Transcript: Eating and Living in Gaza

Released on December 12, 2020


Video, Audio and Text Transcript

Transcript of the video:

Helena Cobban (00:00):

Hi everybody. I'm Helena Cobban, the president of Just World Educational, a feisty small nonprofit that works to build the informed public that's needed if we want to build a more just and sustainable world. Welcome to today's webinar, “Eating and Living in Gaza”. Part of our continuing project, “Beyond Survival: Toward Food Sovereignty in Palestine and Worldwide” today, we are thrilled to be releasing three short videos that we have had made by our friends in the Gaza city-based production company, Al-Ain Media, which allows three workers in key sectors of Gaza's food production system to introduce you to their lives, their hopes, and the challenges they face in their work. This webinar is presented jointly with the Museum of the Palestinian People, which is located not far from where I live in Washington, DC in the traditional lands of the Nacotchtanks and the Piscataways whose lives and heritage we honor today.

This project as a whole is being led by my longtime colleagues, Maggie Schmitt, and Laila El-Haddad, the authors of the groundbreaking Gaza Kitchen cookbook. As the publisher of this volume, I apologize that it has been out of print for some months now, but it is still available in eBook formats and the third print edition, which has some great new material, will be coming out next spring. Today's webinar will be hosted by fearless rights activists, Nora Barrows-Friedman, who produces the podcast and other great content for Electronic Intifada and whom I am honored to count as a colleague on the board of Just World Ed and in the conversation that follows the airing of the three short films, Laila and Maggie will be joined by Muhammad Abujayyab, a Palestinian American farmer and farming activist, who also has a lot of rich wisdom to share.

The video of the whole of today's webinar and the three short videos from Gaza that are at its core will all be available very soon at the online resource center, we have started creating on our website, which you can access via this short link Nora will be introducing all the panelists properly in just a minute, but I want to remind you that my colleague Amelle will be using the webinars chatbox to share the panelists for resumes and some useful background info as we go along also links to a couple of recipes. So it's probably a good idea. If you keep your chat box open and please do use the chat box to any questions you want the panelists to address. So now without further ado, I shall formally hand over to Nora Barrows-Friedman to introduce and lead today's exciting program. Nora, take it away.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:03):

Thanks, Helena. I am really excited about today's webinar. I've been friends with Laila for, I don't know how long, 15 years now, and have treasured, you know, her work as a food justice activist, as someone who advocates for the rights of Palestinians in Palestine and in the diaspora. The wonderful cookbook that Helena mentioned The Gaza Kitchen, which she and Maggie worked on for so long, it has a life of its own. Now. it really is like an institutional book at this moment. I am just so pleased to, you know, to see Laila and Maggie and my new comrade and friend Mohammad. And I think today's, webinar's going to be absolutely spectacular. So Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian American journalist food justice advocate and public speaker. She's the author of a number of books and co-author of The Gaza Kitchen, a Palestinian culinary journey through her work as a writer, storyteller and culinary documentarian, she provides much needed insight into the Palestinian experience born in Kuwait to Gaza, Palestinian parents, Laila currently lives with her family in Maryland. Hi, Laila, thanks so much for being here.

Laila El-Haddad (00:04):

It's so great to be with you virtually.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:05):

And we also have Maggie Schmitt. Maggie, as I mentioned as the co-author with Laila of The Gaza Kitchen. Maggie is a writer, researcher, translator, educator, and social activist. She's the co-author of the award-winning documentary cookbook, The Gaza Kitchen: a Palestinian Culinary Journey. And as Helena mentioned, an expanded third edition of the Gaza kitchen will come out in spring of 2021. Maggie works in various media writing video, participatory research and recording the daily practices of ordinary people as a way to understand political and social realities in the Mediterranean region. Her recent work is centered on farm practices and agro food systems, and she lives with her family in rural Spain, lucky. Maggie, thanks so much for being here.

Maggie Schmitt:

It's a pleasure to be here.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:06):

I'm really looking forward to this conversation. And finally, we have Mohammed Abujayyab. He is a Palestinian American farmer and activist who grew up in Gaza's Mughazi refugee camp and in 2015 founded "Om Suleiman's farm and CSA" in Bil'in in the West Bank. Mohammad, it's so great to have you with us as well.

Mohammed Abujayyab:

It's good to be here looking forward to the conversation as well.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:07):

Excellent. so I think we're going to kind of jump right into our first little film it's about five and a half minutes. It's about Intisar who's a farmer in Gaza. And it really, you know, when I watched it, it brought up just kind of the, the overall like conglomeration of restrictions that Gaza faces that farmers face under occupation, under siege continued loss of land, especially around the boundary areas and the economic restrictions on agricultural workers. But how through all of these factors how Gaza farmers remain tenacious and you know, and, and, and very, still committed to agricultural life production and culture. So, let's go to the video about Intisar.

Intisar al-Najjar (00:08):

I am Intisar Ayesh Juma al-Najjar, a citizen from Jabalia city. I'm 52 years old, and the mother of 11 children. This land is an inheritance from my father. I grew up helping my father tend this land, he was a farmer and he taught me everything. A long time ago, I used to raise sheep, but I lost them during the war. I could not afford to replace them. Recently, kind people helped me acquire these sheep. They're still very young and I am raising them. It will take at least two years before I can reap the benefits of raising them.

I taught my husband and my children how to farm. We used to have farm hands, but now there are none. I can't afford them as the profits of the farm are barely sufficient for our needs. There are some wells in the area, but not nearby. So, I use 110-diameter hose, the hourly cost of getting water is $15. However, the productivity of the land is declining. As I need four hours a day to water the crops, which costs $60, I water my crops one day a week. And this definitely affects the productivity of the land. And because I don't irrigate the land enough, the harvest is worse than it should be. If there were electricity, I could run the well.

I need the electricity as the sheep need lightening. And I also need the electricity because my farm is located in the border area. If I had electricity here, I would live here. I used to grow cantaloupe and watermelon, its seeds costs are high, but the profits are excellent. But at the present time, there is a deterioration in purchasing power, as there is no exporting abroad, in addition to the herbicides that the Israeli army sprays on the border and surrounded lands. Because of this, I had to change the types of crops I grow to cheaper ones.

Unfortunately, the situation is bad because I don't own a well and the market demand has declined. When I harvest the fruits, I take the fruits on the horse and go to the market to sell them wholesale to some merchants. Ten years ago, we will take taking cultivation courses. The ministry of agriculture gave us training on farming practices and the types of pesticides and fertilizers to use. I benefited greatly from them. After the 2008 war, the courses ended. Some organizations have given me financial aid to plant this land, because I was unable to afford this. I hoped to get the private water well that works well on electricity or solar energy, so I can get rid of the increased costs and take more care of my land and plant more crops.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:13):

All right. So that's the first video and I want to apologize for the shaky quality. I'm not sure why that happened. But we will have the unshakeable, very smooth quality video up on the website after the webinar. So let's see. The next one we have is about Abdel Munim Ahmed, he's an organic farmer and co-founder founder of the Gaza Safe Agriculture Society. And this video I think segues nicely from the last one, it documents the community response to these conditions both economically, obviously, and ecologically because you know, the, the, the amount of land has shrunk because of, of the Israeli occupation. And also, the amount of you know, pollution that Israel has strewn about on Gaza farmland. So this video kind of talks about the rise of community organized organic farming. And I think it's, it's also fascinating. So, let's, let's go to that.:

Abdel Munim Ahmed (00:14):

My name is Abdel Munim Mohammed Ahmed. I'm 61 years old. I'm an agricultural engineer. I'm married, and I have five daughters and two sons. Gaza, safe agriculture society is a group of agronomists. There are primarily two of us who specialize in organic farming. We gathered a number of interested engineers and establish the society. We aim to promote a sustainable and functional model that applies the principles of organic farm.

