Saturday November 4, 2023

How do you feed a family in a siege? Writing from Gaza, an Islamic Relief worker* reveals the many decisions that must be made, and challenges overcome, to prepare even a simple meal during the crisis.

Since fleeing our home in Gaza we have lived in anxious hope, praying for any good news telling us this nightmare is over.

However, the resilience of Palestinians is extraordinary.

“Every moment there are examples of how we challenge the dire circumstances in which we now find ourselves. Every minute, there is a new story of someone who has narrowly escaped death.”


Starting the day with kids at play

At the start of every day, my kids wake up early. We adults often want to sleep a little longer, because we’ve been awake long into the night, listening to the sound of planes and bombing.

When my son woke us today and we urged him to go back to sleep, he protested that, “I am used to waking up early to go to school.” My wife reminded him that schools are not open now, but there too, he had a quick answer: “I want to play with the other kids.”

At least he has lots of playmates here.

“There are 15 children sheltering in this house, where we have been living since we were ordered to evacuate our home in northern Gaza. They all wake up early and make all kinds of noise as they play games and talk.”


We get up shortly after them and set ourselves to the first task of the day: making breakfast. My family’s diet has changed since we came to stay with my mum, who has proven herself brilliant at preparing meals with very little.


Breakfasting on tea and biscuits

The kids’ favourite breakfast is now tea and biscuits, which are crumbly and baked in the oven. They are the perfect shape to dip into hot tea, and the sugary treat provides a welcome energy boost for the long, gruelling day ahead.

Of course, as in every Palestinian house, we also have za’atar (a herb), olives and olive oil, using the last of my mum’s stocks from last year’s olive season.

“This year’s olive season has been disastrous: olives are usually harvested in October, but a month of fear and bombs has meant much of the crop has gone unharvested.”


Cheese and eggs are a breakfast staple too, but they are much more expensive now as farmers are currently unable to reach their farms.

Another traditional breakfast is falafel and beans, but this is also beyond our reach these days. The fuel crisis has forced most restaurants to close their doors. We have some canned beans at home, which we can eat, but without electricity we can’t blend chickpeas to make hummus.


Trying to conserve scant resources with every meal

Figuring out lunch is another challenge. First, we need the resources available. Then we need to consider meals which use as little water as possible, since water is now increasingly hard to find. For the same reason, we minimise the number of dishes that need to be washed. And, with many bakeries closed, we try to make meals without bread.

“In these difficult times, it is hard to find protein so most of our cooking is without meat.”


One of the most popular Palestinian dishes is fattah, a lentil soup into which stale bread is soaked. This hearty dish is always made in winter and normally mums struggle to convince their pizza, burger and pasta-loving children to eat it. We usually eat it with pepper, lemon, olives and onion. The dish makes a big pot and can feed the whole family.

Another choice is mojadara, which is a Palestinian variation of the Egyptian dish, koshary. We make it with only rice and whole lentils. It too tastes great and is good to share. Our neighbours recently made mandy, our version of the Yemeni dish, made by cooking chicken and rice on an underground fire. We thought it was a good way to cook chicken while saving gas, which is normally delivered in cylinders to homes in Gaza. My mum only has a few gas cylinders left, so we are trying to conserve them. The meal was delicious.

We thanked Allah for it and prayed there would be a chance to make it again when this crisis ends and we can go back home.


Just 2 meals a day

We don’t make an evening meal anymore, making do with just 2 meals a day. The kids will sometimes have snacks such as cucumber and tomatoes with cheese.

One night they found a packet of noodles at a nearby shop, which they insisted we buy.

“Normally we’d worry such items are bad for their health and refuse, but compared to the possibility of being blown to pieces by a bomb, it didn’t seem so bad. They had a good night eating the noodles, which were loaded with Chinese hot spices.”


Families struggling to survive on bread and tuna

Limited as our diet is, my family is lucky to have this food. Many families who are seeking shelter in United Nations schools only receive a loaf of bread and a can of tuna which must last 2 people all day. They walk 2-3 kilometres to collect 20 litres of water, and wait for 2 hours for the chance to buy bread.

Some are day labourers – construction workers, electricians, farm labourers, and drivers – who can no longer afford to buy food staples, since the price of everything has shot up as supplies dwindle. They are losing hope, and need immediate assistance. Charities like Islamic Relief do their best, but the needs here are enormous and growing every day.


What they need – what all families in Palestine need – is an immediate ceasefire and an end to this nightmare of suffering.

Islamic Relief is on the ground in Gaza, serving as a lifeline to ordinary families suffering in this crisis. Support our work: give generously to our Palestine Emergency Appeal now.


*This blog is anonymised to protect the safety and security of our colleague.

Editor’s note: This blog was submitted amid a fast-changing situation on the ground, which has since continued to deteriorate. This information was correct as of the afternoon of Thursday 2 November.

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