Statement about Gaza, June 2017, from the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS)

i Jun 30th 2017

Despite Israel’s disengagement in 2005, Israel remains the de facto ruler in Gaza. Some ten years after the beginning of the blockade – which limits access to basic supplies and movement – the people of Gaza face an increased crisis with the decision last week by the Israeli government to limit electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip. Gazans currently have access to only 2 hours of electricity a day, a decision which – Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations, and even the Israeli Energy Minister, argue – is entrenching an already existing humanitarian crisis. Hospitals and sewerage systems, amongst countless other aspects of everyday life, are in dire need of regular, reliable electricity, and the devastation caused by the inaccessibility of power is incalculable.

That this decision by the Israeli Government came at the request of the Palestinian Authority does not justify or excuse it. There are numerous requests from the PA that the Israeli government and army ignore: it is instructive that this request was met. And regardless of the internal reasons for the request, Israel should not be issuing this violent, collective punishment upon the people and land of Gaza. As well as being illegal under international law, it is shameful and unjust. As the occupying power currently controlling most of Gaza’s borders and economy, Israel has a responsibility to its people to provide for their welfare.

These actions by the current Israeli government, and the implicit and explicit support they receive from Israelis and Jewish communities and organisations internationally, are deplorable. It is incumbent upon us all to take a public stand challenging Israel’s actions and calling upon them to reverse their decision.

The AJDS calls on the Israeli Government to respect Palestinian claims for justice and self-determination, and to ensure the provision of services and freedom of movement. We call on the Australian Government to put pressure on the Israeli Government to urgently reverse their decisions. We urge our members to contact representatives of both governments to demand immediate change. And we call on other Jewish organisations and individuals in Australia and internationally to stand alongside Gazans in calling for an end to the humanitarian crisis they face. To be silent is to stand with the oppressor and enable injustice. Our community needs to be better than this.

Contact details for government representatives:

H.E. Mr. Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, Israeli Embassy, Canberra:

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop MP:


Yael Winikoff talks about Laila El-Haddad’s Australian visit, and the AJDS

i Mar 21st 2017

AJDS Community Organiser, Yael Winikoff, was recently interviewed by Veronica Matheson on J-Air about Laila El-Haddad’s imminent Australian tour and why the AJDS decided to bring her out here.

The AJDS is committed to broadening and invigorating the dialog between Jews and Palestinians, said Yael, educating people about the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza, and examining one thing we can all relate to, which is how our food culture represents us. Gaza has a unique history, given its geographical position, on the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East, astride the Mediterranean sea. It is one of the most overpopulated regions on earth, and its inhabitants have been living under conditions of war and military siege for years. Yet chef and writer Laila El-Haddad has been active curating and sharing with the world the food traditions and practices that have successfully sustained people there despite these harsh conditions. We are very excited to learn more from her about life, food, motherhood, and politics in Gaza.

Over April 2017 El-Haddad will be giving cooking demonstrations, talks, as well as speaking to local media, about her lifelong passion for Palestinian food and her intimate knowledge of Gazan cuisine. She’ll be visiting Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, so check out this page for more details on events near you. Tickets to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event in Footscray on April 6th are almost sold out – be quick!

Click here to listen to the interview on J-Air.

Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza seaport, April 2016.

Palestinian fishermen display their catch in Gaza’s seaport in April 2016. Ashraf Amra APA images. Found here.


The comeback of Palestinian cuisine: a brief account

i Jan 5th 2017
Maqluba is considered the icon of Palestinian food

Maqloubeh is often said to be the Palestinian national dish: an upside down, layered, caramelised and unctuous rice dish. This one is from Palestinian Cuisine, one of many recently launched Palestinian food blogs.

Since we are proudly hosting acclaimed Gazan chef, Laila el-Haddad, for her Australian tour in April 2017, it is timely to consider Palestinian food traditions and their plight since the Nakba. This is of course the catastrophe of 1948, brought on primarily by Zionist colonisation of Palestine. With continuing military occupation, ensuing separation and atomisation of communities, and the difficulties experienced by Palestinians in every aspect of their lives, whether in  the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Gaza, or within Israel, cooking and eating Palestinian foods have remained essential to maintaining the collective and individual identities of Palestinians worldwide.