Previously, we used to hold lectures, seminars, workshops, and meetings with farmers in order to convince them to adopt this style of farming. The responses were very weak and everyone stated that the idea was very beautiful, but difficult to implement. Despite this, we decided to start implementing the idea in a practical way, until we could find a realistic and functional model that applied the principles of organic farming, planted all kinds of vegetables in order to prove how farmers all kinds of vegetables can be grown in a safe, all organic way. We have grown all types of crops and vegetables.

There was a center in the South in the Khan Yunis region that was called the Palestinian Center for Biodynamic Agriculture. It also carried out the same experiments and try to do experiments to popularize the idea, but it remained limited. Traditional farming or chemical farming is a heavy loss, despite the abundant profit that appears in the form of cash returns, but what's the loss, the rise in poor health in the community, the spread of new diseases, the destruction of human health, the destruction of the environment and the loss of many elements of the biological diversity, such as birds and animals that existed, which promote a balanced and integrated ecosystem of any defect inflicted on the ecosystem, leads to significant deterioration in quality of life.

The vision of chemical agriculture is a short term one, but in the long term it leads to soil degradation. It stresses the land while the exact opposite organic agriculture works to build and improve the quality of the land and works to sustain it for a long time. Chemical agriculture depletes the land and after a while the land becomes unfit for agriculture. Having electricity at the farm greatly facilitates the irrigation process. The products are sold inside the farm, as there is a weighing scale at our office and everything we need. We are marketing the idea, not the product. When we started the project back in 2000, the purchasing power was creator. Now we are in 2020 and after 20 years, awareness has risen, but purchasing power is lower, which means that the issue has been resolved.

The spread of COVID-19 has led to restrictions on movement, and there are a large number of customers will not come to the farm. However, we are ready to deliver the products to their homes, but crops that cannot be stored for long enough present a problem, and they must be sold quickly after harvesting. Whereas we have no problems with crops that can be stored for a week or so as well. As for our foundation, Gaza Safe Agriculture Society, I constantly dream that we could have a private piece of land so that we can be more resilient and able to spread the idea more effectively. Hopefully farmers will adopt this approach. Hopefully farmers will adopt this approach of farming and won't be afraid to lose their crops or money. I hope that concerned entities that can support the farmers will do so, so that they are not alone.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:19):

All right. So we do have a third video, but, but we'll, we'll show that a little later on down the line. Because I think it's important to have a discussion with her wonderful panelists about you know, the, kind of the, the, the general conditions in Gaza right now for farmers for agricultural workers for, you know, the, the you know, just how, how people are being forced to change due to their restricted conditions. So, let's talk a little bit about what Gaza looks like now under these conditions, and, you know, not just with 13 years of Israeli siege and continued loss of land, but now also with the COVID-19 pandemic and you know, the economic and societal impact not to mention, you know, the health sector which is deliberately unprepared to take on this kind of crisis. So, let's, let's go, yeah, maybe Mohammad, if you want to talk first about you know, what, what Gaza is like right now and, and kind of tease these topics out a little bit for our audience.

Mohammed Abujayyab (00:20):

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much. So many things come to mind when watching these videos and so on, like culturally the annual seeds, the land access, and so on, but I'm hoping throughout this conversation, we can touch on, on, on many of these things. But just, I feel like some, some definitions and context are due in a way just in the beginning, just to make to make things a little bit clearer because they might, I might use the word fellahin a lot in a conversation to refer to ourselves in a way the peasant class that that lives in as a and participates in agriculture sometimes, sometimes not actually most, most of the folks that are in Gaza that are that come from traditional farming background. They actually don't farm because they live in refugee camps.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:21):

You’re cutting out a little, a little bit. If you could just. Yeah. Okay. So yeah, go ahead.

Mohammed Abujayyab (00:21):

Sorry about that. So that word in Arabic is based on as, as some people might know, Arabic is more of a verb-based language and the word fellah is based in a verb. And actually, that signifies a, to a good extent, the act of becoming that is an annual act of work that a farmer puts in into the land every year. And that is basically part of the culture and so on. And even the meanings of the word actually relate to long-term success of connotations and meanings for us.

So, I feel framing the conversation through using these words is essentially very important. And yeah, I have mentioned the fact as well. I, I grew up in refugee camp in the middle area, Mughazi refugee camp and yeah, our folks have been farmers and fellahin for thousands of years. And unfortunately, they actually make the biggest or the biggest chunk of folks that that have that cultural heritage, not only as in something that they social and economical, they engage in, but as well there, the extent, the cultural extent that is religious, that is cultural in, in so many ways. So when I see him decide to see other folks as well, like when and these videos and I've done my name, it really touches on the idea of land access.

And, and how much of the land for farmers is a periphery sort of land that that it's the same actually in, in the West Bank. And in many ways like in Om Sleiman Farm, the first thing that people notice once they step foot on it, is this humongous, ugly settlement across the wall from it. So it feels like most of the lands across Palestine that a lot of the farmers are working on and so on are in a way or another, a periphery that basically they have the first thing that were received within a couple of months of working on the farm and delay in once a stop work order. So it's as if it's deliberate that basically any sort of work would be interrupted and be basically sort of put in that red zone that we don't want you here.

And, and I, I get it, this is a, sort of a natural reaction of a settler colonial idea because geography here is paramount when it comes to colonialism. So being on the land is one of the foremost acts of resistance. So, but, but I feel like that transition as well, we're seeing emphasized and, and how he, she refers to a lot of the ideas and the learning that she does. And I mean, I find it at that the video as well, cuts to her spraying these you know, pesticides on and so on. And, and I feel it's very reminiscent. Like, I feel like if we want to step back and actually see that process for Palestinians farming, it seems like there's a lot of free engineering of Palestinian culture that happened through agriculture in a way.

And it's really reminiscent of the words of Hai Margaliot whose name is carried by a settlement in the North that sits in the lens of Hanayn village. And according to him, the solution to the Arab fellahin problem on the land was to take their land and teach their children. So in a way, that's what happened. Basically we like a lot of Palestinians were displaced from their lands and put in refugee camps. Like the one I grew up in and these scams or spaces pretty much a forced collective amnesia we're no longer in direct contact with these lands that provide the continuity for our social religious and economic practices. And basically all these practices were based on tending the land. Once you don't have access to them tending to that land, you don't have access to that continuum of culture backwards.

