Held under the auspices of the Ministries of Tourism and Antiquities and organized by The Rozana Association, the Maftoul Festival is both a celebration of one of Palestine’s most widely known foods – maftoul or couscous – and a competition among the villages of the West Bank. The competitive entries are judged on the basis of several criteria including taste, dish presentation, and preparation. The judges are chefs from the Palestinian Chefs Association and, unlike many such groups in other parts of the world, include at least one woman chef. Indeed, the focus of this Festival is on women as it allows women of rural villages, for the first time, to exhibit their culinary skills, based on centuries-old recipes, for professional scrutiny and approval.
For the dinner guests who came to the celebration perhaps the best part is “consuming the competition”. Winner or not, each of the entrants to the competition is always delicious and enjoyed immensely. The evening celebrates not only Palestinian cuisine but other entertainments. Singers sing traditional songs and play their instruments, bagpipers march, and the villagers exhibit their handicrafts.
The Rozana Association organizes these contests as part of a larger process which seeks to reconcile Palestinians with their broken history, to foster sustainable rural development and to provide a platform for Palestinians, especially women, to express their unique Palestinian cultural identities. Rather than setting one village against another, the competitions strengthen the bonds which all Palestinians feel to their village and thence to an identifiable Palestinian culture as they attempt to counter the Israeli policy of dispersing their peoples.
Key to Rozana’s success in promoting such events is its partnering with numerous organizations which have supported these competitions and which have a history of providing generous assistance to Rozana in the past. Their help is gratefully acknowledged: the Municipality of Birzeit, The Birzeit Women’s Charitable Society, The Palestinian Chefs Association, Club Birzeit, Heritage House, the Palestinian Circus School, and the Orthodox Scouts of Birzeit.