Friday, December 1, 2023


"Under international law, the responsibility for protecting civilians in conflict falls on the belligerents. Under military occupation, the responsibility for the welfare of the population falls upon the occupiers." -- Kofi Annan

In the days and weeks following the October 7, 2023 barbaric attacks by Hamas against Israelis and foreigners, Israel proceeded to impose a complete blockade and then inflict a relentless military campaign upon the Gaza strip. Israel directed its self defense not simply toward Hamas, but also at more than two million Palestinians who live in Gaza. 

Israel's response has resulted in unimaginable suffering for those innocent people, who saw food stores run out, clean water run dry, and medical supplies become scarce. Supporters of Israel's strategy blamed all of the Palestinians' suffering on Hamas (or worse, they equated innocent Palestinian people with Hamas). The terrorist organization had control over Gaza since 2006 and which, during that time, entrenched itself amongst the civilians. The innocent Palestinians became the human shield of Hamas. Yet, Israel nevertheless chose to drop bombs and shoot missiles at that shield. The Palestinian people are caught between two warring sides, with indefensible losses of life and indescribable suffering. 

As I watched the unfolding events, a profound sadness overwhelmed me for the everyday Palestinian people. Those individuals who were just trying to make a life for themselves and their families, overcoming obstacles and shouldering burdens imposed upon them because of who they are and where they lived, not for what they have done. I have explored Palestinian culture and cuisine, with its ties to the sea and its roots in the ground. Now, in this post, I take a step back, because the situation has become much more dire for the everyday Palestinian people and their future in Gaza.

While everyone focuses upon the savagery of Hamas' central tenet (that is, the eradication of the Jewish people living in Israel or Palestine), there have been many statements by officials of the Israeli government that suggest the same outcome for the Palestinian people living in Gaza. These statements include, but are not limited to: 

  • October 9, 2023: Israel's Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, stated, "we are fighting human animals and we will act accordingly."
  • October 10, 2023: Israeli Army spokesperson says the emphasis is on damage, not precision.
  • October 28, 2023: Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu invokes the biblical passages about Amalek, in which the prophet Samuel conveys God's command to King Saul that the Hebrew people "punish the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them," adding "do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." 
  • November 13, 2023: Israel's Agricultural Minister, Avi Dichter, described the current war as "Gaza's Nakba," which is a reference to the original Nakba that resulted in the displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians when the State of Israel was created in 1948 (many of whom fled to Gaza).
  • November 14, 2023: Israel's Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, called for the voluntary migration of the Palestinian people out of Gaza, claiming it was the right humanitarian solution to do (it is also the first and principal step toward ethnic cleansing). 
  • November 17, 2023: The Deputy Speaker of Israel's Knesset, Nissim Vaturi, stated that, "We are too humane. Burn Gaza now no less."

Statements like those set forth above suggest an objective that involves far more than simply eradicating Hamas. They are opening a door to take action against the Palestinian people who live in Gaza, forcing them to flee their homes in what could become another Nakba. (The original Nakba refers to the dislocation of Palestinians when Israel was established.) Israel's "self-defense" appears to involve little differentiation between everyday Palestinians and Hamas fighters, as evidenced by block after block of destroyed buildings, the targeting and destroying of civilian infrastructure, and the devastating boycott, denying the people of Gaza the very things they need to survive (like food, water, medical supplies, and fuel).

Two pictures: (L) Palestinians fleeing during the Nakba in 1948 and
(R) Palestinians fleeing the current conflict. 

Accountability for the above is deflected by a range of defenses. For example, the death toll of Gazans is often discounted as Hamas propaganda. More disturbingly, those who challenge Israel's "self-defense," are labelled as anti-Semitic. The calls upon Israel to international law and refrain from imposing collective punishment upon the Gazan people supposedly become anti-Semitic because it is believed that the challengers have not held other countries to such standards (regardless of whether that is true or not). Simply put, it is not anti-Semitic at this present moment in time to call upon people to be not only human, but humane. Our history should shape our future, where everyone on both sides learns from our prior failings and mistakes in order to prevent us from repeating them, time and again. One should not use the failings of the past as a defense to the failures of the present. We need to call out violations of human rights and international, calling for their cessation and remediation. 

I have been doing so in my own small way, by focusing on the Palestinians as a people. I wanted to do what I could to restore their humanity by recognizing their struggles while learning about their culture and cuisine. That cuisine can be best summarized by a headline to an article that I read: Dill, Fish and Resilience: The Holy Trinity of Gazan Cuisine.  To be honest, I don't cook with a lot of dill because it is not my favorite herb. Yet, many of the recipes that I reviewed included dill, and a lot of it. Dill can be found in salads, seafood dishes, soups and stews. As one put it, dill "is the smell of Gaza." Where the French have mirepoix and the Spanish have sofrito, the use of dill, in combination with chiles and garlic, provides a base for much of Gazan cooking. The other key element of Gazan cuisine, as it is for all Palestinian cuisine, is olive oil. The olive tree has an especially important place in Palestinian cooking. 