So instead the children of the displaced generations basically were allowed to work and in what became Israel largely in agriculture and construction. So for that reason, the predominant agricultural practices that happen to be in Gaza strip. And for that matter in other parts of Palestine, the West Bank are based on settler colonial ideas of land as a utility and agriculture as an extractive relationship to that land. But what we're seeing today is that pushed back, that people, and you see it in abdomen in the work that he's doing and becoming more slowly like a mainstream way of thinking about agriculture in our society. And what you see is basically it takes different formats, including Om Sleiman Farm that we started five years ago in Bil'in. We are reclaiming the way we are dealing with the land first, by defining it in terms of maybe technical terms, well know production practices like organic agriculture, like in the video of Abdel Munim, but other formats like agroecology permaculture, regenerative agriculture, et cetera.

But the younger generation that I feel like is basically leading a sort of a new way is realizing that it is not just about the techniques or the ecological model. It is about the social and economic as well. And this is why we arranged the Om Sleiman Farm as a community support agriculture and others are starting producer or consumer co-ops motivated by their ability to support a deep social resistance. So yeah, as you all know, like fighting back involves a fair amount of unlearning that framework of learning that we, we picked up and farming has become with time as well as space for praxis, like farmers are now not only picking up new ways that depart from that settler colonial framing and understanding of land, but realizing the inferior nature of, of that foreign understanding as society that seeks liberation through extractive agriculture cannot really see it through, you know, and it will not as well come through capitalist markets that want to see Palestinians basically ship their soil and water somewhere else. So I feel like this, this in, in, in short, what I my thoughts and reflections on this from the, you know, the very direct and probably from zooming out a little bit,

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:28):

Thank you so much. Laila, I wanted to direct the same question to you. I know that you were in Gaza not so long ago. Can you talk a little bit about how, you know, community farmers are you know, are, are struggling through these conditions and what the agricultural landscape looks like right now?

Laila El-Haddad (00:29):

Yeah, definitely. I was there exactly a year ago. It's hard to believe and, you know, in some ways very little has changed in other ways, a lot has changed. I talked a little bit about that in the last panel that we had just in terms of, you know Mohammed had talked about the sort of re-engineering of the, of the culture that in this case, the people's collective memory of, you know, traditional dishes is, is completely, I noticed, you know, the drastically the situation has just drastically changed, changed what, and how people are eating much more on a much more radical level than when, you know, Maggie and I were there 10 years ago. But yeah, beyond that, it's just worth mentioning for viewers who are not familiar, that, you know, the agricultural sector of Gaza has been directly and deliberately targeted over right over again by Israel and in the last series of invasions, half of the farmland and was either destroyed or damaged and, and it's worth mentioning that much of that farmland exists along that buffer zone.

The first film depicted where the first form was into source farm is located within that that buffer zone so called buffer zone and, you know, farmers like herself often farm at with you know, great risk and an extreme peril. Their farms are often cleared, you know, their trees are raised and they have to sort of replant them over and over again. So it's definitely no easy task. I think that kind of got lost in the in the film itself. We Maggie and I met several farmers that had had to relocate like once and twice and three times because their forms were destroyed. So there's just so many levels. I think that, that you know, if farming is a difficult enough pursuit anywhere right in the world but when you're talking about Gaza, I think I, the description for the panel talked about Gaza being hyper stressed or something.

I mean, there's just so many factors you know, involved, whether you're dealing with the constant unpredictability and predictability of, you know, whether or not the borders will be open, whether or not, if you are a farmer who happens to export certain products like strawberries or something else carnations which, you know, in and of itself is a problematic pursuit because of how water intensive they are and so forth. There's always this other certainty of, will I be allowed to export these strawberries or not right now is actually like prime strawberry going growing season and goes up. And then you're having to deal with, if I'm not, then, you know, you've lost all your profits for that year and so on and so forth. But anyway, so it's, it's definitely no easy task. And on top of that, you're dealing with a situation where with the water and, you know, just to explain what she meant again for, for viewers who are not familiar about the electricity situation, is that in order operate the wells, which are themselves, you know, few and far in between the situation in Gaza is a bit different than the West Bank and elsewhere.

But if you're lucky to have access to a well in the North of Gaza, Northern part of Gaza is where the water would be less saline, you know, and you would have good that's where most of the farming land is. But in the Southern, in the middle parts of Gaza, and Mohammed can correct me if I'm wrong, is the water tends to be much more saline, and there's more contamination from the, between the aquifer, Gaza is exists along this coastal aquifer. And so even if you are digging a well it's, you're probably going to end up having very salted water, but in order to operate that well in the first place, assuming you have one, you need a regular supply of electricity, which you are not going to get because you, you know, on and off Gaza has had since 2006 rotating power outages.

You know, that when I was there, I think it was every eight hours. It varies. Sometimes it's every 12 hours you're getting electricity. And so you have to kind of time that, you know, with your being able to pump the water, and sometimes it's much longer than that. So it's all, it's all very tricky. We're dealing with all these levels and layers. And then just, you know, briefly, I think when people say like, what's the situation in Gaza, it's very easy to go to Gaza and be very you know, taken over by development. You might see in the city or like new cafes that are popping up. And I always say, you really have to sort of scratch beneath the surface, read between the lines and, you know I think as an idea, and I put it at one point you know, look inside the soup to be able to understand the nuances, you know, of what's going on exactly.

Cause it's, there's much more than meets the eye, you know, with what you're seeing, basically the whole place is surviving on you know, on debt, everyone, you know, and again, people's access has become so limited to fresh produce, fresh protein that they're essentially now when I was there last year, only consuming animal protein and by way of either chicken or meat, et cetera if you're lucky, and this applies to about 80% of the population once a week and when I say animal protein, I mean, maybe like a chicken or chicken wings or something like that, maybe a very small amount and fish once a month, if that, and several families I spoke to once every six months, and now you have, when I say fish, it's not even local fish, it's actually like imported like Asian frozen fish which is just a whole different level.

It used to be, farmed fish would be the secondary. And then like local fish is really reserved for the either the, the wealthier families or restaurants and so forth. So that's where the situation when I was there you know, I can go on and on, but I want to be able to give Maggie some time to comment as well. I know there was some questions about why Abdel Munim’s farm on one hand seem to have access to electricity but on the other and Intisar’s didn't. And I think that's a really good question. Maybe Maggie can talk to that as well. And about the practicality of a model like Abdel Munim’s. I like what he said about I'm selling the idea, not, not the product. I thought that was interesting as well as his comments about the reversal from 20 years till now of you know I forget what he was talking about. He was talking about the reversal of like the, having to sell the idea versus something like that. But I don't know, Maggie, if you had any comments on those few things, I know you have a comment

Maggie Schmitt (00:36):

I'd like to connect in with what both Mohammed and Laila have commented. For me, the video of Intisar is like a perfect illustration of the tragedy that on, on so many different levels. We see her there. I mean, the struggle to survive as Laila said, like farming is a difficult enough enterprise to begin with much less, you know, in a buffer area and subject to uncertainty, aggressions, herbicide spraying, all of that other stuff. That's more sort of direct the direct vulnerability of Gaza and people in Gaza and agriculture, but then there's the whole other part that's much more perverse that has to do with total dependence, both on inputs and outputs, and also a dependence in terms of knowledge, like as, as humans pointed out, like we see her there spraying, and I think it's very relevant to look at her, her spraying, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides on her crops.

