore, was originally sung at celebrations, weddings, and village meetings.  Augustine Lama is noted to be the Father of Contemporary Palestinian Music.  In 1922, he was appointed the head organist of the Catholic Church in Palestine. He composed a piece of music called Postlaudia. He said this piece of music was an expression of his “sadness and despair about his country being torn apart by war.”A majority of music from Palestine after 1948, was used to express what they went through and used as a way of resistance.  In 1968, when Yasser Arafat went to Cairo, he wanted the following song to be performed:

O Palestinians, I want to come and be with you, weapons in hand

And I want my hands to go down with yours to smash the snake’s head

And then Hulagu’s law will die

O Palestinians, exile has lasted so long

That the desert is moaning from the refugees and the victims

And the land remains nostalgic for the peasants who watered it

Revolution is the goal, and victory shall be your first step”

This says a lot about how the Palestinians feel and what they want. During the Intifadas, they did not play music or cassette tapes out of respect for those who died, because the Palestinians saw them as martyrs.

Today, there are many types of Palestinian music including, hip hop, rap, and the most popular, dabke. Palestinian hip hop began in the 1990’s and continues today. A popular hip hop group is DAM, and they focus on the Palestinian, Arab, and Jewish culture. DAM in Arabic means eternity, and it means blood in Hebrew.  The Palestinian rap groups such as PR and R.F.M. are based on the Palestinians in Gaza.  Their music is inspired by the poverty, the refugee camps, and their personal situations. Dabka is the most popular type of music and folk dance.  Dabka is known to bring people together and is passed down through generations.  It shows how different families have different cultures.  Each type is different, but it is essentially a type of line dance that brings all types of people together.  Music has transformed the culture of Palestine since before the 1940s.

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Israeli History of Music

Music has also played a major role in Israel in terms of bringing people together for different Israeli causes. More than anything, the music of Israel reflects the conglomeration of many different cultures under one flag. In the words of Israeli musicologist Amnon Shiloah, this created a “musical tower of Babel” consisting of many different people’s music — “Jewish and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli, Muslim, Christian, Samaritan and Druze, Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi, Russian, Hebrew, English, and so on.” In particular, the three main strands of Jewish music are Ashkenazi, Mizrahi and Sephardi, each of which had much overlap and subcategories within them. In this as well, there are focuses both on devotional music for the Jewish faith, as well as more secular music for enjoyment.

An enduring symbol of Israeli music lies in the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, which was founded in 1936 with Arturo Toscanini as conductor. The radio telecast of their performance was able to spread their music to tens of thousands of more people. This offers an example of an Israeli musical group gaining cultural recognition across the world. However, their existence is not seen as a way of unity between Israel and Palestine. In 2011, a live performance on the BBC was interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters who felt that the performance was a symbol of Zionist oppression.

During the Six-Day War in 1967, a major song was “Jerusalem of Gold,” by Naomi Shemer, celebrating the return of Jerusalem to Jewish hands after 2,000 years. This is an example of a nationalist song meant to galvanize people behind a cause, however divisive. A bit of cultural controversy erupted when this song was used at the end of the Holocaust film “Schindler’s List,” about a completely different part of Jewish heritage. After much confusion and protest, the film was re-released in Israel with a different choice of music at the end. This incident of “Jerusalem of Gold” shows how different events can mean different things depending on the context behind it.

Music has been a major part of Israeli cultural assimilation since even before country was formed. Music provided a common ground on which to unite people, especially toward Zionist causes. However, there has been a generally exclusionary attitude towards Palestinians in Israeli music, showing that culture can be beneficial for some but not all.

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Heartbeat and Contemporary Efforts

One contemporary effort to utilize music to bridge cultural gaps (or chasms in the case of Israel and Palestine) is a youth music group called Heartbeat. Heartbeat was founded by Aaron Shneyer, who having started a Jewish/Arab band while at Georgetown University, saw the potential for music to develop cultural understanding. A few years later, he received a grant to cultivate peace amongst the youth of Israel and Palestine.  Shneyer “approaches conflict… through a musician’s lens, viewing opportunities for collaboration, harmony and learning through sound”. With this approach Shneyer began to develop meaningful collaboration between the two groups, using music, as a medium to interact. Music, unlike traditional discussion and debate offers a non-hostile third space where peaceful coexistence is a possibility.

