While hundreds of demonstrators shouted slogans on Dec. 11 against US President Donald Trump in front of the Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to Al-Aqsa, Khadija Khweis and her friend Hanadi al-Halawani were flipping pots of maqluba to serve to the protesters. In the last 12 months, this traditional food, also called the “dish of victory,” has become a part of the Palestinian protests.
Every Sunday throughout December, when people of Jerusalem held demonstrations to protest Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, they would bring large pots of maqluba, which literally means “upside down” in Arabic, and eat it under the eyes of the Israeli police. The flipping of the pots as the cooks shouted “Allahu Akbar” became a ritual, and the dish also came to be called by both the Palestinians and the Israelis as the “dish of spite.”
Halawani told Al-Monitor, “During the sit-in against Trump’s decision at the Damascus Gate, I made sure to serve maqluba, a popular Palestinian national dish, to the young protesters as a way to underline that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, with all its people, food and culture. People are now keen to have maqluba every week with their families in Al-Aqsa’s squares as a kind of tradition and custom to guard the mosque.”
Maqluba is very popular among Palestinian housewives, as it is an easy way to cook a complete meal with meat, rice and vegetables. Meat is placed at the bottom of a pot. Then a layer of vegetables, often diced eggplant, for which the dish is also called “bazenjaniyah,” “bazenjan” being Arabic for eggplant. The final layer is rice perfumed with spices. All of this is cooked on a stove. Before serving, the pot is flipped over so that the rice is at the bottom. It is served with yoghurt or a salad on the side. On the Palestinian coast, fish is used instead of chicken or red meat, and onions replace eggplant. There, the dish is called fish maqluba or sayadiyah.
According to popular accounts, when Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, conquered Jerusalem in 1187, Jerusalemites served the dish to him and his soldiers. In the local stories, it was Saladin who renamed what was then called bazenjaniyah as maqluba.
The idea to serve maqluba at Al-Aqsa first came to Halawani during the holy month of Ramadan in 2015, when the Israeli police expelled her from the mosque and banned her along with several other women from entering the mosque for six months. Halawani is one of the Mourabitoun, the self-appointed guardians of Al-Aqsa, and used to work there as a Quran teacher.
Halawani told Al-Monitor that during Ramadan in 2017, she prepared maqluba in addition to stuffed grape leaves and zucchinis and invited her friends from the expelled Mourabitoun, her relatives and children to eat suhur, the pre-dawn meal, in front of Bab al-Silsila, another of Al-Aqsa's gates, under the watchful eye of the Israeli police.
In 2017, there were many such gatherings organized by activists on social media. Most of the events took place during Ramadan in June, when Halawani and her friend Khweis, also a Mourabitoun, invited Jerusalemites over social media to join them for suhur in Al-Aqsa’s squares.
Last August, after the “Battle of the Gates,” when Israel closed the entrance to Al-Aqsa and installed metal detectors after three Palestinians killed two Israeli police officers (near the Lion's Gate), just outside the mosque, hundreds of Jerusalemites came to the mosque for a major event called “Maqluba in Al-Aqsa.”
The “maqluba events” were not welcomed by the Israeli forces. The Israeli police broke into Halawani’s house in Jerusalem and arrested her on Sept. 17, a few days after she posted the event on social networking sites, inviting people to eat together in front of Al-Aqsa on Sept. 21, which marked the Muslim New Year.
On Nov. 16, the Israeli police barred both Halawani and Khweis from entering Al-Aqsa for six months.
Halawani said, “When I was interrogated, Israeli police officers asked me what the goal was behind the Facebook invitation to gather and eat maqluba in Al-Aqsa. They were upset, as I do not fight with weapons but with new creative ideas that shook the occupying Israeli forces. They were indeed shocked that a dish could bring so many people together and encourage them to gather at the Damascus Gate.”
She went on, “The true maqluba is not made with rice, chicken and vegetables but with steadfastness, persistence and perseverance and with shouts and cheers when flipped upside down.”
Khweis told Al-Monitor, “The goal behind eating maqluba in Al-Aqsa is to mobilize and gather Palestinians there, even if just to eat or to have children play. This is our response to Israel’s policies on Al-Aqsa and the attempts to remove us from it.”
She added, “During our interrogation … they presented pictures of us that were taken while we were flipping the pots and distributing plates to the people who were shouting and chanting.”
Eating maqluba seems set to remain a prominent feature of the sit-ins in Jerusalem and protests elsewhere, as it not only brings Palestinians together but serves as a symbol of their heritage and culture. The trend has spread to Jordanians as well, and they also flipped pots in front of the US Embassy in Amman during the protests there against Trump’s decision.