An Israeli and a Palestinian walk into a hummus joint - this is not the beginning of a joke, but a new culinary venture that has taken The Hague by storm.
"I'm crying because the smell here reminds me of the hummus in Damascus," said a Syrian refugee from his table at Love & Peas, the hummus restaurant opened by two friends - Israeli Yuval Gal, 36, and his partner, Muawiyya Shahadeh, 42, a Palestinian.
The restaurant quickly became a hit, and was featured on several food TV shows. Under the motto "food brings people together," the two serve hummus with fava beans, Meshawshe, majadara, chopped Arab salad, babaganush, tabbouleh, falafel and more.
The restaurant not only breaks the political stereotype of the impossibility of harmony between Israelis and Palestinians, but also the religious stereotype. "Europe is used to thinking of the Jew as a businessman and the Arab as a kitchen worker," said Gal. "But here it's the opposite. I'm the cook, who has spent years working in restaurants and hummus joints. Muawi is the businessman."
He and Muawiyyah met three years ago at a bar in The Hague. "We started to talk a little about politics and concluded that we agree," said Muawiyyah."We asked what was missing in The Hague and we both came to the conclusion that it was hummus. Within an hour the idea matured and we then worked to get the financing for the restaurant, to get a place and licenses from the municipality."
Three months ago, they were able to realize their dream. The restaurant made a name for itself and has already been dubbed in the local press as "the best hummus in The Hague."
Gal added, "Now they don't laugh at us, it really is not a gimmick. I understand that for outsiders it looks amazing but for me he is my best friend in the world, it was quite natural to open a restaurant with him. He introduced me to the Dutch mentality."
Can their partnership serve as a model for cooperation between the two nations? Gal expressed a reserved amount of hope. "If only! In the three months since the restaurant has been open, peace has not broken out. But Israelis and Arabs have sat at adjoining tables here. People come to dine with differing views on our country and we manage to open people's minds. I think the hummus is real good but there is no doubt that the fact that an Israeli and a Palestinian run the place is another reason for the enthusiasm over it."
The restaurant attracts Muslim diners who are desperate for good hummus along with Christians and Jews and even Hindus who love the vegetarian dishes.
"We decided not to put flags in the restaurant. We try to avoid conflicts. This place was not opened for politics, despite the fact that it often comes precisely from customers," said Gal. "There are many questions about politics and the Dutch really like it. We answer the questions honestly and do not hide our views."
He recounted how settlers visiting the city were looking for parve food. "I was their only option for lunch and they were very excited about my partner being Palestinian. There is political talk here, but no fights. For many, the Middle East is known as a war zone, I hope the restaurant gives the people a different, more positive image."
During Ramadan, Muawiyyah and Gal made sure to provide fast-breaking meals. "We had many Syrian refugees who came to eat good hummus. Here we feel the immigrants," Gal attested.
Haim Divon, Israel's ambassador to the Netherlands, came to the restaurant, but had to wait in line for one hour before being able to enjoy a plate of hummus. He left satisfied, saying, "My wife Linda discovered the place on a social network site. The idea of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation got around and became the talk of the day here because everyone likes this new venture. It's not a coincidence that the restaurant was packed."
The ambassador took the opportunity to tour the neighborhood, and even entered a shop which was flying both the Israeli and Palestinian flags.
"Shopkeeper Abdul Kabir Magana said he decided to fly both flags following the opening of the restaurant. Initially there were some who abused the Israeli flag but shortly thereafter returned to him to apologize," Divon said. "Fortunately for the owners of Abu Gosh, this place is a four-and-a-half hour flight away… otherwise they would have a lot to be worried about."
Divon added, "It's truly hard to believe we're sitting in a restaurant in The Hague. The hummus is really tasty. It reminds one a bit of Israeli and a bit of Palestinian hummus. Something in the combination created a sense of a special hummus that I hadn't known before."
He recommended "to urgently export to Israel the olive oil that seasoned the dishes. I have never tasted something like this before. Bottom line - this is not just a culinary experience but one of an atmosphere of friendship, openness and cooperation. Maybe from the Hague, capital of world peace, Israeli-Palestinian hummus will pave the way for a reconciliation of hearts."