There is a shadow in her room; it traverses the cracked walls and holed ceiling.                               At night it hides                                                      maybe in the remnants of her closet, maybe under the bed with tattered sheets, maybe it disappears, she does not know where it lurks, perhaps inside her heart. 
It dances on her walls, expanding, shrinking, attacking, retreating. All day it dances
She lays in her bed in surrender to its advances,
Then she stands in defiance, slides into her clothes and walks out.
She slams the door behind her,
But the shadow bolts under the dresser, over the bed, through the door and straight ahead.
It climbs the walls in the corridors 
it crawls the broken floors, it swings back and forth from the burnt grapevine pergola. It moans a sad moan in her ears, and hovers heavily over her shoulders.
It clouds her eyes with grey melancholy
It burdens her voice and inhibits her smiles.
But without it, she is an aimless bee without a hive.
On a hot summer night, the sea crashed into the beach urgently
The sky glowed white phosphorus hot,
He arrived more beautiful than the moon, more luminous than the sun.
Her heart gave in to the softness of his skin, the tenderness in his cooes 
They placed him in her arms, a crying, swaddled bundle,
and her heart took a tumble
They stitched her insides back together, 
To her chest she pulled him closer
his head she smelled
His face she caressed
A magnificent feeling to become a mother..
During the years, she learned 
That her heart will break everytime he fell
That his laughter is the edge of heaven
That his tears are the gates to hell
She learned That she will cry at every first day and last day of school
That his voice will salve her soul in the midst of endless explosions
She learned that the voice will change quickly from a cry to a roar,
but his eyes will sparkle just the same, like the moon glistening in the sea.
It was a fateful morning when he left the house, his eyes iridescent with laughter
In between breakfast and teasing banter
He kissed her cheeks and asked for her blessings.
He was a bright spot in all the darkness,
an oil lamp in the endless electricity outages.
He was as sweet as bottled water.

On that fateful humid May morning, 
She found his eyes,first… a light extinguished
His smile, second…a rose wilted
His hand, third, wrapped around his phone…a signal killed
His legs, last, two limp logs splayed to the East and West
She birthed him from the mouth of rubble, head first, 
shoulders and torso second, hands and phone, third, then two limp broken legs...

She held him to her chest, this time, a silent swaddled bundle
In his place sixty seven shadows hover



You are the shadow in the back of my eyes Permanently imprinted on my retina Like a polaroid picture that never fades

You are the mist of hot water droplets Condensing on my body Sliding down my neck Traversing the fullness of my curves

You are the echoes at the end of my day,  Bouncing against my eardrums Lulling me to sleep 

You are the beginning of dreams, the end of nightmares The origin of longing You are the essence of rapture

When we met on that fateful afternoon The earth shook underneath my feet  We found each other in the midst of loudness In the thickness of silence  In the void of emptiness

You are the shadow that veils my day Shading the hot summer sun Breaking the cold winter wind

You are the engine to my hours Gently humming  Tirelessly moving life forward

You are the honey in coffee The sugar in tea The Za’atar on mana’esh The rise in bread The sizzle on a hot shawarma pan  The sigh in lentil soup The tenderness in musakhan chicken

Without you I am a cook without a kitchen



A flower stretches its neck in the sun, Anthers protrude rigidly  beyond its petals, Waiting expectantly for the bird 

A Sunbird hovers  in the garden Flutters  from one flower to the other  Its feathers glisten iridescent blue. 

Pollen scatters from its wings falling into the troughs of longing stoma The roses whisper for it to stay a little longer  But the lilies beckon with seduction  The sunbird rushes in hypnotic attraction. 

I am the Sunbird Untethered Unhindered Free 

Darting between the flowers Filling my cup with nectar Waiting for wholeness  to fill the emptiness 



Sometime in my graduate school career and the long road to a PhD in Chemistry, I remember standing over the stove for hours making qatayef.  I got the recipe from my mother on the phone, back in those days social media, blogging and online recipes were still a novelty; YouTube was  still an invention of the future.  I hovered over the small frying pan, praying very hard that this experiment of mine would work.  I do not think I willed any of my reactions in the lab to work as much as I did this one.  

Earlier that day a reaction between sodium and ammonia worked so beautifully in the lab and most definitely got me closer to my dissertation, but the elation I felt as the qatayef hissed gently then sighed as the last bubble formed and popped was only reserved for the kitchen.  With every pancake successfully lifted from the pan, and stuffed with walnuts or cheese, I got closer to home in an instant. 

Fast forward about 15 years, April 2020… A pan much larger than the one I had back in my Tennessee kitchen, sizzled. I poured the batter out of a measuring cup.  The perfect circle formed, then slowly bubbled.  Success!!! The recipe worked! This was at least the fourth trial as I  tweaked multiple recipes to make it work. 

As the small bubbles popped, the same elation of fifteen year ago swept over me.  Life was so different, but the act of making katayef had the same grit and perseverance of fifteen years past, albeit for different reasons.  I was not in search of a taste home, I was home.  Locked down at home that is, with a husband who  was a far superior human being than I could ever hope to be, whose patience for my kitchen adventures was the embodiment of true love, and two tiny versions of myself in the form of children.   

That spring the kitchen adventures intensified. I found myself, much like the rest of humanity, kneading dough, shaping it into loaves of bread, or spreading it for fteer bizaatar, or sprinkling it with cheese to make mana’esh, losing myself in the dust of flour, running away from the intangible virtual life we were living to the very real sturdiness of dough, and batter.  

As the pandemic continues to rage on with virological supremacy,  we find ourselves in the same place. Perhaps a bit more nuanced in our virtual lives, but exactly in the same  place in the real world, at home, tucked away, staring in disbelief at the crowded shops, and secret weddings as the infection curve rises into the unknown. 

As I try to make sense of the world, the kitchen seems to be the only place I have control, and the exhale of fresh qatayef makes me feel more safe and more at home than ever before. 

This recipe is featured in the April 2021 edition of This Week in Palestine.  Click on the link below 



Servings: feeds an army, or the neighborhood. 


260 g flour

100 g semolina

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp yeast (I use instant yeast)

¼ tsp Baking Soda 

Dash of salt

1 Tbsp Sugar 

1 Tbsp Milk

2 Tbsp Rose water 

750 mL warm water

Electric Blender


2 cups roughly chopped walnuts

1 tsp cinnamon

½ kg sweetened Palestinian goat cheese. 

