[falafel maker, Tel village, occupied West Bank, Dec 2007]
“You’ll find the best falafels in Gaza, behind al Shifa hospital,” a knowing friend advised me.
She’d been right about the sunsets, which she said were the most beautiful, an intense, burning sun that slips quickly into the sea.
As for the falafels, my expert friend was spot on again.The stand behind Shifa serves passersby, local workers, people in transit at the taxi stand down the block, taxi drivers, and those in the know of the falafel hot-spot.And now, with gas shortages Strip-wide, the stand is haunted by those who cannot find falafels in their local stands –many restaurants economizing on cooking gas and leaving falafel off the menu –and those who cannot cook at home.
“I haven’t had cooking gas for 10 days now,” Abu Amer said over a round of tea heated during the brief hours of electricity. “We can’t cook at home, we order out all the time. My kids are asking for our usual food –cooked vegetables, rice, soups… not to mention meat.”
I told him being vegetarian was easier, as hummus is still available in hummus shops and supermarkets, and most vegetables can be peeled and eaten raw.
But, I do like hot tea, coffee, a fried egg… When our gas runs out –soon –we’ll be in the same (gas-less) boat.
“Can’t you cook inside, over a contained fire?” I asked, pointing at the shoe-sized metal box heating coals for nargila. I’d seen larger such metal stands holding coal embers used for fire warmth, and it seemed possible for cooking.
A tsk and a shake of the head. “No, it’s not possible, we need gas, or an outdoor fire,” Abu Amer said. In recent days, people in Gaza have resurrected kerosene stoves, baboor, and are cooking indoors over these. My friend Fatema tells me that after Israel learned that Palestinians were using kerosene lamps to cook, kerosene was added to the banned list. Triumphantly, Fatema fills me in on Palestinian inventiveness: “So we began to use solar, industrial diesel, with cooking salt added to it. The useable gas separates and we can use it for cooking.”
Abu Walid suggests the cooking contraption to his friend. Tsk, again, this time disdainfully. “Those stoves are noxious, poisonous, they’d harm my kids,” he explained, saying he’d prefer take-out meals to in-house pollution.
The Shifa falafel joint surprisingly has kept its prices low: a falafel sandwich smothered in hummus and laden with a variety of self-serve toppings still goes for just 2 shekels.
Falafels, the food I so missed from Palestine, have become a stop-by luxury, when I’m in the area. Yet, in context, my falafel yearnings are but a trite inconvenience, considering that 80% of Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens are dependent on food handouts to exist, and that Israel’s firm closing of all crossings, with the briefest of openings, has meant even these UN offerings are stuck on the other side of Gaza’s prison walls.