Yet around the world the origin of such cuisine is often blurred: Palestinian food is just called Middle Eastern, or is even labelled ‘Israeli’ on popular cooking shows and magazines, reflecting the cultural appropriation that has come with colonialism – such was the case of maftoul (‘Israeli couscous’). Hummus and falafel too are touted by many as iconic Israeli foods, and are used to promote tourism to Israel. As Middle Eastern food continues to rise in popularity around the world, the ways we talk about this food can misinform newcomers to the cuisine as to the Palestinian origins of many Middle Eastern dishes. And while Israeli chefs serve and promote the region’s cuisine in the world’s capitals,  Palestinian history and current reality continue to be misrepresented.

Whether called Palestinian, Arab, Middle Eastern or Israeli food, this varied cuisine is undoubtedly rising in popularity not only around the world, but also in Jewish Israel. And yet, “most Israelis continue to see Palestinian cuisine as simple street food”, says Osama Dalal, a chef from Acre (quoted in In Israel, a New Passion for Palestinian Cuisine). When he opened his modern Palestinian restaurant in his home town, he found that most patrons were Jewish Israelis hailing from Tel Aviv. It is difficult for Palestinian chefs to find commercial success while asserting their politics and speaking out about the conditions that underlie life for Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and so, many, like Dalal, choose to avoid mixing food and politics.

This is not so for Palestinian chefs such as Laila el-Haddad, Joudie Kalla and Dima al Sharif, as well as countless others, who have chosen to unequivocally combine food and politics, reaffirming the origins of Palestinian cuisine and using their commercial popularity to raise awareness as to the history and ongoing human rights abuses that take place every day under Israeli occupation. They are supported by other international food celebrities, such as Anthony Bourdain, whose visit to Palestine in Parts Unknown revealed what a fearless visit to Palestine can yield (read Maysoon Zayid’s account of Watching Anthony Bourdain in Palestine).

Laila el-Haddad’s The Gaza Kitchen (2013), co-authored with Maggie Schmitt, is a masterpiece of Palestinian food writing, combining stories of life in the besieged Gaza strip with traditional knowledge of cultivating and preparing the basics and the more elaborate of this regional, age old cuisine. It was not until reading this book that many readers, including myself, became aware of the significant regional variance, demonstrating the complex and often misunderstood history of Palestinian life. The differences result from lifestyle: some communities were nomadic, others urbane and sophisticated. Those who migrated into urban centres such as Jaffa, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, brought with them global culinary influences and in turn affected local traditions. Such is the wonderful and unmitigated symbiosis of food culture. But there is no attempt in The Gaza Kitchen to avoid the unbearable cost of living under military siege. El-Haddad and Schmitt quote Um Ibraim, an 86 year old woman who is one of few who still remember life before 1948:

 Palestinian food

Selling kishik, grain and yogurt filled pastries, in central Gaza. From Gaza’s Food Heritage.

“I am telling you about how we would cook and eat in the past, but here everything is unwholesome. It is bad food. In the past, we ate very heartily and were very healthy.” Her eyes gleam as she describes the wild greens and handsome squashes of Beit Tima, her home village, where her father had been mayor before they were driven out in 1948. (from Gaza’s Food Heritage).

Palestinian food is all about sharing, says Kalla, author of Palestine on a Plate (2016), describing the style of preparation, service and presentation of foods in Palestinian communities around the world:

It means a lot to me to write this book, as I am Palestinian, and if I can help give a voice to a beautiful country and its food and people, then that is what I would like to do. The fact that it has Palestine on the front cover is so important for me and many people, because we are embracing where we come from and what our land has to offer. It is an ode to our history. (From An ode to the cuisine of Palestine, Al Jazeera)

Further educating the world about Palestinian foodways are non professional cooks such as the entrepreneurs of Noor Women’s Empowerment Group, which runs regular cooking classes in the Aida refugee camp. There you can learn about more than the cuisine’s main staples: olives and olive oil, yogurt and clarified butter, legumes, grains, lamb and vegetables, particularly eggplant, tomatoes, cauliflower and zucchini. Now let us read more about, cook, and eat the inspiring dishes prepared with these regional ingredients.