Kater: (simple sugar syrup) 

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp Orange Blossom Water 


  1. Activate the yeast: add the water, milk, sugar, and yeast into the blender, mix with a large spoon,  then leave for ten minutes. The yeast should start working and you should see bubbles forming. 
  2. Prepare your dry ingredients: in a bowl whisk together the flour, semolina, baking powder, baking soda and salt. 
  3. Mix the batter: mix the dry ingredients with the water mixture in the blender by adding the flour mixture slowly into the water and blending well.  Add the rose water in the end. Pour the batter into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen cloth and store in a warm, draft free spot in your kitchen for at least 30 minute.
  4. Cook the qatayef:  heat a large non stick pan, or a pancake griddle.  To know if the pan is hot enough, sprinkle a few drops of water and watch for a frantic sizzle, you want the pan hot (i preheat mine on medium heat for 15 minutes). Pour small amounts of the batter (¼ cup or so) in the middle of the pan.  Watch as bubbles form and pop. If the pan is too hot, the qatayef won’t have time to form the bubbles and will cook too quickly.  If the pan is too cold, the batter will stick and not cook all the way through. Depending on your stove, play with the heat until you get the perfect setting . Watch the qatayef closely.  When all the bubbles popped, remove the qatayef and place in a large plate covered with a towel. Repeat until batter is finished. 
  5. Filling: take the qatayef in your hand, pinch the end to make a small pocket, place a teaspoon of crushed walnuts and cinnamon in the middle, then bring the edges together by pinching the dough between your fingers to seal the qatayef closed.  Do the same for cheese. 
  6. Make Kater: place sugar and water in a saucepan on medium heat. Allow water to boil and sugar to dissolve completely.  Then heat for a little longer until it starts to slightly thicken, turn off heat, stir in lemon juice and orange blossom. 
  7. Grilling Qatayef: Preheat the oven to 180 C, brush the filled pockets generously with butter, and place on a baking sheet, insert into the oven and cook until it is a deeper golden color, the center is crunchy.  Remove and soak in lukewarm Kater; serve immediately.  Note: many choose to fry qatayef, which is equally delicious.  Heat oil and deep fry them then quickly transfer them to the kater as they come out of the oil. 

Ramadan Kareem!


Pandemic Journal: #2


By 2020 humankind was fully virtual, and a bit more robotic and a lot less human. They were too busy fighting each other, to notice that nature was lurking around the corner ready to aggress against them. Nature chooses its own moments, it does not ask for permission, neither does it knock on one’s door before obliterating it. There are no grand announcements of Nature’s arrival, it simply attacks. It chose this moment to aggress against man, again, and it did not do so lazily. This is not the first time modern, virtual, robotic humanity, practicing the scientific method expertly, would confront nature. However, it may just be the first time in living memory, humankind would confront nature in its fullest rage.

For a virus to cause a pandemic that could potentially kill millions, it needs to maintain a delicate balance between contagiousness and deadliness. Deadly viruses like Ebola for example, are unable to cause pandemics, because patients get severely ill that they are immediately hospitalized and isolated; more often than not ending up dead within days.

In the 1918 influenza pandemic, the virus managed to maintain this balance, killing many, yet doing it at a rate that allowed it to be passed from one individual to the other spreading widely across the globe. In 2002 SARS broke out; it was deadly and it was contagious. However SARS is only contagious after the patient becomes symptomatic laying gasping for life in a hospital bed. 

COVID-19 mastered the balance between deadliness and contagiousness artfully.  What started as a generally mild virus, deadly to the elderly and those with chronic health conditions, or so we thought, has now raged on for a full year and is promising with its new mutants to continue its spread.  It is contagious even in asymptomatic patients, allowing the virus to move from one patient to the other without becoming symptomatically visible. It is smart and devious in that sense; it does not ask permission, it moves swiftly. It enters homes and spreads amongst families, at first giving a sense of false security, only to hit  loved ones viciously. 

In Palestine, there was a sense that the viral copy we had most of last year was  a mild one.  Today it is safe to say that this sense is no longer true.  As I write this, we can no longer pretend that the virus is life threatening to the elderly and the sick. Additionally, reports of symptoms rendering the young ill for weeks further confirms that no one is safe.   

One thing for sure, the lock down failed, at flattening the curve.  A year of on again off again lock downs and we find ourselves in face of a climbing curve, the higher it climbs the less concerned people seem.  It is not that lock downs are ineffective.  If history is the greatest teacher then there are many lessons to learn from the Spanish Influenza Pandemic. In fact epidemiologists rely on historical knowledge to inform their present day responses.  So by all accounts lock downs when community infections hit a high should have been effective and should have flattened the curve and stopped the virological spread.  But, we were never in real lock down, where we?  While the lock down seemed to apply on specific neighbourhoods and the center of one particular city, Ramallah, life proceeded business as usual elsewhere. Weddings, large gatherings, shopping sprees continued with no one to stop them.  

 While it is easy for leaders to turn and say this is an example of bad citizenship, that somehow the people have failed to act responsibly, this kind of rhetoric is inaccurate and seems to only relieve leaders from their own responsibilities. Those responsibilities being, planning, decision making and implementation. 

Starting with the lack of a serious set of measures for those who do not wear a mask, who do not adhere to social distancing, and continue to hold social gatherings with no precautionary health measures,  people will continue to not take heed of any decisions.  In addition to the selective implementation of rules and regulations, so this cafe/restaurant or bar (you fill the blank)  is open beyond curfew with no questioning, allowing its patrons a prolonged social gathering, while the falafel stand belonging to the old man and his sons whose only source of income is the number of five shekel sandwiches sold that day, gets shut down right at curfew, or maybe even five minutes before.  And the lack of a clear plan on how  the government will take care of its people, how will they compensate the daily falafel stand, or nawa’em boy.   And how will they pay off the debts of the restaurant owner and the mortgage of the Maitre Di with four children at one of the most popular restaurants in the city, as  they undulate between closures and openings.  Additionally, the lack of true governance beyond major city boundaries as per Oslo accord agreements and zoning.  Plus the contradictory messages received daily,  like on the eve of announcing that Palestinian hospitals are operating at 100% plus bed capacity, only to announce that all stores are open leading to the piling up of people like sardines no social distancing and a negligible number of masks in markets.  All of this have lead to a lack of trust in leadership that is unfortunately trickling down throughout society, and leading to one inevitable outcome…disaster. 

Death will lurk around the corner of every street, every harah and every family.  If illness is the nightside of life, then night has definitely fallen on Palestine and it may be a long time before the sun shines again. 

Yes, pandemics go beyond borders and pose a threat to humanity as a whole, however, rarely has a disease not been politicized with marginalized groups, and cultures paying the highest price. Palestinians are no different. And the pandemic has exacerbated our plight and has been a rude reminder of how low we place in the world order in terms of access to resources. The state of Palestine is a state under occupation after all. One can wonder if it is even a state these days.  In the coming few months we will be disabused of  our delusions of grandeur that plague us as a nation, as we cower in front of nature and roll into the night of life. 

We managed in the last year to corner ourselves into a health vs economy vs education (do not even get me started on schools) debate.   That is not the debate we should be having.  We should be having a serious conversation on how to open? how to implement regulations?  how to push onwards without paying the highest price…human life. 

We should have been having conversations on how to increase hospital capacities, how to support and protect our overworked and underpaid heath workers, our best and brightest.  The conversation should have also been about what relief can be offered to families who rely on per diem pay, should a lock down become inevitable. 

