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Saladin’s maklouba

Palestinian women cooking for people who stayed at Al-Aqsa compound [Nasser Atta‏/Twitter]
Palestinian women prepare food for those staying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound [Nasser Atta‏/Twitter]

Meat or chicken was our dear and expensive weekly guest. As for the rest of the week, our permanent residents were either lentils or other legumes from the land, such as chickpeas, freekah, bulgur and fava beans. Of course, mujaddara, a dish made of rice and lentils, was the star of the show at our house, along with the various accompaniments of pickles, radishes and spring onions.

Friday was the big day when we would have meat or chicken and on most Fridays, we had maklouba. Mothers would wash the chicken or meat well with water and rub with lemon before sautéing them with chopped onions. They would line the bottom of the large pot with slices of aubergines and tomatoes, and later, the dish was modernised and included cauliflower and potatoes. Then came a layer of rice, followed by the meat or chicken, and the final later of rice. The pot is left to simmer and cook in its own time.

I did not know that maklouba was a dish that originated in the holy city of Jerusalem until I saw Palestinians women flipping over large pots of maklouba onto large dishes and serving them to the Palestinian male and female activists stationed at Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it. They did so before the eyes of the occupation forces who were astonished at the Palestinian women’s actions, wondering how maklouba was related to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

I researched and found that name maklouba was given to the dish by Saladin and was known as the “dish of victory” when he conquered Jerusalem in 1187. Before then, it was called “Baitenjaniyeh” which is derived from the Arabic word “baitenjan” meaning aubergine, because the main ingredient was aubergine.

It was called maklouba, meaning inverted in Arabic, because the chicken or meat and vegetables are put on the bottom of the pot and then it was inverted onto a large platter before serving, resulting in the rice being at the bottom and the meat and vegetables on the top.

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Maklouba went from being a staple dish in the homes of Jerusalemites to being the food of the Palestinian activists defending Al-Aqsa since 2015 during the month of Ramadan. This was an initiative started by a Jerusalemite activist, Hanadi Halawani, who invited activists banned from the mosque and her relatives to have maklouba at the Chain Gate or Bab Al-Silsila. By doing so she defied and challenged the Israeli occupation forces who banned her from Al-Aqsa Mosque that year.

In Jerusalem, maklouba is known as the “victory dish” as many Palestinian families, especially those who live in the neighbourhoods of the Old City, began serving food and juice to the activists stations around the Al-Aqsa Mosque gates in protest of the electronic gates, metal barriers and police cameras placed at the mosque’s gates after the three Mohammads from the Jabareen family in Umm Al-Fahm: Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed Jabareen, 29, Mohammed Hamed Abd Al-Latif Jabareen, 19, and Mohammed Ahmed Mafdal Jabareen, also 19, carried out a brave attack in Al-Aqsa courtyard, killing two Israeli soldiers.

After the occupation forces backed down from its decision to install electronic gates, activists from Jerusalem decided on the Sunday following the end of their sit-ins and their declaration of victory over the occupation, to organise the longest line of children circling the courtyards and chanting “We will protect Al-Aqsa with our souls and our blood”. They also served Jerusalemite maklouba. The occupation was surprised at the participation of over 50,000 Jerusalemites in the festivities.

Al-Aqsa’s courtyard witnessed many festivities and events where maklouba was at the centre. Such events include serving the dish during Ramadan in June 2017 and the following August. The event was known as “Maklouba at Al-Aqsa”.

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Another famous event was the one that followed the decision of US President Donald Trump to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, where the Jerusalemite families prepared maklouba every Sunday and joined the activists stationed in the Mosque courtyard in protest of Trump’s decision and shared the meal.

How would the Zionist invaders from Poland, Germany, France, Britain, Ethiopia and many other countries around the world understand the significance of serving Saladin’s dish in the Al-Aqsa Mosque’s courtyards by the great great grandchildren of Saladin and his army who liberated Al-Aqsa 800 years ago? The Jerusalemites did not only inherit the culture, but also the determination to liberate Al-Aqsa.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 17 May 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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