The program itself seeks to grow “the basic principle of music creation, freedom of speech and mutual respect”. The results of the organization have been impressive, with music having not just a profound impact on the members, but also the communities in which they perform. One band member stated “I really see that there’s no big difference between us. We [Heartbeat band members] are the same, and we have this connection that is really powerful, that can give the message to everyone else.” Even the band’s lyrics are indicative of their mission to create peace, where most believe there can be none. The communities in which they perform are generally supportive of the group, but some are startled by the combination of Israeli and Palestinian members and are even more taken aback by the lyrics, which you just heard. Yet, most do not simply turn away, but are receptive to the conversation, because it is taking place through song. Oftentimes it is difficult to have honest conversations between two partisan groups, which then makes it impossible to create lasting peace; however, groups such as Heartbeat, which approach the conflict from a different angle, seeking peace over national pride, provide hope for reconciliation.

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If you would like to donate to Heartbeat, click here!


Benjamin, J. (2004). Beyond Doer and Done to. Psychoanal. Q., 73:5-46

Brotman, Benay. “Aaron Shneyer.” Georgetown Alumni Online. 10 Mar. 2009. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.

“Bukra Fi Mishmish (Official Music Video) – by HEARTBEAT.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.

“Culture: Music.” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 28 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Sept. 2015. < music.aspx>.

Dysch, Marcus. “Anti-Israel Protesters Disrupt BBC Proms.” The Jewish Chronicle Online 2 Sept. 2011. Web. 16 Sept. 2015. <;.

Hanna, Osseily. “Heartbeat: Palestinian and Israeli Youth Musicians on Debut Tour in U.S.” The Huffington Post., 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.

“Jewish Music: An Overview.” Jewish Virtual Library, 1995. Web. 16 Sept. 2015. <;.

Loeffler, James, and Joel Rubin. “Hearing Israel: Music, Culture and History at 60.” 1 Dec. 2009. Web. 16 Sept. 2015. < Israel Foreword.pdf>.

Shaked, Yuval. “On Contemporary Palestinian Music.” Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

“The Dabke-An Arabic Folk Dance.” History and Development of Dance Brockport. 9 May 2013. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

“The Sound of Resistance: Palestine.” The Sound of Resistance: Palestine. 2015. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

“LA Dabke Troupe Performing for SJP (UCLA).” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Womer, Samantha. “Music as an Instrument of Peace.” Research Matter – Arizona State University. Arizona State University, 5 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.

Symbols and Conflict

No conflict can persist without a strong sense of identity on either side. Identity is a mobilizing phenomenon that can be determined and ingrained through the use of nationalist rhetoric or symbolism. A monumental symbolic root for Israeli identity is seeded in the Aliyah or right of return – the same right of return to which Palestinians believe they are entitled. This post will explore a specific symbol, unique to this conflict. The symbol is derived from a commodity hotly contested between the Israelis and Palestinians, one centuries (sometimes even millennia) older than the conflict itself: the olive tree.  

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The Olive Tree Narrative

Claims to land by both Palestinians and Israelis are made through the symbol of the olive tree. For Israeli Jews, the tree has literal significance in the Torah. As Noah and his followers were escaping the Great Flood, he sent a dove to look for land. The dove returned with an olive branch in its mouth, the olive branch symbolizing nearby land and God following through on His promise to deliver them to safety. One can go as far as to say that the specificity of the olive branch, or leaf, versus any other foliage, was a way to represent the promised land. 

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Israeli nationalism is based in Zionism, an ideology that has come to emphasize the Jewish right of return to the land God promised them. In the Torah, God promised the Jews everything from the Nile River in Egypt to Lebanon (South to North) and everything from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River (West to East). The olive tree, indigenous to this land is woven throughout Israeli culture. Olive oil was even used in the lamps lighting religious edifices in Jerusalem, the capital city during the Israeli kingdom’s golden age.

The Zionist movement worked to establish a Jewish nation not just anywhere, but in this specific land. Israelis consider their roots to run back to Abrahamic times. When Israeli borders were defined in the UN Mandate of 1947 and extended in the Wars of 1948 and 1967, it is not seen as taking land from native Palestinians but as reclaiming land already promised to them. If we continue to consider the olive tree as a symbol for this disputed land, it makes sense that the Israeli Defense Force’s logo features an olive branch at its center. That the olive branch is widely viewed as an international symbol for peace suggests that Israel considers itself a peaceful entity merely acting in defense.