Instead document upon document of regulations for every single sector was put out, and shared widely with no real follow up.  The only sector that operated like there is a pandemic, outside the health sector, and in my opinion did so like a champion, is the educational sector.  

We hung our hopes on immunization.  But in Palestine the vaccine remains elusive.  Not only because we are a country rich in dignity, and poor in resources, but also because we failed to have the right conversation, the right debate.  Who will pay for the vaccine?  Should we act like an independent state and perhaps bite more than we can chew, or should we ask the occupying force to take its legal responsibilities and vaccinate the nation it has oppressed for decades?  And should the vaccine become available, how, and when, and who will get vaccinated first?  And who will make sure that the process is transparent, equitable and fair? But we did not have this conversation, and we remain looking down a dark tunnel. 

Life will go back to what it is, there is life after a pandemic. The world today is living proof of life after the Spanish Influenza. But the road of return is long, arduous, and heavily priced. 

For my conspiracy theorist friends, I pray this is all a conspiracy, not nature in its fullest rage, and biological history repeating itself…

“By 1918 humankind was fully modern, and fully scientific, but too busy fighting itself to aggress against nature. Nature, however, chooses its own moments. It chose this moment to aggress against man, and it did not do so prodding languidly. For the first time, modern humanity, a humanity practicing the modern scientific method, would confront nature in its fullest rage.”
The Great Influenza, John M Barry

For Pandemic Journal #1, please click here https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pandemic-journal-riyam-kafri-abulaban/



There is a particular sadness in cheesecake, a melancholic after taste, flat and blunt.  It is creamy and sweet on the edges, but heavy in the middle.  A sadness that registers on the tongue and releases memories into my synaptic cleft with electric speed.  

Replaced with sadness are memories of my father standing in our kitchen making the cake from a German recipe written in German on a piece of graphing paper.  The operation was carried with surgical precision and scientific accuracy.  My mother found herself demoted in her own kitchen to su chef or second surgeon.  She would eye my father with grave concern, like a mother would eye her toddler dashing straight into a mud puddle, pondering the dreadful aftermath, but giving in to the inevitable mess. 

With her lips sealed thin tight, mother helped.  A few protests would escape her mouth, just as quark came flying off the spatula to land flat on one of the kitchen cabinets. Sometimes the comment would turn into an argument, and other times she would reign in the comment, and continue to stand there watchfully. It looked like Mama was not enjoying any of this, and Baba  loved every minute of it. Now I know that the instantaneous argument was a necessary ingredient that ultimately made the cake taste particularly happy. 

Baba and I on my third birthday

Happy tasted light, creamy with hints of lemon zest, and notes of rum flavor or was it real rum?  Happy had whiffs of sour on the edges, but was perfectly sweet in the center.  It had the laughter of children growing up, the excitement the first slice carried with it as Mama lifted it expertly out of the pan.  It had the seriousness of classical music and the memories of a younger version of Baba that must have lived freely and danced carelessly in what sounded to us a magical and far away place called Dresden.   

I believe Baba was happiest when he was in Dresden; immersed in his books, electrified by the science and carried lightly on melodies of his favorite symphonies.  Baba was a complicated man, Palestinian fallah meets German professor; poverty stricken meets eduationally fed; socialist fighter meets middle class comfort. The fluidity of Arabic language collides with the discipline of German culture. 

Cheesecake was happiness for my father. A piece of his complex soul, a peace offering extended to us, his teenage children. Deafened by our own lives, he must have felt invisible; unheard and unseen.    It was an invitation to get to know him.  It was a concave view of his complexity.  But for us, at least that immediate moment of heightened  consciousness, it was simply delicious, irreplicable cheesecake.  

Baba and the twins

Cheesecake, meant Baba taking over the kitchen for a half a day, and Mama cleaning after him for days.  It was a tasty inconvenience. But it was also a moment of peace, when everyone would grow quiet, the arguing, the laughing and the loudness tethered to children came to a screeching halt.  

The house abandoned its daily noises and listened intently to the signs of brewing coffee, the clicking and clacking of dishes and utensils as the table was set. And as quiet spread its thick blanket, the chairs were drawn and three children with their parents plopped themselves in anticipation.  

The click of the springform pan announced that it was time.  The kitchen smiled broadly, proud it survived another cheesecake adventure. The knife silently slid into the cake, and a hushed swoosh was heard as it traveled down through the filling reaching the crust.  Then my mother pried the first piece out of the pan, careful not to break it apart.  We stared through the arabesque of her arms, cradling our faces with drooling mouths, each hoping  that the first piece made its  way to their plate. 

Dad loved Blackforest too, but that is a different story for a different time.

Eventually we each got  a piece, and coffee gurgled into Mama and Baba’s cups.  Then the competition of who ate slowest ensued.  I watched around the table as I began the swift journey of my fork pressing into the cake , only to be surprised by the crust’s slight resistance before it gave way into crumbly surrender. Then I lifted my fork, slowly, surely to my mouth.   My lips parted; the cake made its way into my mouth. My tongue received the piece  eagerly, and as it sighed its flavors out,  an explosion of thickness, creaminess, light tangues of lemon awakened my taste buds.  The flavors waltzed in my mouth, as I started preparing the next bite. 

There was a particular happiness in cheesecake that I missed.  I was busy being a teenager who was  branding her family annoying, dysfunctional and any other adjective that came rushing to mind. But it is exactly moments like this , when families sit around tables in silence to enjoy a meal, or a piece of dessert that memories are made.  It is the stuff  families are made off. It is what we take for granted as children, the love and safety of parents and the warmth of belonging together. 


I had the same dream again…creamy silky cheesecake, Baba in my kitchen, mixing the ingredients, smiling at me.  Sugar, cream cheese, butter, a dash of rum flavor, or  vanilla, and eggs.  He reminds me  not to forget the juice of a half lemon and grated lemon peel.  I hover around him, trying to register every move.  But when I ask him questions, he does not answer. He just pours the batter into the pan, and opens the oven door. I reach out to help him, suddenly he is gone, he gets sucked into the darkness.  I lose my footing and fall into the oven behind him. He disappears, and I come crashing into my bed…. The dream ends abruptly; I wake up sweaty, panting for air, with a blunt pain in my chest.

Decades after Baba’s cheesecake adventures met its abrupt end at the hands of multiple coronary thrombosis, I was blinded with bottomless grief and found myself in a state of perpetual hunger for hints of him in everything.  I became acutely aware of all the similarities I share with him but never admitted to. So I embarked on a journey to recreate his cake in a desperate search for a hint of him in a bite. 

My journey is ornate with endless failures.  In my notebook, I enter one failed attempt after the other.  One time the quark was too salty, another time, not enough sugar, the third time the consistency was all wrong, not dense enough, not creamy enough, too light, too airy, not enough vanilla, and the list goes on and on.  My notebook reads like the hall of fame of failures and the disappointed looks on my siblings’ faces are trophies shining on its walls lustrously.  

