Echoes of the Egyptian miracle in a Galilee village

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Mjaddarah is a traditional vegetarian dish that once was the default daily mainstay in rural Palestine. Few among the younger generation desire it or know how to prepare it nowadays. In a sort of nostalgic throwback to the good old days, Toufiq, my childhood friend, and I, on occasion, ask his wife to prepare Mjaddarah for a picnic lunch out in the lap of nature in the Galilee hills. It so happened that over the years every time we embarked on such a wistful venture an Arab leader would pass away. Faced with Hosni Mubarak’s recalcitrance in the face of the largest popular uprising in human history asking for his departure, Toufiq and I planned a Mujaddarah picnic for him tomorrow. Hosni saw the writing on the wall and escaped just in time.
Friday is the Moslem’s weekly day of rest, prayer, and visitation. A grand niece of mine, a nurse, invited me to officiate at the reading of Al-Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Koran, in confirmation of her formal relationship with a young man from another Palestinian town. This is the pre-engagement first step intended to introduce the families of the prospective couple to each other. We sat at my nephew’s living room amidst piles of fresh fruit and Arabic sweets and watched TV while waiting for the guests. There was no flipping through stations; like in every other living room in the Middle East, Al-Jazeera kept us on edge and up-to-date. Minutes after six o’clock Omar Suleiman’s tired long face filled the TV screen and he made his one sentence announcement with one glaring Arabic grammatical faux pas. Mubarak escaped being peacefully trampled in his palace by the Egyptian masses. We all broke out in spontaneous praise of Allah’s and Google’s miraculous feats, in exchanges of congratulations and backslapping and in happy laughter.

In two more minutes the sound of fireworks filled the village evening hush. I stepped out for a fuller appreciation of the event and heard the distant sound of fireworks from neighboring Palestinian villages and the beeping of horns in our streets. We rang the late guests and were told that they have been held up at the entrance to Arrabeh, our village, by the flood of cars on its main street. Minutes later another nephew of mine returned and described the seen in the main square of Arrabeh as being in full spontaneous celebratory mode. He likened the atmosphere to that of the day Iran beat the USA 1:0 in the World Cup football tournament. Toufiq called to congratulate and to cancel our picnic. Al-Jazeera ran a steady listing of Arab capitals where the jubilant crowds broke out in celebration of Egypt’s historic achievement. Another nephew sent an MSN message that said: “Crowds pored out in the streets of Arrabeh.” But Al-Jazeera didn’t show it. Ali, a retired teacher from Arrabeh who happened to land in Cairo’s Independence Square on January 25 and whose Journalist son was detained overnight by the Egyptian police, jokingly took credit for “stirring things up there.” Then he added: “I am off to Amman tomorrow.”
I told Toufiq over coffee this morning: “This is the most pan-Arab solidarity I have seen since 1970 when we walked in the funeral procession for Jamal Abdul Nasser.”

“But this is different,” he said. “This sets a precedence.” Then in a low conspiratorial voice he confided: “Mark my word: The day will come when scores of millions of young people from the Middle East and Europe will march peacefully as one man on Israel and Palestine and force freedom and civility on us. We have to start preparing to meet them at the borders. It may require another Mjaddara picnic for the current bosses. Who knows?”

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel.

About Hatim Kanaaneh

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. His collection of short stories entitled Chief Complaint was released by Just World Books in the spring of 2015.

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8 Responses

  1. Jim Haygood
    February 12, 2011, 10:36 am

    Thank you for this eyewitness news report. Here in the remote cultural backwater of New York, the NYT’s Ethan Bronner insisted last night that the only Palestinians celebrating were ‘masked Hamas militants marching defiantly.’

    Like former Soviet citizens reading between the lines of Pravda to discern hidden truths, some of us sussed out that this far-fetched claim hardly made any sense. On with the Mjaddara picnic!

    • Potsherd2
      February 12, 2011, 12:05 pm

      One group of Palestinians that weren’t celebrating were the PA and its armed thugs. They probably see the writing on the wall, that their days in power are numbered. Erekat has already resigned his position as chief surrenderer.

  2. kalithea
    February 12, 2011, 11:29 am

    You can’t imagine how much I enjoyed reading this! I can’t wait for the day that Palestinians weep with joy at the celebration that will take place in solidarity all over the Middle East; a celebration in honor of a Free Palestine!

    60 YEARS is too long to wait.

  3. Walid
    February 12, 2011, 12:17 pm

    Mjaddara has always been my favourite dish. I used to drive my late mother up the wall when she’s ask me what would I like her to cook for me and I’d tell her I wanted the simple down to earth poor man’s meal of mjaddara.

    It was good to see the sob leave Egypt. The real celebration for the liberation of Egypt and the other Arabs would happen when and only when the Rafah Crossing gets opened by Egypt to signal freedom for the Palestinians and real freedom for the Egyptians. If it doesn’t happen, it would mean that nothing has really been gained in Egypt. Mubarak was already over 80 and about to leave one way or another. What happens at Rafah will tell the real story of the Egyptian intifada.

    Erekat that can’t negotiate his way out of a closet quit his job of negotiator this afternoon and surely this decision was taken in light of wiki-leaks business about what he had been negotiating with Israel all these years. If the Palestinian get serious about their negotiations, they’d get Butto back in that post.

    The king’s 1000-dinar gift to each Bahraini family came through just in time to avert a planned February 14th massive demonstration by the restless natives there. Things are changing all over the Arab world but the main issue and key to real change is simply the opening of Rafah, just like the simple mjaddara.

    • seafoid
      February 12, 2011, 1:31 pm

      I don’t think there is anything to negotiate, Walid. Israel needs a major shock to change course and there is a high chance of either a geopolitical or economic one in the next 10 years especially if the West enters a Japan style 20 year stagnation. There is no point in the Palestinians signing up for a few bantustans when the whole property may come on the market.

      • Walid
        February 12, 2011, 2:29 pm

        The PA, Erekat and even Arafat gave it away to Israel. Butto that has been there before as a negotiator is a fighting tiger that would look out for the Palestinians’ interests and I’d guess this is why she did not last in that job.

  4. Avi
    February 12, 2011, 4:33 pm

    It may require another Mjaddara picnic for the current bosses.

    That sounds like a great idea.

  5. yourstruly
    February 12, 2011, 4:53 pm

    never give up on a people

    i learned that lesson almost a half century ago

    in port-au-prince, haiti

    then under papa “doc” duvalier

    on every store window, his face

    as in baghdad shortly after gulf 1

    except there the pictures were of saddam hussein

    tyrants intruding into people’s daily lives

    lest they get ideas

    coming from the airport

    women carrying large water containing vessels atop their heads

    streets crowded with pedstrians, jitneys packed with people standing in the back

    to my surpirse, very little noise

    not surprising, though, that the people were so thin, some even emaciated

    such that a fatty was a rarity

    how to explain

    then it came to me

    people lived so close to the edge

    so little to eat

    energy had to be conserved

    ergo, the relative quiet

    seemed to me that a people so deprived

    beat down


    would be the last in the world to rise up and overthrow their oppressors

    except a couple decades later

    guess what

    that’s right

    the people did rise up

    throw out baby “doc” duvalier, papa doc’s successor

    then go on to elect the populist jean-bertrand aristide as their president

    teaching me to never say never

    even when it’s a matter of revolution in the u. s. of a.

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