The fact of depending upon like, these are techniques that she will have learned from the ministry and from a series of NGOs that were training people in order to have them growing mostly cash crops for export. So, it's already, as Mohammed pointed out earlier, a rupture from a more sort of self-consumption model of, of the fellahin, more traditionally in order and a dependent sort of, and this is not unique to Palestine in any way. I mean, this is the Green Revolution. This has been a worldwide turn in agriculture towards a kind of industrial and chemical based kind of farming, but as always in and everything they get, because it is so tiny. And it's, it's like you can see the whole Tempest in, in this teacup because it is so small and because the consequences of these policies are so very, very clear in such a tiny and, and sort of hot house environment.

The results of this kind of chemical farming and Gaza means that people are totally dependent on all of these inputs that they require for this kind of farming in an environment where you can't rely on the borders to allow them in. So you're totally vulnerable and susceptible to the sort of ups and downs of, of border policies. And then in terms of the outputs that you're producing, as Laila already mentioned with the case of the strawberries, this is also true, a flower production, lots of other fruit productions. People have been trained over decades to produce these cash crops for export in an environment when you can't guarantee that there's any, I mean, that's cash crops for export or globally a problem for farming communities everywhere. And, and for the model of farming people are doing, but that on short more so in an environment where you're totally have no sovereignty or any decision-making capacity over, you know, whether those are going to ever be able to find a market.

So, it's tragic in terms of the, the kind of dependency it produces both in terms of inputs and in terms of outputs and the alienation, I think Mohammed pointed this out from more traditional ways of farming, because going back to what they love was, was pointing about water dependency. No, she's talking about needing electricity in order to pump water from a well, Gaza is radically over perforated. The fact that everyone is dry, like there's no way to regulate because of the lack of political sovereignty of the authorities. They can't regulate the drilling of wells. So Gaza has totally over perforated, which means if you draw out aquifers work this way, if you draw out any fresh water that's in there, the seepage from the sea comes in and fills in with sand and water, that then will kill plants rather than nourish them.

Israel is also overdrawing, notoriously and historically, from those same aquifers and is failing to provide Gaza with the water that has repeatedly been promised. And so Gazans have really no option, but to continue over perforating, but they themselves, and this came up again and again, when Laila and I were interviewing farmers there themselves are perfectly conscious of the fact that this is as we said in Spanish, like bread for today, hunger for tomorrow. No, you can, you can, you could draw these wells today, but you know, that you're draining this aquifer. That is the very fragile lifeline for, for the whole strip. So it's and she requires all that water in part, because again, her form of agriculture has been focused on this kind of chemical based what the name, I think tragically calls traditional agriculture traditional since the 1970s.

But that over drilling, there is a tradition of rain fed agriculture. There is a true tradition of collecting water runoff in pools and using it to like, there is a vast body of existing peasant knowledge about how to manage these issues that, that this population and these farmers could be drawing on, but per force by policies from various ministries, from various NGOs, they've learned this form of agriculture that makes them absolutely vulnerable to the capricious will of the Israeli authorities, basically. And so for me, it's sort of the summary of a tragedy of, of people alienated from their own knowledge that could make life sustainable for them. And instead putting themselves in a situation that is totally vulnerable. And, and self-destructive in some basic way, I mean to, to be out there spraying these chemicals, Gaza receives all of these chemicals that have been prohibited and other places, but because the borders, because what is available is what is available.

I mean, and now I'm not sure what the situation is, but some years ago, when the tunnel economy was in operation, people would buy cheap the pesticides that had been had been prohibited in other places, basically in Europe, because they were considered so noxious and they would be cheaply important. They would be brought in through the tunnel system and sold in Gaza. And people found themselves with no option but to buy and use these absolutely toxic deadly chemicals. And we can see the consequences of that among many other things in the rates of cancer and other illnesses and Gaza. So, so for me, and decide is a summary of a long and progressive tragedy. And then abdomen name represents, I wouldn't say the hope, but I would certainly say a hope, one of, one of the facets of, of hope but an interesting one and interesting and contradictory one. And I think Mohammed will have a lot to say about that because he is drawing on, I, he is drawing on, you know, working with rain, fed agriculture, working with water, collecting, working, trying to create a community around farming. But also many of his references or at least the ones he sites are by now, biodynamic farming, permaculture, the organic movement, all of these coming. And, you know, we met him back in 2010 and I know that his training was in permaculture at an Italian study center.

Like it’s interesting and a sort of continuation of the tragedy that this knowledge that he's drawing on to, to create a really hopeful model largely comes from outside and, and not from this sort of long legacy of really local knowledge about to make agriculture work on this land. So anyway, I think there's a lot of food for thought.

Laila El-Haddad (00:44):

Also, I'm just going to say one thing and I'll hand it to him, how much that knowledge, when you say the, the local knowledge. I mean, it was my observation and you probably noticed into of saying, you know, I taught my kids this, that a lot of that knowledge has been lost as a direct result. And, you know, I'm sure Mohammed can appreciate this of the years. You know and the thousands of Palestinians that have, you know, lost access to their farmland and have, you know either been raised in refugee camps or densely packed urban areas outside of the camps with little or limited access to farmland. I mean, we had met one woman, Um Sultan, we talk about in our book and she was also featured on the Anthony Bourdain episode about Gaza.

That was a very rare example of someone who had grown up in a refugee camp, but whose uncle, I believe had in the fifties, purchased a very inexpensive, small plot of land on Gaza's Eastern borders, and then taught her how to farm as a child. And then she took that knowledge and had passed it on to her kids. And, but again, this was a very rare example, but it stands out in my mind because, because it's so rare. And because when we continuously talk about the traditional it's worth mentioning that that often is just non-existent or people have lost access to it. And so the question then becomes going forward, how do you, you know, perpetuate that knowledge?

Mohammed Abujayyab (00:45):

Yeah, I actually, this was my experience growing up in a refugee camp. We grew up like amongst three villages in Gaza Strip, Zaweda…

Laila El-Haddad (00:46):

My dad has a small farm in a way that, by the way, I know, well, yeah,

Mohammed Abujayyab (00:47):

Imagine, imagine a kid that sees his grandma basically growing in every, in every bit of dirt that we have every patch of dirt that we could, that my grandma could grow in. That's how I actually picked first germs of doing basically growing arugula, growing these little crops that actually could do under the trees and so on. But like, as, as a kid growing refugee camp from all this tradition of fellahin, I was absolutely foreign to the places that we’re farming and the basically where villagers lived, because as well, that like land access is a huge problem. And I don't know if a webinar would be enough to actually cover, not only of course for us in like perennial land access has been a problem for a long time for peasants in general, and basically, but for refugees in refugee camps where they actually were displaced from a culture tradition that was part of their lives for thousands of years to come and be completely foreign to that.