I regret not translating the recipe into English or Arabic. A continued pang of pain throbs against my heart that I never made the cake with him.  He spent so much time with the children, yet we could never squeeze an afternoon to bake.  Life always interrupted with a meeting or a phone call, or a sick child.  I desperately wished I filmed him making it. Although my memories were as crystal clear as a glass ornament, they were devoid of color and sound.  They receded into foggy compartments, there and not really there. 

Baba and I sometime in 2009 or 2010

Many times I find  myself remembering his wrinkled dark hands, opening the quark/labneh  and pouring it into the food processor bowl. I imagine I am standing right beside him taking notes, talking to him.  I see him smiling, answering my questions with scientific rigour.  I think he would have loved this rare moment  of attention from his eldest daughter.  The. busy one, who resided comfortably in the distant Sunday dinners, occasional birthdays, Christmas Eves and Eid gatherings.  Always busy, always on the run…

Often the images in my head are vivid that memory and imagination mix together, and become indiscernible.  But one thing remains and perseveres, the cheesecake.  The finer details of its flavors, the happiness it once brought and the particular sadness it now brings.  

There is a particular sadness to cheesecake these days.  One that persistently comes up in every attempt to recreate dad’s version and in the realization that to die means to not live.  A painful recognition to come to is the mortality of our parents, the mortality of ourselves. 

Kasekuchen Ohn Boden: bottomless cheesecake

It is hard to imagine Baba not enjoying cheesecake. How fragile life is! How flimsy are its pleasures! We take them for granted, casting them aside as mundane and worldly, and only when death takes our loved ones, do we understand their preciousness.

My dad lived a full life with a successful career, a vibrant family with a wife who was equal parts homemaker and intellectual partner.  A father who raised the bar high for his children, and never took any excuses. It is the fullness of his life that leaves behind an array of pain and memory. The more one lives, the more love there is to mourn. 

All faiths and cultures believe that death leads to a better place. Does it?  Or is this what mortals tell themselves to ease the pain of loss.  On the eve of what would have been Baba’s 87th birthday, I can only pray that he is indeed in a better place where eternal peace and happiness envelope him warmly. 

You are missed, Rest In Peace Baba 

Baba, my sister, brother and I


Handala and Harry Potter

Over Winter Break, my children started to read Harry Potter. A fan myself, my heart was swelling with joy and pride. Eight years old and holding their books, sometimes to the light of a mobile phone to read, I was thrilled that they have discovered the joy of reading, the escape into a good book’s pages. And Harry, Hermoine and Ron were good characters to fall in love with, or at least that is what I thought.

I would take Hermoine over any Disney princess, any day. Knowledgeable, well read, knows her way around any library, intelligent and inquisitive. Hermoine never really needed anyone to help her, she never batted her eyelashes to get Ron or Harry to do anything for her. So, yes, I was thrilled, that we were out of the princess and prince woods and into the Harry Potter world.

And yes of course I prefer Harry and Ron over any Disney prince, from Prince Charming who went on his good looks and toothy smile to sleeping beauty’s prince, who apparently kissed girls in their sleep, without their consent one would assume (imagine if sleeping beauty got up and slapped him…that would have been funny)

Ron’s humility, his sense of humor, his loyalty and his arachnophobia make him approachable and believable. He is a character with so much humanity that one cannot help but love him. He tells a human story of friendship. For children, making friends is their first experience in building relationships, and creating their own social space where they grow, learn, experiment and express themselves. And Ron does exactly that, out of a very ordinary family (nothing ordinary about Mrs. Weasley’s kitchen, yet still apart from the magic, the Weasley’s are a hardworking middle class, maybe lower middle class family), Ron makes friends, and brings values like honesty and loyalty to life.

And there is Harry, rising from the ashes of tragedy, with a good heart, despite all the evil he has seen. Harry was no different than many children across the world today. Losing his parents in a war, turning into a refugee as a baby; sent to live in a cellar underneath the stairs; mistreated by those who claimed to be family, but adamantly refused to treat him as their own. Judged for who he is and where he came from, I couldn’t help but think of all the refugee children who met the same fate Harry had. The interconnections between the two stories stared back at me, and there was one child, one particular refugee child that kept popping in my head…his hands clasped behind his back, his patched shirt, his bare feet vividly dancing in front of my face, a black and white outline of a character, Handala…

Without any magic, or a Dumbeldore to look after him, Handala is practically on his own, he was and remains ten (maybe 11) years old. Having lost everything, Handala does not grow up; over the years and decades he remains a child..His face turned away from the world, his hands clasped behind his back, he patiently waits to return home. On the walls of refugee camps spray painted, he waits. He swings helplessly from silver key chains, his back still turned to the world, he faithfully waits. On the chests of young women he hangs from necklaces nestled under warm scarves wrapped artfully around their necks, or heads; he rests listening to their heartbeats and he tirelessly waits. Shared as an animation, or printed in white and black in newspaper cartoons, Handala never shows us his face; all he does us wait. One wonders if beyond the turned back there are tears; or a patient smile, or a sarcastic look…Or maybe he is angry?

Handala is no different than Harry. And if they ever met, maybe they would become friends? Harry would teach him how to swing a wand (Hermoine would be the one to teach him different spells though, especially the complicated ones); or how to use the Pensieve to collect memories. Or they might been perfectly content eating chocolate frogs, and vanilla wafers, on the Hogwarts Express laughing and talking. Harry’s scar would match Handala’s scratched marks. Handala would share a citrusy orange, while telling Harry how much he wishes to see his home again. Harry would swoop Handala on a quick trip over Palestine. They may be mistaken for a handmade drone, and may have to escape the iron dome missiles quickly, but Harry would handle the situation and disapparate them back to the train cart safely.

They would argue over which is the more interesting game Quidditch or Football (the real football, i.e. soccer). The argument would be heated, Harry would claim that football is boring; no one gets to fly, there is only one ball, and it rarely leaves the grass. Handala would defend football, and argue that quidditch cannot be played anywhere anytime, but football is not constrained to the field and the match. All you need is a ball, two stones as your goal post and children who want to play. In fact the most beautiful football is played on the streets with makeshift balls and very loud children. However, Handala would marvel at the opportunity to fly freely to the highest of altitudes on a broomstick. Both children would agree that Quidditch and soccer are far better than American football, and would joke at the weird shaped ball and the grunting player faces. They would laugh and quickly turn to eat more chocolate.

Harry’s scar would burn, Handala’s shadowy scratches would tingle, and they would become fast friends. Harry would smile, Handala would stand with his hands clasped, his face staring out the window, and would secretly smile. Harry wouldn’t see Handala’s face, and being a wizard, having met all kinds of magical creatures, he wouldn’t mind.

