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Mornings in Palestine

By Eva Bartlett

December 16, 2011

I’ve been waking up by 7 or earlier lately, mostly because I’ve had a number of early morning appointments in Gaza City but also because if I wake before the power cuts I can charge the laptop whose battery, like all my laptops, is almost useless.

Most mornings are quiet, just bird calls, rooster crows, and footsteps of children leaving for the 7 am school start (they go early since 85% of schools in Gaza run on double shifts, for want of space for the students since more schools need to be built and those damaged or destroyed in Israel’s 2008-2009 war on Gaza need to be repaired or re-built).

Often, Emad’s father is already awake and fiddling with the series of pumps (and generators if the power is already out) that bring town water to the various tanks that supply the 50-some people in this home.

And on any given day the aggravating buzz of Israeli drones or hum (or rush, depending on whether they low-fly) of Israeli warplanes is the elevator music background that all of us wish would just end already.

Today, Friday, the kids sleep in but most women rise early to get to Friday markets and stock up on the week’s produce.  For many it is a meagre shopping trip, bringing back essentials like onions, garlic, potatoes and tomatoes.  For those with more means, the bundles include hot peppers, plump and peppery radishes, cucumbers, eggplants and lemons.  Excesses, luxury amidst the 80% food aid dependency and consequent high rates of malnutrition (An estimated 75 % of Gaza’s children are malnourished and 30 % are stunted in growth. Food aid= flour, sugar, vegetable oil, rice) might include avacados when in season, eggs, carrots, sweet peppers, lettuce (80% of Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on food-aid and live on less than $2 a day. [Prior to 2002, only 10 % of refugees were dependent on UN aid]).

In 2007, in the south Hebron Hills region of the occupied West Bank I lived with displaced families sheltering in tents made from scraps of cloth, plastic and tin.  Their diet was extremely simple and, were they not continually attacked by Israeli occupying soldiers and illegal Jewish colonists, would have been a well-rounded, nearly self-sufficient diet including milk, yogurt and cheeses made from their sheep and goats milk, olives and olive oil from their trees, cucumbers, tomatoes and cactus fruit when in season, and taboon bread, the sourdoughy, stone-baked bread that compliments za’atar or merrimea tea so well.

     

Every few mornings or so, women in Palestine make large batches of bread, hobbez as it is known here (pitta as it is known elsewhere).  In farming areas where farmers have grown and ground their own wheat, the bread is dark brown and dense, with a nutty flavour.

But most families get bleached white flour from the UN, and the pale doughy bread reflects this.  Like baguettes when steaming hot the bread is tasty but sadly nutritionally deficient. As many people don’t have ovens (or if they do, they might not have cooking gas), hobbez is cooked in outdoor taboon (which can be as lovely as a domed mud-brick oven or as ingenious as a metal barrel fitted with a sliding drawer, wood-fed fire stove) …

            

…or an electric hotplate. This is Emad’s mother’s choice cooker, which is one reason why baking batches of hobbez in one bout is more practical (do it while there’s electricity).

    

The excess bread is frozen and later thawed and toasted over a low flame.  In Nablus, nearby villages, and Azzoun I saw good reason aside from the practicality of making large amounts of bread at one time: when a lock-down ("curfew") is imposed by the Israeli occupying army (meaning no one except the Israeli occupying army is allowed on the streets, not students, not the employed, not even medical workers), those with hobbez in the fridge fare better through lock-downs which sometimes last for days, even weeks, on end.

Like olives, bread has much meaning here, allowing families to survive through the regular invasions, or through the wars Israel wages on Gaza, but also being the main component of most meals, dipped in Palestine’s luscious olive oil, spooned into molocchriya (the tasty green soup favoured here), stuffed with dried za’atar for kids’ lunches, and whose aroma warms the home like any house where bread is baking. If only the flour used was flour ground by Palestine’s farmers as was decades ago, and the olive oil from the thousands of ancient olive trees razed over the years by the Israeli occupying army.



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