To watch Laila el-Haddad’s cooking demonstration in Melbourne, April 2017, book your tickets now and visit our dedicated page for up to date information on other appearances.


Atayef (kataif or قطايف) are thin and lacy stuffed Arabic pancakes. What sets these pancakes apart is that they are cooked only on one side, the other side is velvety because it is covered with bubbles, this allows the flavors of the filling to permeate the atayef.

Selling kataif in Nablus, “a gastronomic heaven”, according to Sawsan Abu Farha, AKA Chef in Disguise.


Further Reading

Why sahlab (and hummus) still aren’t Israeli by Ali Abunimah

A new generation of Palestinian chefs poised to conquer the world by Ronit Vered

Modernity and Authenticity: The Evolution of the Palestinian Kitchen by Ali Qleibo

Kitchen of Palestine


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Statement about the women’s boat to Gaza

i Oct 17th 2016

Image result for women's flotilla to gazaOn October 5th 2016 13 pro-Palestine activists on board the ship Zaytouna-Oliva of the Women’s Boat to Gaza were stopped by the Israeli army in international waters and then detained and deported.   We send our support and solidarity to the women who sailed on the ship for their courage and commitment to bring attention to the dire situation in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli led blockade since 2007.

While the women on board the ship have now been released, the blockade of Gaza remains, leaving 1.9 million Palestinians effectively imprisoned.  Due to Israeli military measures, about one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible (Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur).  Last year, a United Nations report predicted that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020.  More than 70% of the population relies on humanitarian aid, 47% of the population suffer from food insecurity, and 95% of the tap water is unsafe for drinking.  The legality of the blockade has been disputed, with independent UN panels asserting it to be unlawful under international law as it constitutes collective punishment.

The captain of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was a woman from Hobart, Madeleine Habib.  Speaking on her involvement in the ship to Gaza, Ms Habib said: “Once you’ve been there and you understand the suffering and humiliation and the slow wasting away of a culture and of the people, it’s only then that you realise it’s something we need to stand together to stop.”

We call on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to condemn Israel’s policies of occupation and to support steps to lifting the blockade on Gaza in recognising the principles of Palestinian self-determination.  We also call for measures to be taken to ensure that all parties adhere to ceasefire conditions and that the easing of the blockade on Gaza is met with the cessation of rockets fired into Israel.  There can be no peaceful solution while Israel and Egypt maintain their blockades leading to the siege of Gaza which is producing unlivable conditions for Palestinians in Gaza.

This statement was issued by the AJDS Executive Committee October 17, 2016


Gaza play director, Samah Sabawi, demands an unequivocal apology

i Jun 3rd 2016

‘Tales of a City by the Sea’ is a play about Gaza, which tells of a love story set amid war and siege, remains on the VCE curriculum despite accusations it spreads anti-semitism. “It seems that I, the writer, missed the memo that I can’t write an artistic piece about Palestinian life without inserting Israel’s point of view into my art” wrote Samah Sabawi in the Age, adding, “This is wrong on so many levels.”

“What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.”

In this Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 photo, Palestinian women sift through used clothing at the weekly flea market in Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Palestinian women sorting used clothing at the Nusseirat flea market in central Gaza, February 15 2016. There are few other income sources for women in the Strip. Image found here.

Read the rest of “Vision of everyday life in Palestine too bleak for some” by Sabawi.

Read an earlier post about the vicious accusations and call for withdrawal of the play from the VCE curriculum.

The Anti-Defamation Commission’s chair will be speaking at Limmud Oz this month, about the subject of bigotry.