Handala would think Harry is a magical hero, but it is Harry, in his humility and kindness who is quick to recognize that it is Handala who is magical and heroic. Muggle born, with no supernatural powers, no wand, no magic, Handala is just as mysterious, just as enamoring, and just as heroic; his power is patience and perseverance…

Everyone knows Harry Potter’s happy ending, but we still wait for Handala’s happy ending to come. We can only hope it would be as magically just as Harry’s

In the meantime, I stand in my kitchen baking ginger bread cookies in the shape of Handala; I decorate them and bring them to life on my kitchen counter. The kids are curious…they ask questions, the conversation takes on all kinds of shapes, they want to know what will happen next to Handala, they want to read on about Harry (although they know the ending too well), we talk, we dream, we imagine what Handala’s face might look like. We agree that the only happy ending is for Handala to return home…

As I sit down to write this, they read over my shoulder; and as the questions continue , my heart fills with hope.


Metamorphosis II: Dear Motherhood

After one year of giving birth, I sat in a cafe frantically writing this letter to motherhood, before picking up the twins form day care. I read this now and recognize how paramount that year was, and how thankful I am that i became a mother.

I survived…One year later, and I am still alive. I do not sleep, I do not eat, and washing my hair is a luxury, but I made it and I may have turned into a better person.  I have two tiny people that remind me daily that life is sweet and short, much like a mini Mars bar, just when you start enjoying it, it ends.

 As my day starts and my level of stress shoots to star high levels, the piled undone laundry starts to develop an attitude, and the unprepared lecture notes start to guilt trip me into wondering what kind of person I have become.  What happened to the talented, smart, intelligent, career oriented, size 8 wearing, 15 km running woman I once was? And just as the sight of a morning jogger starts to pinch my heart and bring severe awareness to my protruding belly, and my wide hips, and just as my colleague writes me a long email passive aggressively reprimanding me for missing yet another academic committee meeting, and just as I race out of campus only to be stopped at Qalandia…for hours; just as the world starts to cave in, these tiny feet, and tiny teeth, and innocent eyes that gather the most beautiful expressions a human face can gather remind me that I am no longer who I once was, that I have irreversibly changed.  I may have been the career oriented, size 8 wearing, 15 km running woman, but back then I was only a caterpillar slowly swallowing everything in front of me, unable to ever feel full or satisfied.  I did not know back then, just like a caterpillar does not know that we were both only fulfilling our destiny. That soon we will emerge out of cocoons, butterflies with wings to carry us as far away as possible from everything that is mundane, to the honey centers of jasmine and rose. My soul has wings now, and it sores beyond all that is daily and boring.  It can see the bigger picture even when my children are sick, and I am on my way to yet another doctor’s appointment in the middle of a thunderstorm.  

A student of mine approached me cautiously a few weeks ago; she said that I made her cry last year.  She was terrified of taking a course with me, but was pleasantly surprised when she finally did.  “You changed, professor, you are not as difficult as you used to be,” she confessed.  I was not sure what to do, should I be embarrassed for what I once was?  Or should I be happy that I have changed.  My students have always known me to be tough, but never was the intention to make anyone cry.  She said that I still held them at very high expectations, but that I was gentler and more compassionate. I wanted to hug my student so hard and tell her that motherhood changes everything. It softens the heart, and awakens the conscience, and opens up the brain to fresh air.  It rewires all emotional, biochemical and hormonal pathways, and the end result is a new human being.  The caterpillar undergoes major biochemical and physiological changes too, it grows wings, legs, and tentacles; its body becomes skinnier and lighter to fly away. As it emerges out of its cocoon, it is changed forever. And I have emerged out of my cocoon.   

Yes, there are days when I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I do wake up feeling much like Gregor Samsa did, a giant vermin, ugly, frantically trying to gain control over my body and everything else. There are days when I am no longer a butterfly but a ferret running frantically on its wheel and getting nowhere.  A look in the mirror could send me into uncontrollable crying episodes as I lament the dark circles under my eyes, the ungroomed person I have become with milk, egg, and lentil soup stains on almost every piece of clothing. But soon enough Basil’s belly laugh comes rolling into my ear and rudely interrupts my self-pity. Then I snap back and remember that I am neither a ferret nor an ugly giant vermin.  I am a butterfly.  Or Taima’s unlimited babbling that starts at 6 a.m. and does not stop until she falls asleep trustingly in her father’s arms at 8 p.m. swirls around me, and then I am transformed again from self loathing to sweet reality. 

Yes I have cried endlessly this year.  I have cried alone, with the children around, in my car, in my bed, while changing diapers, while cooking dinner, in the kitchen, while grading papers, while reading scientific literature that made no sense at all at 2 a.m. while trying to a make a deadline for an article in This Week in Palestine, while missing mixing body butters and scrubs. I have cried everywhere you can think of as the pressures of life caved in. I cried when Basil could not breathe from his broncholitis and when Taima was rushed to the emergency room on her first birthday. I cried when I missed the Christmas tree lighting in Ramallah, and when I gave my midterms three weeks before finals. I cried when I realized that I have not said one meaningful sentence to Ahmed for months, and when we could not finish a simple conversation because Taima woke up full of tears and vomit, sick again.  I cried when Basil woke up and screamed for two hours every day for the past month. I cried when the only sleep I got where between the hours of 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.  I have cried a lot this year. But (and please underline this but) I have also laughed. It is difficult to say which I did more off crying or laughing, but when I did laugh, it was the kind of laugh that uncoils from the bottom of your tummy and roars through your entire body.  I can say I have experienced pure joy, the kind that only a mother knows. 

As the year ends, and I continue to search for me and find me in between written lines, cooked dinners, decorated Christmas trees, graded or ungraded papers, endless laundry, stolen quiet moments (even if they are in the bathroom),  I just have one request from you dear Motherhood; have mercy on me and Ahmed. Give us the wisdom and strength to raise these children to become better than us.  Give us the strength to raise them lovers of life and humanity, fighters for justice, kind, compassionate, well read, well written, well spoken, strong, very Palestinian individuals who will be able to face life even after we stop to exist.  And give me, personally, the ability to understand that I have forever…morphed. 

Happy New Year!



Welcome to Palestine! A country in waiting!

First Pubished on The Big Olive. And the waiting continues…

Welcome to the land of waiting.  People here are born waiting. Waiting to return to a homeland lost, and from the looks of it, in the most desperate moments, lost forever.  Waiting to return to a home they still carry a key for in their hand and a memory in their heart, an image hidden in the folds of their dreams, that sadly and in the most realistic moments, they know no longer exists.

 In Palestine you wait for Ramadan, just like you wait for a breath of fresh air in a crowded restaurant in NYC, you wait for a  tasree7 (permit),  you wait for the paycheck, or even worse you wait for the job.

You wait for schools to open, for the strike to end, for the checkpoint to be removed, for the accident rubble to be cleared. You wait for the Allenby bridge to empty, you wait for the doctor to finally come in on time.

In Palestine you wait. You wait for your dreams to happen.

You wait to leave the refugee camp, you wait to leave the village, you wait to arrive to Ramallah, you wait for destiny to embrace you, but she really never does.  In fact at the first stop she slaps you hard in the face and leaves her mark, and then you spend a lifetime waiting for that wound to heal. It never does. 