Yet, Palestinian cuisine also includes some more intangible ingredients. One of which is generosity. It features itself not only in the dishes, but also in the offering of food to others, especially those who are less fortunate. (Given the Palestinians' plight, that is really saying something.)

Whalid Al-Hattab serves Jarisha to his poor neighbors. Source: Arab News

The other intangible ingredient to Gazan cuisine is resilience. When one talks of food in Gaza, the discussion often gets intertwined is Israel's blockade of the territory. This blockade predated the events of October 7, 2023; and, its imposition has bordered on not just inhumane, but also irrational. At various points in time, basic food items -- such as pasta, lentil and coffee -- have been denied to the Gazan people by Israel. Indeed, even crayons were once blocked from entry into Gaza. The arbitrary denial of food and ingredients has had a negative impact upon not just the cuisine, but the every day meals for Gazans. Yet, Gazans continue to prepare dishes with what they have, and continue to share those dishes with the have-nots. 

The dish of Qidreh is not Gazan in origin, unlike Zibdiyet Gambari or Gazan Dagga. Its origins lie in the West Bank city of Hebron. Qidreh actually refers to the copper pot used to prepare the meal.  However, like most recipes, there are regional versions of Qidreh. For example, cooks in Jerusalem add chickpeas to the rice. Gazan cooks use much more garlic and a range of spices. I selected a recipe that draws not only from the traditional Hebron dish, but includes the chickpeas from Jerusalem and enough spices to make me believe that there is a nod to Gaza in the meal. The one variation on the recipe is that, rather than using a seven spice blend like Baharat, I used the Palestinian Nine Spice blend. 

I don't know what the future holds for Palestinians in Gaza (or the West Bank), but, if the past is any indication, it is not a good one. As long as far-right governments control the Israeli government, as long as extremist settlers wage violence upon Palestinian communities in the name of a greater Israel, the risk that a people, along with its culture and cuisine, may become endangered. All because of an inability or unwillingness to differentiate between those who wage terror and those who face terror.


Recipe from Fufu's Kitchen

Serves 5

Ingredients (for the lamb):

  • 12 cuts of medium sized lamb (preferably lamb shoulder)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice
  • Boiling water
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Ingredients (for the rice):

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 20 garlic cloves, halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon seven spice (or Palestinian Nine Spice)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 15 ounces chickpeas, drained

Ingredients (for the garnish):

  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon ghee


1. Brown the lamb. Rinse the lamb pieces thoroughly under cold water and trim excess fat if necessary. Pat the lamb dry.  In a large pot, add the olive oil on medium heat allowing for it to warm up. Once the oil is hot, add the lamb pieces and sear for 4 minutes each side to achieve a light browning. Season with half of the salt, pepper, and all spice from the ingredient list. 

2. Prepare to stew the lamb. Add enough boiling water to cover 2 inches over the lamb. Let this simmer covered for about 30 minutes. If residue rises to the top, skim it off. At this point add the rest of the seasonings and components on the ingredient list for the lamb. Allow to simmer for another 1.5 hours on low to medium heat. Once the time has passed, check the tenderness of the meat. Depending on cut and size, it may need more time but should be ready. take out the lamb pieces through a strainer on top of a bowl and reserve the lamb broth.

3. Prepare the rice. Wipe the same pot used to cook the lamb and add the olive oil with the onions. Sauté until fragrant, which is about 5 to 8 minutes and then add the garlic and saute for another 5 minutes. Season with all of the spices in the rice list and add the rice and chickpeas to this as well. Give it a nice stir so that everything is coated. Take a majority of the rice out and put on a plate to the side. Leave a layer of rice in the pot and top it with half of the lamb pieces and then add the remaining rice and top of the remaining lamb. Add enough lamb broth to cover the rice 1 inch over. Put a heat proof plate that fits on top of the pot. Store extra broth in a container to use for other purposes.

4. Cook the rice. Cook the rice covered with a lid for about 20 to 25 minutes on low to medium heat making sure not to scorch the bottom of the pot. Once the liquid is evaporated and the rice is cooked through, turn off the heat. allow for the rice to stay in the steam for another 5-10 minutes before serving on a platter of your choice.

5. Finish the dish. Top with toasted slivered almonds and/or pine nuts in ghee. Enjoy with a refreshing salad and plain yogurt. 


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