It's very it's problematic internally, but a lot of these internal interactions in society are usually glossed over when we're talking about, you know, the other end of it. But it really like, I feel like Maggie, and when you folks like discuss the water access issue and so on and said, it's a really big problem, but like all these traditions that we're picking up and basically using like permaculture and other things that we have they, they became more important in our community or the small community of farmers. And like in response of like this, the series of our agriculture is no longer good because Israel has come with this good agriculture that produces a lot, but it's extractive agriculture obviously. And then we want to produce like these terms of production, even Abdel Munim. You look at the video and he's growing cucumbers in these greenhouses with water, actually a very long tradition and a very important crop that Gazans have grown for a very long time is cucumbers on rain fed water, cucumbers, and all cucurbits, basically like watermelon and melons that and Intisar was talking about where cash crop that was grown on rain water, the amazing cash crops are usually attacked and I understand why Maggie, because if you're a farmer that cannot grow your own food, if basically we saw we also, these news articles that talk about not letting pasta go into Gaza that are not letting cooking oil go into Gaza, and you can't grow all of these things.

And then you grow strawberries to send out to the Netherlands. That sounds very problematic. And that becomes like the paradigm that is acceptable, but growing watermelons as a cash crop was part of our culture for a long time. And they actually grew it on rain fed like basically was baali agricultural rain fed agriculture is usually an heirloom, the heirloom practice that we call it baali in reference to the Baal god that was pre-monotheism. And that was the rain God in Palestine. So actually, all the crops that I've seen in this video, the okra and the melons and the watermelons that Intisar was talking about.

And the what I've seen as cucumber is a grown by Abdel Munim and they were all baal. The crops that we grew, and that was the predominant actually some people are asking about even the makeup and nutrition makeup of the food becomes extremely different, very different the chemicals that are in the crops become extremely different. Like even the protein content of the wheat, the heirloom wheat that we use to plan using the rain fed agriculture and baali agriculture was a lot higher, like that touches the 15, 16% markers while that was our source of protein. And it's astonishing to me growing up, even in other strip in the nineties, we used to get anchovies and sardines, basically at least three times a week. And just seeing people not having, and that was a big part of food and the food culture in Gaza and just seeing all these generations not having access to these were always basically had this integration between things that we grew and things that we foraged. And we put that together to make our diet. And now these are extremely restricted and we're just struggling with these new formats that of survival in a sense.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:51):

Thank you. And we do want to go to, excuse me, we do want to go to the next video, but I, I did. Let's see. Yeah, let's go to that video. So this video, you know, it's, it, it, it's a, it connects to what, what you've been talking about. These, you know staple fundamental crops that are intrinsic to Palestinian food culture and, and nutrition. This is a video about the tahina factory. It shows the production of tahina and know which is made from sesame seeds under occupation siege, the economic blockade, and now the Coronavirus. And, and then I want to bring back the discussion after the video to talk about talk more about the, the, the lack of accessibility for these local crops. And you'll see how, you know, sesame now has to be imported into Gaza. So let's go to that video and then we'll come back to yeah, to more discussion.

Abdulkarim Shakour (00:52):

My name is Abdulkarim Salah Shakour, I'm 30 years old. I studied mechatronics engineering, I'm a mechatronics engineer here. Shakour company was founded by my father's grandfather in 1936. The factory supports about 100 families. We import sesame from several countries, there are many countries that produce sesame seeds, but we focus on the best quality that does not contain impurities so as to be distinguished by the quality of our products, which has been maintained for years. The blockade greatly affected the import of sesame, the sudden closure of the crossings caused a price hike.

The ban on imports of equipment and production materials has led to an increase in production costs. Sometimes malfunctioning devices take months to repair as there are no spare parts because materials were blocked from entering the Gaza Strip. We buy water and use electricity generators, which leads to increased costs. The increased costs have further reduced the purchasing power.

When, manufacturing the tahina, the first step is to peel the sesame, wash it, and separate it from the skin. Then we roast the sesame, sift, and grind it. We've adopted a grinding method that gives us an advantage in maintaining quality. The equipment and machines we use are sourced from an external manufacturer and imported from outside, but it is difficult to import machinery, as I need to apply for an import permit, the permit process last for months, and I may be rejected or approved. Our first market is the local market where the tahina is sold through the company's main branches and we distribute it in shops and malls.

The local market is our primary point of sale. There is demand for the export of our products, but unfortunately there are many obstacles to making that happen.  In addition to the canceling of permissions required for export. We are distinguished by the production of red tahina because we were the only ones who used to make them. The difference between red tahina and regular to tahina is in the roasting process. Regular tahina is roasted by a steam roasting machine while the red tahina is roasted by exposing it to fire directly. The demand for regular at the tahina is higher, but on some occasions, the demand for red tahina increases.

Currently due to the blockade, the factory’s profits can only cover production and operational costs while the demand has fallen dramatically due to weak purchasing power. We hope that we can expand our branches and expand our production lines. However, the challenges we face are water shortages, electricity shortages, and low purchasing power. The impact of coronavirus, in 2020, has halted their production wheel at the factory for the first time. And weakened purchasing power due to the curfew. Weak purchasing power has further affected product demand with the Coronavirus. We have great hopes, most importantly, of having an industrial city with a reasonable cost of living. We would like to see our products compete globally. We hope that we can export our products to other countries.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (00:57):

I love that one. Laila, can you talk a little bit about sesame and the, you know, how it's a staple in Palestine and, and, and what it means to have, you know, the, the production of, of tahina still restricted you know, at your thoughts on that.

Laila El-Haddad (00:58):

Yeah. I'm just taking in the sights and sound. I mean, it was absolutely amazing. I feel like I could taste the tahina as it was roasting and at the same time, like so tragic. I mean, even I learned a few new things. I, before I start, I wanted to ask you how much do you know, you know, as, as a farmer was sesame once grown, was it ever grown in Palestine? Like on a level where it was, you know, I mean, I assume it was otherwise, it wouldn't be, but I guess my question is to tie it in, like for viewers as well. And at what point did it did sort of imports have to surpass the local?

Mohammed Abujayyab (00:59):

Yeah, it's, it's excruciating to be honest, to see sesame being imported from somewhere else. And even the whole oil economy or oil…

Laila El-Haddad:

That I'm familiar with, but I was like curious specifically about sesame, but I mean, you know, obviously then I'll go back to…

Mohammed Abujayyab:

I mean, I mean, sesame, I mean, it goes back if you think about but we call it tahina for a reason, we call it the feminine name of tahin, tahin is flower for us and we call it tahina, it means it's actually at the same footing for us as tahin, basically the wheat and sesame where extremely important crops, actually, Our folks call the only oil that I know that is named. Yeah. We call it sirej, for sesame oil, but even olive oil, we call it zeitoun. So even, I mean, there are odes that women sing for the farmers of sesame, like yeah…

Laila El-Haddad (01:00):

For the, for the viewers. That's great.

Mohammed Abujayyab:

Yeah. Sorry, I didn't sing it. I should've just,

Laila El-Haddad:

I can bring my oud, then we can start, you know, doing it live little.

Mohammed Abujayyab (01:01):

Yeah. I'll, I'll, I'll break out in full dabke, I think more entertaining than just the conversation. But yeah. And this has got like an instruction manual saying like, Hey, who, those that are planting sesame, keep it in its bells, because this is how we thresh it. And so on, we actually preserve it and spells and then they, the, the threshing off it. But like, if you think of all the products and byproducts that come as part of the farming, because farming is just a continuum, like as part of a, for less life, you're planting something that actually works with the weather around you, as well as you're basically extending that process by producing the oil, the cake that comes out of the oil, we call it kusbeh and we feed the animals, actually there are kusbeh sweets.