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Palestinians also claim centuries old ties to the land. For them, the olive branch is an extension of the olive tree in its entirety. The roots of the tree reflect the centuries of Palestinian residency buried in the land. Generations upon generations of people planted their roots in the land, home and tradition passed down from father to son. The olive tree itself represents the years that the land was nurtured and cultivated under Palestinian care.

Palestinian farmer Salah Abu Ali states, Only God knows how old it is. But it might be around 4,000 years or more. I am honoured to be this tree’s servant. The connection goes back to my father and grandfather. I feel so connected to this tree, it’s as if it’s part of my body and soul.”

In the War of 1948, three quarters of a million Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and land. Many refugees still hold onto the keys to their homes as symbols of their right to the land and hope for a return. The keys themselves reflect a right to a home versus a simple right to the land. Likewise, the olive tree is a unique legacy and way of life for each Palestinian family. Recent Israeli efforts to uproot plots of Palestinian olive trees blatantly reflect what is seen by Palestinians as the uprooting of their people from a native home.

Olives are the single most valuable crop to Palestine, which remains mainly an agricultural economy. According to the World Bank, it is estimated that olive trees account for the majority of cultivated Palestinian land. Thus, Palestine’s already vulnerable economy becomes even more dependent on Israel once trees are uprooted, burned, or partitioned off. For Palestinians, the loss of olive trees is not just an economic loss but also a personal one.

Palestinian villagers Bassem Rashed and Naja claim, “It feels like bringing up a child, and then losing him. Those trees are our base and roots.”

Symbols and Solutions

With respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, symbols like the olive tree have stood the test of time. In terms of promoting morale and nationalism for Israelis and Palestinians, the symbolic tenacity of the olive tree has gone above and beyond the call of duty. However, symbols can also bear adverse effects, especially when it comes to finding a solution to the problem. Symbols serve as obstacles to negotiation because each symbol highlights the differences between Israelis and Palestinians. Differences that were once intangible such as those based on faith are able to turn into distinct separations. The more weight given to symbols of conflict, the more emotionally charged that conflict becomes. By claiming a symbol, you simultaneously reaffirm the politics in which you already believe in.


One would hope that, of all things, the olive tree – an international symbol for peace – would be able to help promote reconciliation for such a volatile conflict. When viewing the olive tree through Jessica Benjamin’s idea of thirdness, it’s clear that the tree and symbols like it promote the idea of “twoness.” For Palestinians, olive trees that have been in their family for generations are clearly their property, regardless of Israeli partitioning for settlements. For Israelis, the olive trees are on part of their land and are subsequently their property, so they can do what they would like with them. To come to a compromise could be akin to uprooting their heritage. The symbol plays a different role in each narrative, bolstering the ideas of being “wronged” and “done to” and preventing the formation of a collaborative third space between the two groups.

image0011  palestine-olive-tree

Benjamin, Jessica. “Beyond Doer and Done To: An Intersubjective View of Thirdness,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 73;5; 2004; 5-46

Bowen, Jeremy. “Israel and the Palestinians: A Conflict Viewed through Olives – BBC News.” BBC News. N.p., 7 Dec. 2014. Web. 09 Sept. 2015.

Cohen-Regev, Shira. “The Olive in the Jewish and Israeli Culture.” The Jerusalem Post. N.p., 31 Oct. 2010. Web. 09 Sept. 2015.

Galvin, James.  “From the Great Revolt Through the 1948 War” and “The Arab-Israeli Conflict,” pp. 117-144; 166-196

Karkar, Sonja. “Heritage Uprooted.” The Electronic Intifada. N.p., 03 Sept. 2007. Web. 09 Sept. 2015.

Rao, V Venkata. “Why Is the Olive Branch Used as a Symbol of Peace? – The Times of India.” The Times of India. N.p., 5 Aug. 2006. Web. 09 Sept. 2015.

Imagine this: Fatima is a mother of three, and expecting her fourth child. She is eight months along in her pregnancy, and thus cannot do much bending over or heavy lifting. She rises at dawn to wake her young ones: Suha, 12; Fawad, 9; and Zeinab, 7. Her awfully helpful children assist her in the morning duties.