In Palestine you wait to graduate, you wait to find a job, you wait for the next job to be better.

In Palestine you wait to get married, then you wait to have children then you wait for them to grow, then you wait for them to become doctors…trust me they will not.

In Palestine you wait in line endlessly to receive permission to see Palestine that is yours.  And after you finally get a chance to see her, you realize she looks nothing like what your grandparents described, and nothing like the country your mother cries over.  You wait to see her, only to realize, she did not wait for you. 

In Palestine you wait for the birth of a child anxiously with the hope she is not born on a checkpoint.  In Palestine you wait for  the hunger strike to end.  You wait for sons and daughters to be released from prison, only to be rearrested again, at the next checkpoint on the next trip, on their way to find a job and start a life.

In Palestine you wait for your paycheck only to have it hijacked by hungry loan payments and red hot gasoline prices. 

In Palestine , you wait endlessly in Qalandia to get home.  Keep waiting…this might take hours. . 

You wait for the summer to end in the hopes that winter will bring more peace, and you wait for winter to end in the hopes that summer will bring more warmth. 

And in Palestine you wait  for the next eruption, the next intifada, the next incursion, the next war…And that always happens


On Running

First published: 2012 on The Big Olive. The truth is, although I gave up running and replaced it with yoga, I never stopped being a runner.

Dedicated to all women runners.  Actually to all women out there who seem to always be running to something or from something. Here is to running towards your dreams and not away from your fears…

The road does not ask questions. It does not care if she is wearing hijab, or shorts. The road does not judge if she runs fast or walks slow. It is not bothered by her earphones or her choice of music.  It does not label her as liberal or  conservative.  It does not question her ethics based on her hair color or her clothes.  The road never wonders what she does for a living, or how many children she has. It does not ask  about her age, or when will she get married. It does not encourage her to get married young or old.

The road is present every day, she can go to it at her leisure. The road curls around her village, her town, her neighborhood or around her house; it offers her solace from the noise that is her life.  The road will not beat her, it will not put her down. It will not judge her for being Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu for that matter.  It will not ask her if her shoes are expensive or cheap.  The road will not stop her from pursuing her dream, it will not pull her out of school and marry her off to a man triple her age.  The road is there for her to run on it, to free her mind, to rest her soul from all that is ugly, all that is violent.  The road will not rape her, or rob her of her innocence.  It will not leave bruises all over her body. It will not promise to love her only to control her.  The road with its dark asphalt, its sharp turns and soft hills, will offer her a good morning summer breeze or a good evening winter chill.  The road does not care  if she gave birth naturally or if she even opted for a C-section. The road will not ask her how many months did she breast feed and then judge her  motherhood based on that.  It will not label her too skinny, too fat, too dark or too light. 

The road will not ask why her dress is too short, or her skirt is too long.  It will give her space to think, because she can think. It will give her a place to feel because she can feel.  The road will not debate with her whether she has the right to open bank accounts for her children, or if she can remarry if the love of her life died. The road does not care if she was single, married, divorced, widowed or none of the above.  The road will not promise to love her, marry her, father her children and then slaughter her over a custody battle.  It will not throw her in a well for a crime she did not commit.  It will not kill her because she is a woman.

The road will never question her honor, and it will not kill her in the name of honor.  The road is there for her to stand, demonstrate, RUN, walk, play, laugh, scream.  And sometimes the road is there for her to get away or at least try to get away, so the next time you see a woman running frantically, if you are not ready to propel her to what she is running towards or protects her from whatever she is running away from, just make way so she can at least get away…


To Paris: A letter to the Jaba Checkpoint Soldier

Back when I was commuting between Abu Dis and Ramallah daily, and most especially when I was pregnant with twins and my belly was doing all the driving, I was stopped on my way home every day to be on the Jaba Checkpoint and asked where I was going… Everyday I had to fight the urge to say Paris!

Dear Jabaa’ Checkpoint Soldier

                I am going to Ramallah. I will always be going to Ramallah when I pass you.  Day in day out, that will always be my destination.  Where else could I be going in my Palestinian plates car and Palestinian ID passing through your precious little checkpoint? Paris, mathalan [for example] ? For the thousandth time, I do not speak Hebrew.   No, I do not carry any fancy foreign passport.  Yes,  I speak English fluently, because I am smart, I worked hard, and instead of spending my teenage years learning how to use a gun, I spent them holed up in my room, reading books and learning how to use my pen.

Much to your surprise,  I am a professor of chemistry, of all subjects.  Please collect your jaw off the floor.  I spent eleven years studying abroad, in the United states to be exact.  I did not consider remaining there, and I did not apply for a green card. The only green card I carry is my Palestinian I.D. It does not grant me any privileges, in fact it has sometimes deprived me of  basic rights, like the freedom of movement in my own country.  But I hang on to it dearly, and  will not replace it with the “good” green card, as you so eloquently put it. Where is that accent of yours from? Russia? Is that why you came to “Israel”, looking for the equivalent of a”good” green card? 

Don’t you get tired of stopping my car every day? Isn’t it a bit monotonous to be asking me the same question? “Where are you going? Lawain?” Every day I have to discipline my urge to get  lippy with you .  I have to stop the words from throwing themselves at you and then exploding in your face (no pun intended, or maybe it is).  What I really want to say in response to your ridiculous question: To Paris!! I am going to Paris!!  Through your checkpoint I hope the world will receive me with wide strong arms. I hope it will cradle my dreams and handle them with care, and that it will not crush them like you have managed to do with the hopes and dreams of all Palestinians in the past present and many generations to come.  To Paris, so I can have creamy butter croissant, and good coffee early in the morning, and fine aged wine with my deliciously fresh salad in the evening. To Paris, so I can attend contemporary dance festivals  and poetry readings. So I can walk in open air markets.   To Paris, so I can meet smart educated people, and have endless philosophical discussions filled with rhetorical questions pondering the state of the world.  To Paris, so I can sit on my window sill and yearn for better times at home.  So I can live and breathe everything Palestinian like it was the last breath after a long struggle with a terminal illness.  To Paris, so I can never forget your checkpoint and the long boring humiliating unnecessary delays, so I can carry the cries of a pregnant woman giving birth at your checkpoint in the creases of my wrinkled dress, and the endless spaces of my soul. To Paris, so I can tell the world about my students sitting on the ground, shirtless, handcuffed for one reason and one reason only…they don’t carry the “good” green card.  So I can write countless blog entries about men, women and children who were once trying to get somewhere but never did because of your checkpoint.  To Paris, so I can write about Palestine like a distant land that inhabits the warmest chambers of one’s heart, so close yet so unattainable.

But wait just a second!  I do that already, all day every day right here, just twenty minutes beyond your checkpoint in a tiny little town called Ramallah. So NO of course I am not going to Paris, I am still going to Ramallah.  And I still yearn for Palestine and better times, every day, all day.