Laila El-Haddad:

I was gonna say, my father used to tell me they would eat that.

Mohammed Abujayyab:

And my grandma would send me to get it to actually mix with the feed for animals, because it has a high content of protein and calcium, even the hay

Laila El-Haddad:

That, cause I'm not, I don't know the answer to that question. Like at what point did, did farmers stop planting sesame? Cause I don't really see it planted really as a marker.

Mohammed Abujayyab:

I, I think it's a lot less common that the whole paradigm of having olive trees, planting olive trees and using that as base for oil has sort of replaced it. And honestly, I think there's so much, so much culturally that has changed because annual season general grains and oil seeds have been a social resistance tool for the farmers for, for fellahin or for peasants in general, annual seeds have given them the tool to fight against the lack of perennial access to land. Well, a lot of ecologists and other people environmentalist and so on, like taught around the value of planting trees and so on for the longevity of like environmental change. I feel none of them actually have come from actual peasant classes where when don't have that perennial access to land and actually most of the villages were organized as commons and they, they split the land between them as chairs instead of actually before the Ottomans brought in the Tabu and the private ownership the British brought in and so on.

So, all of these systems are new to us and pre like the, the, if we think of Palestine of the village culture, pre annual seeds and annual oil seeds have actually given the farmer, this social tool that I can plant something I can. And that actually has manifests that act and that reality of being, becoming every year, right? The land would that the farmer or the, for left on it, it's nothing, it's just this empty land. So most of them actually couldn't plant trees in that sense. Most of the trees we foraged, most of the herbs and so on, we forest and a lot of our agriculture majority dependent on annual seeds because of these structures and systems that are basically, I think, predate Zionism in, in a sense. So, sesame was absolutely I think sesame and semne or sirej and semne as well as ghee is by-product of animals were actually more used as fats in our culture as a by-product of agriculture because animals provided this amazing basically resilience in the season that nothing was growing animals were storing fats. And actually, if you go to Jordan, you will see them as well, making this with ghee that is mixed with the herbs from the spring. So you find that preservation of the vitamins. And so on of the spring, in the food and in the bodies is like that extra fat. That is that a lot of that is stored in so semne and sirej, and semne, together are our main fats, not olive oil.

Laila El-Haddad (01:04):

Right. And, you know, speaking to sesame itself, Nora and then maybe I'll let Maggie comment a little bit more on the whole export part of it. In terms of like the, the significance of, of tahina in the cuisine of Gaza, at least I can tell you, obviously it's consumed throughout the region throughout Palestine as well. But as the as the gentleman referenced in the film in Gaza, there's this very specific kind of tahina, the, the roasted kind, which was amazing to see how they roasted it because, you know, when Maggie and I saw it in 2011 it was a much smaller, like, I guess, local factory that we visited. So we didn't quite see the roasting on that level. I also noticed that factory wasn't fully automated, which was interesting, and people were kind of manually which, which makes sense.

Laila El-Haddad (01:05):

Cause every, I buy that tahina and I buy that specific brand. When I go, I get the tahina, the red tahina with me, it always like opens. It's not like sealed which is kind of funny. But anyway, for me, the tragedy was what last year when I went that almost nobody was buying tahina. So this makes perfect sense what he was saying that there's just no market for it. I mean, it really almost made me cry. I mean, people were buying like a shakeup worth, you know, 25 cents worth of a little bag just to be able to mix it in various specific dishes just to quantities worth. Right. Nobody has it in their home anymore. I mean, so there's a lot of very famous you know, Gazan dishes that Mohammed probably know. Sumagiyya, you know, Rumaniyya, that feature specifically this red roasted tahina which is very similar in taste to kind of, you know, any kind of roasted nut butter would be the closest, you know but like nobody can, can afford it anymore.

It's you know, and the fact that it's so dependent on, on this whole, you know, on everything as he was saying on the exports and I mean, not the exports, but the imports and the, and then you have the same issue with the electricity. And then he mentioned the generators again, for those viewers who are unfamiliar in order to, you know, compensate for the lack of electricity, you need to buy these like, you know, $10,000 to operate a factory generators that then need the diesel fuel, you know, and on and on. Right. and so, you know, I'm trying to, you know, and of course tahina itself is extremely nutritious somebody before had asked a question about how that has changed. And, and I can tell you, and everyone can tell you not just me, that the rates of iron deficiency and anemia have skyrocketed.

It was like 40%. And that's pretty consistent when I went last year has not changed in children specifically. I mean, stunted growth everywhere. You see kids in the streets that look like they're seven, but they're actually 14. And, and this also, you know, the aid organizations play a large part in this and they acknowledge this is the sad part, right. Because what they're feeding them is not seeded, not olive oil, but like soy oil, white flour, you know, white rice, sugar. You know, if they're lucky, I think every few months, maybe some canned sardines, right. Not local. And then recently UNRWA introduced chickpeas.

Mohammed Abujayyab:

If I might add Laila, like when my dad came to the U.S., he had osteoporosis and that's sort of unheard

Laila El-Haddad:

In males. Yeah. Yeah.

Mohammed Abujayyab:

If you're having like a crop like sesame, that is basically a very important source of calcium, that actually speaks volumes to how the culture has changed, like food-wise.

Laila El-Haddad (01:08):

That's a really good point. Thank you for interjecting that. But what was I yeah. And so, I mean, it's just, so when I hear people, I was speaking with someone at another panel last week and we were having a very heated debate about this issue of like, it just, you know, him arguing that all it mattered was to feed people. Like if it has, it needs to be fed all that matters was we just get the calories in and we just feed people and I was arguing, no. And for all these other reasons that we've seen, you know, in a very sort of micro-amplified way in Gaza, what happens over the course of just 10 years when you follow that strategy of, we're just going to feed you crap, basically what I've just calories, you know, I mean, refined crap. And then, I mean, really, I can't really emphasize enough just how drastically things have changed just in the past decade. But I, I don't know if you wanted to add anything Maggie, I don't want to go on and on, but I'm happy to, you're muted. I think so,

Maggie Schmitt (01:09):

I guess, I guess there's a, there's a whole universe of, of debate and discussion around the issue of the, the sort of calorie count to keep Gaza alive. The notion that's that you can there's, there's been an evolution over the last years in terms of how the Israeli authorities determined the, the calories that are required in Gaza and then the sort of constant hustle on the part of the different NGOs that provide food services to try to compensate the fact that that what are understood to be staple foods, what are understood to be sort of sufficient to keep people alive in emergency circumstances. And it's notable that it's considered emergency circumstances. So, these, these, these guidelines were conceived for dealing with, you know, earthquakes and storms, not for dealing with 70 year-long situations, but yeah, there's been a, this sort of evolving notion of, of the Gazan diet and what is required to keep people alive.

And I think, again, this is, this is the case in Gaza and, and because it's such a concentrated environment, we see it more clearly, but it's the case almost everywhere when we're talking about, you know, getting, getting calories to keep people alive, but what kind of calories, supporting what kind of economy, you know, the, the, the wheat that's coming in through the World Food Programme and, and on her one and all the other food distributors, what kind of agricultural economy is that sustaining and, and reproducing? I think we have a huge can of worms here. And then, and then the bottom line question, I was like, okay, even if you were to propose, trying to approach food sovereignty, trying to approach a more local production, that actually is economically sustainable for the population, you know, the, the absurdity of oil, when you have someone that has a tiny factory that can't sell his product, like trying to close the circle, close the circuits, and create a, sort of a more a more closed circle economy.