“Suha, would you go check on the coffee beans, dear?” Fatima calls to her eldest. In Arabic culture, a mother’s first lesson to her children in the art of cooking “is usually how to make Arabic coffee,” (Salloum, 76). “Yes, Ummi.” Suha dashes off to the patio.

Today’s lesson, however, is how to core an eggplant properly. When preparing any vegetable for stuffing, the secret is to “hollow it out as thin as possible, without piercing the outer skin,” (Salloum, 76). “Fawad, please go pick 6 eggplants from the field. Stick to the northwestern corner; they should be ready to harvest.”

“Ummi! The coffee beans are still not dark enough. They’ve been roasting on a tray for days!” Suha came running into the house with a dissatisfied look on her face. “Patience, my child. Come now, I’m going to teach you how to core these eggplants.” Fatima retrieves the vegetables from her son. “We’re going to make Mahshi for supper tonight.” Zeinab jumps with glee as she realizes she will finally be able to assist in the making of her favorite dish for her birthday.

This is a fictional example of how the eggplant was an integral part of daily life in medieval Arabic culture. Here is a video on how an eggplant is cut for a modern stuffed eggplant recipe. This is as close to the traditional way of preparing the vegetable that we could find in a video. Traditionally, the vegetable is kept whole, not cut in half, and scraped from the inside out, and avoiding breaking or tearing the skin when most of the flesh has been carved out. The versatile vegetable was at one point feared in the medieval Arab world; it was met with a strong dislike and with apprehension.

When eggplant was initially introduced into the Arab world it was met with skepticism and distaste. Many taboos surrounded the eggplant, such as the idea that it would cause harmful health effects such as epilepsy (Thornton-Wood, 17).  One man named Abu Harith refused to eat it because the coloration reminded him of that of a scorpion. Overtime, there was a general acceptance of eggplant into Arab cuisine. The wife of caliph al-Mamun was the one who popularized the vegetable in the higher class circles. This eventually led to a wider appreciation for eggplant that worked its way through to lower social classes and became a popular dish in the Arab world.

Today many dishes include eggplants and it has become an integral part of Arab cuisine (Salloum, 24). There are several uses for eggplants and how they can be integrated into dishes. They come in a variety of different shapes and colors and are often used as a meat substitute. Currently there are over 150 dishes that originate from the Middle East that implement eggplant as a key ingredient (Salloum, “Delightful Eggplant Dishes from the Middle East and North Africa”).

A traditional Lebanese stuffed eggplant recipe can be found here. We’ve also recreated it.

Batenjen Mehchi

Lebanese Lamb-Stuffed Eggplant


  • 12 lb. ground lamb
  • 3 tbsp. long grain white rice
  • 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small white onion, minced
  • 12 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 14 tsp. ground allspice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 24 Japanese or fairy tale eggplants
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. dried mint
  • 1 (16-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand


  1. Mix lamb, rice, half each the tomato paste, garlic, onion, and cinnamon, the allspice, salt, pepper, and 34 cup water in a bowl; let sit 30 minutes. Using a paring knife, stem and hollow out eggplants, keeping them whole. Mince flesh and mix with lamb mixture; stuff eggplants.
  2. Heat oil in an 8-qt. saucepan over medium-high. Cook remaining garlic and onion until golden, 4–6 minutes. Stir in remaining tomato paste, cinnamon, salt, and pepper; cook 3 minutes. Add mint, tomatoes, and 1 cup water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and add stuffed eggplants; cook, covered, until eggplants are tender and the filling is cooked through, 30–35 minutes.

Batenjen Mehchi

Written by: Lizzie Pater and Shadin Ahmed

Works Cited

  • “Batenjen Mehchi (Lebanese Lamb-Stuffed Eggplant).” Saveur. Bonnier, 17 Sept.
  1.    Web. 9 Sept. 2015. <>.
  • Salloum, Habeeb, Leila Salloum Elias, and Muna Salloum. Scheherazade’s Feasts:

Foods of the Medieval Arab World. N.p.: U of Pennsylvania P, 2013. Print.

  • Salloum, Habeeb. “Delightful Eggplant Dishes From the Middle East and North

Africa.” The Vegetarian Resource Group. Vegetarian Journal, n.d. Web. 9

Sept. 2015. <


  • Thornton-Wood, Simon. “History and Iconography.” Chronica Horticulturae 47.3

    (2007): 16-22. Print.