Please wipe that shocked look off your face.  Release the grip on your gun. And relax the angles of your mouth, it appears that you are smiling, or maybe just smirking.  I am not an untamed animal trying to escape my cage, I do not have a tail growing out of my behind. This is not a zoo.  I am a woman, and to your grave disappointment you and I belong to the same species. We are both Homo sapiens, a.k.a  humans.  Contemplate THAT  while you wait to harass the next car passing through your precious checkpoint.  In the meantime, I am still going to Ramallah!!!

Not So Sincerely,

An Educated Palestinian Woman ( possibly your worst and your government’s worst nightmare and Palestine’s best potential) 


A Note on Writing

First Published on The Big Olive. Was dedicated to my students in AbuDis, and is dedicated today to all my TOK students writing their essays and asking for more time…

I found me-happy liberated soulful me- in sentences and punctuation. I found fresh air in paragraphs with long descriptive adjectives, loaded with sarcasm once and emotional flourish other times.  I found happy unhindered me lost between question marks and exclamation points.  I found ME in writing.  Writing was an old hobby that was pushed away with structures, reactions and jarring scientific literature.  But thankfully, gratefully, writing found me and saved me.

I write out of this quiet space, in the wee hours of the morning, when my mind is still quiet, and the sounds of life, the noise I should say, has not awakened into chaos.  It happens just before the coffee aroma takes over the kitchen, and movement takes over my day.  It happens away from the road, Abu Dis, the twins, and far away from Ramallah.  My thoughts breathe steadily, and the rhythm of it all takes shape.  My chest tickles as the words pour uncontrollably on my screen, and my spirit battles with my very scientific mind that wants to correct every sentence and spell every word correctly on the first try.  And then it all takes a life of its own, and I no longer can control what is it I am trying to write. I often sit down inspired by many things, Qalandia, the chaos on campus, the wide eyed students coming to terms with their intellectual ability, my children’s smile.  I sit in front of my screen intending to take this inspiration for a specific ride with very defined parameters, but rarely do I ever accomplish this goal.  Writing shapes itself, thoughts come out of their hidden compartments and find refuge on paper.  Sentences huddle together to make paragraphs and paragraphs slowly gel to tell a story.  Deep in my brain, feelings dislodge themselves from their shelves and slowly undulate towards my fingers to take their rightful place on paper.  As I sit and write, I slowly sink into my inner soul, and  find an inner peace that  is not of any other place.  The silence deepens, the writing quickens, my breath steadies a cool energy like a fresh Fall breeze uncoils like a serpent  from the  bottom of my spine and rises up towards the center of my brain, and sssshhhhhh there it is…divine silence just breath. Breathe in…breathe out….

The sounds of life stirring on the street scare away my thoughts, and my meditative state slowly coils back into my tail bone. My thoughts and feelings scurry back into their compartments and shelves deep in my brain, and my soulful moment abruptly ends as life takes over again…the coffee is ready, the babies are crying, Abu Dis awaits, and the day has begun.  I take comfort in the hope that I get to feel this again soon, in the quietness of another morning  and the details of another piece.

 Writing has made me whole, writing has made me more human, more motherly.  I found happy peaceful ME in between comas and exclamation points. Writing for my soul is running for my body.  It has shed the extra weight of unwanted thoughts, negative ugly feelings, and left my soulful self to explore and become a better mother, wife, lover, daughter and most important of all, as one of my students put it, a better teacher and human being.


The Splendid Palestinian Table

This article first appeared in the April 2018 issue of This Week in Palestine (www.thisweekinpalestine.com) 

By Riyam Kafri AbuLaban

When children are asked to name things that they love about their mothers, food is one of the most reoccurring items on their lists. They will tell you that they love her laser-beam eyes that seem to find lost toys and detect lies before they even make their way to their mouths. Answers will vary from one child to another, but generally children will cite their mother’s food as one of the things they love about her. Food’s emotional fingerprint is stamped into our memory and emotions at a very young age. Nothing tastes like mom’s food, but more importantly nothing feels like it. As we age, we pursue cooking to replicate those dishes in the hopes of reviving childhood memories and all the feelings that come with them, and in the hopes that we can create similar experiences for our own children. Food is, therefore, not just sustenance, and our journeys into our kitchens are not only a daily chore to put food on our family tables, but rather a deliberate, creative process in which memories, love, belonging, loss, celebration, and a sense of identity are created and engrained for both those of us who cook and those who eat.


Food is culture and not a simple hedonistic pleasure that lasts for the duration of a meal. If it were just that, then food memoires and food writing wouldn’t be among the most popular types of literature. I remember the first time I came to realize the power of food for me. I was in my second year of college in the United States and was considerably homesick. I went to the kitchen to make tabbouleh and stuffed eggplants for myself and friends coming over for dinner, and it was as if I were transposed back in time to my mother’s kitchen. As I recreated those two dishes, I was guided by my intuition, my visual memory, and my muscle memory as I felt my way around the kitchen and carved the eggplants, chopped the parsley, soaked the bourghul, and juiced the lemons. And when the food hit my tongue, my taste memory took me back to my mother’s kitchen again. The experience was powerful, but I am not sure it cured me of my homesickness; it perhaps made it even worse.

Food and cuisine are deeply engrained into our psyche, and it is no wonder that when someone tries to steal it, or claim it, or “appropriate” it as their own, our stomachs turn, quite literally and figuratively. The first time I stood in the grocery store holding in my hand a container of “Israeli hummus” nearly 22 years ago, I had to reconcile my feelings of homesickness, hunger, craving for food from home, and the fact that thehummus I knew was not Israeli. For me it was Palestinian, made with Nabulsi tahini, lemons from Tulkarem, and garbanzo beans dried by some old Palestinian woman in a nearby village, and rehydrated and cooked for hours by my mother. It made an appearance on our Friday breakfast table. And it was eat-it-by-the-spoon delicious, just ask my sister who until the age of five insisted on eating it with a spoon, she loved it so much. Little did I know (back then when I was a child) that 20-some years later, I would stand in the grocery store trying to convince myself not to buy the “Israeli hummus” and reach for the peanut butter instead, because deep down in my stomach, something turned, telling me that this would only culminate in a series of encounters with Israeli knafeh(a sweet made with cheese and pastry, soaked in sugar), falafel, sahlab(a starchy hot drink enjoyed mostly in winter), shakshouka(sautéed tomatoes with onions and sunny-side-up eggs), makloubeh(a dish with rice and fried cauliflower, eggplant, and potatoes), shawerma (a sandwich with shreds of meat, salad, and tahini sauce), and more, as I became more interested in food and cooking.