How do you do that in a space that is as tiny as Gaza as, as dry as Gaza has become due to, you know, have this long history of, of mismanagement of the aquifers. One of the interesting things that, and I came across in our, in our research back into the 10 was precisely sort of this debate that raging in, in Gaza about the ministry of agriculture had just released, under Hamas, just released a plan that would focus on approaching sustainability and based on rain fed agriculture of what, what you could actually grow in Gaza. And a whole other sector was saying like, look, you know, you can't do that in a piece of land. That's this tiny, like it's not, there are not those vast you know, extensions of land to grow wheat for a population that's this dense in a territory that's small that has this little water. So for activists and people that are trying to, to help think through this, like, what's the strategy like clearly international large scale commercially grown wheat, you know, that's often being grown on lands recently before us did in, in Brazil or the, you know, overexploited plains of the United States. Clearly the answer is not to import that massively to malnourished Gazans, but what would be the good strategy? Like where, where, where, where should we be aiming?

Laila El-Haddad (01:13):

I should also say when, when he mentioned the import of factory components, just again for those who are know what the reference is saying, that if a machine breaks down, it's very difficult to obtain a part for it because there continues to be well, a lot of other things and sort of quote unquote being eased up in terms of, you know what's allowed in or out the one that has not changed is the ban on dual so-called dual use items. So anything that is deemed to be has the potential to be, you know, used for so-called illicit purposes will not be allowed in. So that, but that includes things like planks that are larger than, you know, two inches or something. You know, parts for components for factories which has led to stalling, the things like the sewage treatment plant desalination plants. And in this case, the, you know, Tahina factory and other factories.

Mohammed Abujayyab (01:14):

But some people actually forget, Gaza was a very thriving industry to produce parts for things that they could not import at a certain point. But as part, especially the Second Intifada, there was specific targeting of these shops that did like the iron work and so on. The Blacksmith shops that actually provided these alternatives.

Laila El-Haddad:

My grandfather had a blacksmithery in Gaza city. So I remember going to it as a kid. Yeah,

Mohammed Abujayyab:

Huh. But it's, it's important because Maggie posed an important question out there about like, where, where, where do you reach when, when you go to, for answering this question? I mean, I grew up the first time I had fresh milk was when I came to the U S at a supermarket, I grew up on dry milk, or I grew up in eating the, tahin, like the flour that the UNRWA had that basically probably caused all the illnesses of that my grandma had for example, diabetes and so on. All her food was very bread dependent and so on. And they, they, they, they ask themselves like, what do we do if we're we, we like to eat bread? Actually, I feel like genetic that people, I don't know if Mediterranean folks can ever say, Oh, we can't, we don't want to eat bread.

Or we get this like high carb starchy bread that can store forever that basically has none of the fats and the vitamins and the proteins that we're requiring and looking for. But I feel like looking for answering these questions it's the same dilemma, like asking somebody in a refugee camp to pay the water bill and the electricity bill, you start from the wrong place and ask these people to fix this problem. Gaza Strip has this condensed population that was displaced. A lot of them, including my folks have been displaced from the plains, that farmed for a millennia in between Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Gaza. And they farmed, grew their food. And they were basically sustainable. People from Suba, like a lot of people as well from Suba areas have basically been displaced.

The Gaza strip became this condensed area of basically people stacked on top of each other because of a political situation. You can't invent environmental solutions for a political situation. You like the reversal of that political problem. Actually the, like the return becomes an environmental answer as well as a political answer to the problem in, in, in Gaza Strip, people need to go back to places and actually get back to, to the ways that they used to live in a more sustainable way to steward the lands. I mean, environmental problems you can go on and on reading all the articles like I, I guess a couple of days ago, like the one of the reporters in Haaretz was basically referring to how Carmel is basically building up this tinder box again. And they anytime soon are going to have one again, the biggest fire like they had 10 years ago, and the problem was, take this, they don't have enough people to go graze the ground in the forest.

And if you turn around, you find them basically displacing whole villages of Bedouins, that actually this is their job. And environmentally Bedouins have basically taken care of the land by grazing and like pastoralists and grazers have taken care of our cover or cover across entirety of Palestine and Jordan. These areas where basically animals can use these what, what ends up being a tinder box, like fuel for fires in forest and so on. So as well, occupation and the whole system in Israel creates this unsustainable system with time that actually environmentally the return becomes an answer.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (01:18):

That's beautiful. Thank you. We have just about 10 minutes left and I wanted to let's see. So, there was let's see a question about this is from Juan Campo. I'll just read it. Our names are Juan and Magda Campo. We both teach co-teach at the University of California Santa Barbara, a yearly course on religion, food and culture of the Middle East. We've been teaching from the Gaza Kitchen for five years. We're looking forward to the third edition. I think that the aggression of Israel on Gaza's agriculture is to make the Palestinians forget about their cultural food they ate for centuries and for Israel to appropriate the Palestinian food and deny them even to live on their land. Yes. if you can please comment on this Laila, do you want to say again, the comment? Yeah, so that kind of cultural appropriation through food it, while Israel is, you know, continuing to deny Palestinians their rights. Yeah. That was the, yeah. Cause if you could please comment on this. So there wasn't really a, a question that's just more like what's the state of cultural appropriation while Israel continues to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, push them off their land, deny them resources and pollute agricultural lands

Mohammed Abujayyab (01:20):

Can you comment on chocolate hummus too, Laila.

Laila El-Haddad (01:21):

Every time someone says that every few weeks it pops up, someone takes a picture of it and puts it on Facebook and says, look, what I found, and someone at some point, yeah. I think my brother had said to me, and then, and then we just repeat this every time. Now someone puts that, I just say, every day we stray further from God. Yeah. And then someone didn't get it and said to me, what does that have to do with chocolate hummus? And then someone said, I think she means it's like so bad, it's a sin. I'm like, I'm like, why mess with something, just it's sacrilegious, you know, just leave it alone, call it chocolate dip. How on earth is that hummus? So it just don't get me started, you know, I'm a purist when it comes to a lot of these things.

So even like, you know, you know, kofta is kofta, like don't make plant kofta, just call it something else. Okay. I digress. But you know, so again, I've said this before, you know, I'm sure Maggie has a lot to say and Mohammed as well when it comes, I mean, when it comes to the, I didn't hear the full comment, but if it's specifically dealing with I mean, absolutely of course in short one, but you know, the issue of cultural appropriation, I always just like to say it's all about context and intention because you know it definitely in the case of Palestine, it's wielded and used food and, and rebranding of food and, and appropriating of food is, is wielded as a, as a weapon and as a tool to both, you know, erase and on one hand that sort of the native, indigenous, Palestinian connection to the land and the, and then at the same time reinforce and, and the, you know, settler colonial attachment to land, and this is something documented from the early days of Jewish immigrants coming to Palestine.

