The surefire way to any Israeli heart.
‘You cannot take that on the plane.’ the office at the Israeli security counter told me. I looked down pathetically at the plastic tub of chickpea paste and accompanying pita bread and made a homeless puppy face.
‘But it’s hummus.’ I pleaded. He hesitated – in his eyes I could see the conflict between the Israeli in him and his commitment to duty.
‘Look, wait here, I’ll make a call.’ he said and pulled out his cell phone to check with his chief.
As disparaging as Israelis tend to be about the Arabs, and as much as a culture they pretend not to live in the Middle East, when it comes to food Arabic cuisine has a treasured place in every Israeli heart. Falafel joints are on every corner, no Israeli kitchen is without an emergency pot of tahini in the cupboard and whatever you think you might have eaten that bears the name, you haven’t eaten hummus unti you’ve been to Palestine.
A moment later he was back.
‘You can’t take it on the plane in the tub because it looks like a gel. But you can get a plastic knife from the cafeteria over there and put it in your pitta breads.’
I jumped at the suggestion and spent the next 20 minutes sat on the security desk – a place where travelers’ luggage was minutely inspected for explosives while the officers fired off interminable, intimidating questions – making sandwiches to eat on the plane.
‘It’s Abu Hassan hummus!’ one of the officers cried in Hebrew.
‘How did he know where to get the best? He’s just a tourist.’
‘Oh, man, he’s making me hungry.’
I pretended not to understand otherwise they would have wanted to know how I knew Hebrew and how much time I’d spent in Israel on previous visits. I filled up the pittas as well as I could but the security officer wasn’t satisfied.
‘You left some in the pot – you shouldn’t waste it.’
He reluctantly had to refuse my offer to share it and so, much to the searing envy of the interrogators behind the desk, I sat there licking the pot clean.
Palestinians and Israelis don’t agree on much. Whether Ishmael or Isaac was the heir of Abraham, whether the Israelis massacred and intimidated thousands of Arabs off their land in the early days of the state, whether Jerusalem is the holy city of the Jews or the Muslims – but as I sat in the airport licking my fingers, it seemed to me that there might still be hope. Perhaps one day, the passion for hummus, shared by both sides in the conflict, might become a religion in its own right. Instead of hails of bullets and stones, the air might fill with celebratory chick peas and the only remaining dispute concerning whether the skins should be taken off before they get mashed.
‘But I still have to search you.’ the officer told me, cutting short my dream of Hummus for peace. I nodded but turned around before we reached the interrogation room and looked sternly at the other guards.
‘I counted them – there better be 5 sandwiches left when I get back.’