I most certainly do not want to spiral into a conversation of my hummus, your hummus. The conversation on hummus these days seems to take over much of the food-writing scene, including articles in peer-reviewed academic journals such as Gastronomica (published by the University of California Press) and mainstream media outlets such as The Guardian. Conversations on Middle Eastern cuisine must continue to be sophisticated and not trivialized. They rather need to remain cultured and complex, much like the subject matter that is multi-layered and diverse in its stories and history. On the other hand, this conversation is very personal and intimate. Who we are today and how we eat is largely shaped by the food presented to us as children. So, although conversations on hummus may seem redundant, we need not degrade them into “Hummus Wars” as if they were some reality show on the Food Network. Neither can they be settled by a scholarly declaration of “Our Hummus,” as if to please two feuding sides into a deceiving claim of co-existence.

It isn’t the claim to the food that bothers me, per se, because we Palestinians are aware that our claim to hummus isn’t an exclusive one but rather part of a mosaic of Middle Eastern and Levant cuisine. It is the underlying message and attempt to erase Palestinian and Arab claim to these dishes that is infuriating. “The controversy about Israel’s appropriation of Palestinian food has nothing to do with Jews eating Arabic food, but rather with a systematic approach to disappear Palestinians in all their details.” (Steven Salaita) It would be trivial and immature not to recognize that Arab Jews did exist and that they cooked and ate the cuisines of the countries and regions they lived in. But to attribute without the slightest recognition those dishes to Israel is nothing short of blatant, outright theft. Forget appropriation and call it exactly what it is, theft.

Palestinians recognize that their cuisine is part of a broader regional cuisine. What the world needs to recognize is that this region is the cradle of all civilizations, and the land of Mesopotamia cooked different versions of dishes now pictured on Instagram and Twitter and dubbed “Israeli” long before Israel ever existed as a political entity.

I am aware that people are agitated when talking about culture and food appropriation. That is not appropriation, they might claim, it is fusion. But what we have here is not cuisine fusion, because fusion, much like interdisciplinary approaches in education, may very well be asymmetrical, where one cuisine contributes more to the fusion dish than the other. However, both cuisines are properly recognized, respected, and celebrated. While fusion is a celebration of cultures coming together, food appropriation and theft occur when one culture simply steals the food of another without any recognition of the existence of the other.

Palestinians do not eat food only to survive. Our cuisine is a product of a long-standing relationship with our land: mahashi(vegetables, mostly zucchini and eggplant, stuffed with rice and minced meat) are enjoyed in the winter to warm your heart and give you energy; watery spinach, rich in iron, is just what you need at the end of a cold day; khobbaizeh(malva parviflora) grows abundantly in late winter/early spring and is full of vitamins and nutrients needed to revitalize us after the cold season. And in the spring, there is fool akhdar biz-zeit(green beans with olive oil) and za’atar akhdar(“green,” i.e., fresh thyme) for salads and salty pastries. The intrinsic connection we have with our land brings to our table colorful dishes and into our kitchens and cuisine intricate techniques of preparation and preservation: kneading, baking, stuffing, rolling, drying, pickling, and much more. Our food is a representation of the villages we lived in, the land we farmed, the olives we harvested, the weddings we danced in, and the funerals we walked in. Dishes connected to destroyed villages still make their way to our tables as we cook to remember a lost land and threatened existence.

For Palestinians forced out of their land in 1948, food is in the past tense, only to be brought into the present when dishes from their villages are made today to bring back a glimpse of the colorful squash, herbs, and crops of village life. For those who live in Gaza, food in the refugee camp is unwholesome, an unfinished puzzle with pieces missing.

So when The New York Timesclaims that Israeli sahlabis the new latte, or when international food bloggers visiting Jerusalem claim that they enjoyed Israeli delicacies in the Old City and post pictures of themselves with Abu Mohammad making halawehin the background, our stomachs will turn in pain and rejection. It is quite ironic that as Rachel Ray tweeted colorful photos of “Israeli mezza” that featured baba ghanoush(eggplant dip), hummus, and tabbouleh just a few days before Christmas, Christian Palestinians were making that exact same mezza for Christmas Eve. To claim that this mezza is exclusively Israeli is no different from white American churches hanging photos of a blond, blue-eyed Jesus Christ. That is not appropriation, whether intentional or not; those who do it are participating in the theft and disappearance of a culture.

In recent years, Palestinian food enthusiasts, bloggers, writers, artists, and anthropologists have started to gain momentum. Laila El-Haddad, Rula Bishara, Joudie Kalla, and many more food enthusiasts are making a splash on the food-culture scene and are reclaiming Palestinian dishes with superb recipes and riveting family stories. If you ask most of them, they would tell you that they write to keep a record for themselves, that their books began mainly as memories they wanted to preserve. Many of these writers reside outside Palestine.

I think the challenge of being a food writer in Palestine is quite obvious. How can we write about food and the richness of our cuisine when we are surrounded in every direction by land confiscation, child prisoners, unemployment, and poverty? How can we talk about food when hunger strikes are on and off in Israeli prisons? I myself haven’t reconciled this jarring difference, but I know that if we do not move to make our presence known on the food-culture scene, we will continue to watch our favorite childhood dishes be hijacked. Perhaps if we continue to cook together, always connecting our dishes to the land we came from, it stops being food-writing for the sake of pleasure but rather a conversation on identity and existence.

A new project called Palestine’s Hosting Society began last August by the artist Mirna Bamieh. The collective has several projects from food tours to family dinners to restaurant takeovers where Palestinian ingredients are reimagined in fusion dishes and restaurant cuisine. It is dynamic as more people join and reinvent and rejuvenate the collective so that it may tell a broader story. The family dinner project documents the food traditions of Palestinian families as people cook and invite others to their dinners, and tables become a space to explore food and hospitality politics, share experiences, and reconstruct people’s relationship with food, place, and space. In Haifa, Suzan Matar, hosted a dinner with the theme Min Moonet Sitti(From My Mother’s Pantry), where she featured dishes made from the typical Middle Eastern pantry with things like sun-dried tomatoes, homemade maftool(hand-rolled tiny pasta pearls), pickled vegetables, and home-dried labaneh(strained yoghurt). While her grandmother is Lebanese, those items and techniques are staples in any of our kitchens. More projects like this one are needed as Palestinians living in Palestine reclaim their dinner tables and with them, their connection to their lands. Another family dinner featured the Gazan kitchen with such dishes as rummanieh, originally from Yafa, which became part of the Gazan kitchen as refugees brought it with them. Rummaniehhas now been nearly forgotten in Yafa, but that night people were able to rediscover Gaza through the smells and tastes of the dishes served. (www.palestinehostingsociety.com)

Our struggle is uphill; dishes we have known and loved since our childhood will continue to be claimed as Israeli. Musakhan(glazed onions served on a special bread with chicken, roasted pine nuts, and freshly pressed olive oil, spiced with sumac and allspice) will most probably be appropriated as holiday food in Israel, and knafehwill take different shapes and forms as its theft continues. As you dip your bread into yet another “Israeli dip” and tweet pictures of it from the heart of Ramallah, Nablus, or Jerusalem, I hope you taste in the ripples of the olive oil the confiscated groves and their burnt trees, I pray you feel the dispossession that afflicts Palestine and Palestinians, but also their resilient spirit and determination to continue to exist.