And then, you know, in the modern context, then you have arguments that sort of dissipate into, well, you know, does that mean we can't use the food or we can't, you know, which is why I emphasize it has to do with the context and intention, you know? And I've seen sort of a dangerous new trend even of a lot of you know, trolls and whatnot online, trying to brand themselves as well. We're also refugees from, you know, here or there or the other. And we're also, you know, so we have as much claim to this food as whatever. And then trying to kind of use that as an angle to target Palestinian, either food activists or whatever which I thought was interesting. I'm sure how much you've seen it too. This is pretty, pretty new. So, so definitely, and I think people often fail to see, and I'm not talking on things as simple as just like hummus and falafel.

I'm talking in a much sort of deeper, more nuanced more nuanced level here. You know, when we're talking about targeting Palestinians who forage for things like, you know, in the North of Palestine, like the thistle or zaatar, find them, penalize them for, you know that takes it to a whole new level. And then it extends obviously to, you know, to many other things denying Palestinians access on one hand to their, to their own land, to the resources of the land, be it water, or replacing them with, you know, other resources that are more that are, you know, prohibitive in terms of expense, but also damaging to their crops. And then on the other hand, you know, giving themselves access, I mean, this was well demonstrated when, when for example, settlers were still within Gaza and it still applies to the settlers who make up 0.01% of the West Bank, but have 90% control over 90% of the water resources is a very good example and everything that, that entails the farmland and the, whatever.

I, it reminds me of a clip of like when Anthony Bourdain visited this one, settler who had, I guess, come from New Jersey and been living in one of the settlements and was, you know, going on and on about how, like amazing it was to live, where he is and access to like these fresh pomegranates. And, and I don't know what, and he was feeding him all this food he made and how he's kind of like an amateur chef. And so everybody was kind of nodding and then there's like a commentary where he says, and in my mind, I just didn't know, did he not like, see the irony of the fact that he was on someone else's land and the most strategic location and all the best farm, fertile farmland when all these other Palestinians around him did not have access to those pomegranates and to these ingredients.

And so not to say, it's not a complicated answer, but it's just more nuance than I people sometimes say, Hey, like that's our hummus, but it's not, it's not really what it's about for me in a way. But it becomes much more politically charged when you're in a situation and environment like Gaza, of ongoing settler, colonialism, and occupation and, and ethnic cleansing, I would say when it comes to Palestinians in Jerusalem and elsewhere then yes, food is a big component of that and definitely cultural appropriation you know, an appropriation of the foods and attachment to the foods. It does play a very significant role. Maggie, Mohammed, I don't know. I'm sure I missed, I missed a lot in my ramble.

Mohammed Abujayyab (01:25):

Now, if I might add, I think, no, you said it perfectly well, actually I think the, that it comes down to the, I agree it's the intent like societal intent in settler colonialism, especially in the formats that we see in the U S and in Israel because it's in its essence, it's trying to create this class of nativized settlers, right? Where basically settlers replace the native population in in culture, in presence geographically in economic terms the, the actual, and the core intent that it's, that's where it becomes extremely problematic because it's no longer it's, it's not, I, I actually love when other people cook Palestinian food, but like, when you see it, tahina is not accessible to people who actually have it as part of their diet and an important part of it while you'll find it on the shelves of Trader Joe's, or it becomes this problematic relationship because it's in its essence, it's the replacing and genocidal intent that is that is at the core of it.

So that becomes basically completely overlooking that we're completely trying to sweep the native population under the rug and basically place this new and shiny idea, you know, and it doesn't, it's not only it doesn't come in food only like I honestly see it in, in, in environmental ideas, like basically the, the forest station in Israel basically replaces all these usually alkaline let's say soil is that we have with these acidic pioneer evergreens, basically poison in essence as well, that basically environment to make it foreign to us, it becomes this form of aggression, right? So I can turn on one side and sell the idea of having food and having nutrition or having this really healthy, wholesome thing that people could eat. But on the other side, I am poisoning and replacing. And so you can't in our culture, you can't really base a good on bad. It has to be all the way rooted in, in what's good and wholesome to actually be all the way there. So, it's I have to say as well, your book has been, really before my parents came and lived with us and cooked all the foods that have been missing and so on, I've used The Gaza Kitchen very extensively to actually, you know made me feel home and, and in many ways,

Laila El-Haddad (01:28):

And, you know, it makes me, it really, it really, really warms my heart when I hear this, we've heard this over and over again. And that wasn't like the main, you know, reason why we wrote it, but it was certainly one of the reasons. And, but I I've been blown away over and over when people tell me that, like, I I've been searching for this for now, of course in the day of like YouTube and whatever things have become easier to access, but just a very small part of me feels like I can die in peace now, because I feel like I contributed something to be able to bridge this very painful gap that I think we don't, it's not very visible. So people don't fully appreciate or recognize how painful it is that for Palestinians who are either unable to their land, unable to visit or have lost that knowledge, or don't never had it to start with, you know what I mean?

And yeah, so I'm, I'm very happy. I was able to do that. It's just a small little, you know, I mean, I always say I'm a wannabe farmer. I think Maggie feels the same. I'm always learning. I have a small little plot in my backyard, but for me, it's one way that I can be able to learn and then pass that knowledge onto my, my kids. You know, so the guys that garden book always sends me seeds that I then try to, I even grew Palestinian wheat and we made three get together one year.

Nora Barrows-Friedman (01:30):

Unfortunately this is the end of this fantastic panel. I am so honored to have been the moderator for this. And you know, I wish we could have gotten to more Q & A's, but I, this is I think the beginning of, of a long series of, of conversations together. So, let's see, I wanted to announce a couple of things before you go, remember that this webinar has been recorded and will soon be posted along with the video of our November 28th webinar and many related resources at the Beyond Survival Resource Page on our website, which the link is right there. And let's see, today's webinar has been organized jointly by just world educational and the museum of the Palestinian people and made freely available to the learning public. I also wanted to thank our media for these videos, which will also be posted on the website consider adding both organizations to your year-end giving list. And I'm also going to make a plug for the Electronic Intifada. We're also funded by our readers a hundred percent. So check us out as well. And your feedback is very important to us. As you leave the webinar, please take a couple of minutes to fill out the evaluation form you will be sent. And thank you so much for being with us today, Laila, Maggie, and Mohammed. Thank you. And thanks, Helena and ML as well.

Laila El-Haddad (01:31):

Thank you all for moderating. Thank you. Mohammed, Maggie, it was great to be with you guys.

Nora Barrows-Friedman:

We should continue this conversation. I think there's a, I think there, there are few more turns to take, yeah.

Laila El-Haddad:

Totally agree. We need to use this as inspiration for another book guys together.

Nora Barrows-Friedman:

All right. All right.

Mohammed Abujayyab (01:32):

Thank you, Helena and Amelle for organizing, Nora for moderating, Laila and Maggie it was a pleasure.

Further Resources

Speakers for the Session


Mohammed Abujayyab


Laila El-Haddad


Maggie Schmitt


Nora Barrows-Friedman


Helena Cobban

Support Just World Educational

If you find this project worthwhile, engaging, and useful, please consider supporting our mission. We strive to expand the dialogue on vital international issues by providing educational materials and a platform for critical thinkers.

JWE has a golden opportunity to make a difference in this country...
Richard Falk

Stay in touch! Sign up for our newsletter: