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June 10, 2010

Sweet treat gets sticky for Washington Post

Halva, that sticky, sesame paste and honey concoction known from India to the Balkans, is a “Palestinian sweet” according to a Washington Post news brief, “Diver toll reaches 6; Gaza blockade eased,” (June 9). The item, by Post Jerusalem bureau chief Janine Zacharia and primarily about Israel’s shooting of scuba-diving terrorist suspects, referred to “the Palestinian sweet halva” as an product recently allowed into the Gaza Strip. While halva certainly is eaten by Palestinian Arabs, it is also common in general Arab, Jewish, Indian, African, and European cultures.

Halva’s origin is somewhat murky. However, many agree that the term dates to seventh century Arabic. Al Halwa, meaning sweet confection, was used to describe a popular date paste. Once halva spread through the Near and Far East, semolina, which is made from wheat, became a main ingredient and sesame was introduced as well. This helped popularize the product internationally. Today halva has become a cultural-cuisine item for many Middle Eastern, African, Asian, and European countries and is eaten all over the world.

Though it is hard to pinpoint where the halva eaten today originated, it clearly existed hundreds of years before the 20th century emergence of Palestinian Arabs as a national group. The Post describing halva as a “Palestinian sweet,” is a small but revealing instance of the newspaper’s tendency to filter the Middle East, from candy to conflict, through the Palestinian perspective. -- Traci Siegel, research intern

Posted by ER at June 10, 2010 02:24 PM

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