'Siege has suffocated us': Gazans remember cooking traditions of Ramadan during peacetime

Residents of the besieged enclave, who usually end the first day of the holy month with traditional meals such as molokhia, instead face starvation

Residents queue for food in Rafah. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

If not for the devastating war that has killed more than 31,100 Gazans, residents in the besieged enclave would be looking forward to molokhia, a traditional dish at the end of the first day of Ramadan.

The green soup, made from the herb jute, is believed to usher in generosity and goodness in the coming year.

It is one of several Ramadan traditions that will not be taking place this year, as the Israeli blockade on goods continues, adding to the pain of the enclave’s 2.3 million people.

Umm Majdi Haboub from Jabalia refugee camp, in the north of Gaza, will not be cooking molokhia this year. Instead, she will be preparing khobisa, which is also green, as an alternative.

“I used to cook molokhia with meat and serve it with many delicious side dishes, as well as making natural fruit juices. But this year, everything has changed because of the war, destruction and siege that has suffocated us from all sides,” she told The National.

Most of the dishes usually served at this time of year simply won’t be available in Gaza, even those that use locally grown ingredients. Israel has destroyed most of the farms in the enclave, dividing it up into zones of checkpoints and making it difficult for farmers to reach their fields.

She tried to maintain optimism that Ramadan would bring an end to the war which killed her two brothers. Her son was also injured and her house was damaged in Israeli air strikes.

“I used to make sweets throughout the month, such as qatayef, but this Ramadan, qatayef will be missed along with other habits we used to have,” she said.

Qatayef is the famous sweet of Ramadan, only made during the holy month. However, it is a tradition that many Gazans will go without this year.

Suaad Al Balbisi, 46, who lives in Gaza city, lost her home in the war. She is also mourning her sister's children who were killed. Unlike previous years, when she would be with her eight children and other family members, this Ramadan, everything has changed.

“Ramadan, for us, is known for its dishes, sweets, fruits, and juices, but unfortunately this year all of that will not be available,” Ms Al Balbisi told The National.

She said that her meals will consist of whatever herbs they can find from the ground and some vegetables if they are available in the market.

“We used to look forward to Ramadan for the family gathering, the togetherness, and sitting around the food and the plate of qatayef after the taraweeh prayers. But unfortunately, all of that is gone,” Ms Al Balbisi added.

Memory and tradition

Qatayef carries a special tradition for many Gazans. Street vendors used to spread it out from the first day of Ramadan, and its smell would fill the markets.

“We used to buy them and when we returned to our homes, we would enjoy them in the way they were prepared and made, with a new story and a new tale every day. Whenever I opened Facebook, I used to find all the pictures, videos, and posts about this famous dessert in Palestine during the month of Ramadan,” Ms Al Balbisi said.

She hopes that the war will soon end and the Ramadan atmospheres of old return.

Displaced Gazans decorate tents for Ramadan

Displaced Gazans decorate tents for Ramadan

Khaled Al Attout, 27, a vegetable seller from Jabalia in northern Gaza, said that this year he would not be turning his stall into a molokhia stand.

“People would buy while laughing and being happy because of the Ramadan atmosphere and the goodness that comes with it. I would also decorate my stall with lanterns and lights when the holy month arrived,” Mr Al Attout said.

His stall was destroyed in the war when Israeli forces bombed the Jabalia Camp’s market in strikes that killed scores.

“The army destroyed many agricultural lands in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Gaza Strip,” he said.

“We lost all the sweet atmospheres that we used to dream of experiencing and enjoy. There is nothing left for us to be happy about or celebrate,” he said.

Abeer Aboud, 45, who was displaced from Gaza city to Rafah along with her father and three sons, said she would only be making lentil soup this Ramadan.

“I like to cook and in Ramadan, I used to prepare some dishes like samosak and koba before Ramadan and store them in the freezer, but there is no electricity for the freezer now, nor some food to prepare,” she said.

She said that the joy of Ramadan has lost its meaning now that her home has been destroyed and she cannot be with her sister, who is staying in Gaza city.

"I am worried about my sister; she will be deprived of many simple things, such as the canned food that's available in Rafah but not available in Gaza city," she added.

Updated: March 11, 2024, 1:05 PM