Customs & Cuisine of the Palestinian Territories

Customs and Cuisine of Palestinian Territories

Tomorrow’s Women service areas are primarily in Palestine including Gaza, Israel, as well as in the United States (Northern New Mexico). The “Palestinian Territories” and “Occupied Palestinian Territories” refer to the territories of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, which are occupied or otherwise under the control of Israel since 1967.

The Gaza Strip is a strip of land with a coastline at the Mediterranean Sea. The small self-governing Palestinian territory is bordered by Egypt (Rafah border crossing) and by Israel with 1.9 million Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza Strip (est. 2017).

The West Bank is a landlocked, rugged territory in the Mediterranean Region, west of Jordan, surrounded on three sides by Israel. The territory has a population of 3 million people (est. 2017). About 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank (est. 2023).

The need to focus on the young people of this area is self-evident given its population statistics. The current median age of Israeli citizens is 31, with an estimated 42 percent of the population under age 24, while Palestinian’s median age is 21, with 69 percent under the age of 29. Two-thirds of the population in Gaza are under the age of 16.

The magnitude of the problems in this region are severe given the longevity and the intractability of the conflict, as well as the number of generations, particularly of women, it has affected. In 2020, three women were killed by the Israeli forces and 128 women were arrested in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 40 percent of unmarried women have been physically abused by a member of their household. The Palestinian Monitoring Group has stated that Israeli military and settler activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories affected 28 percent of the Palestinian student population through killings, injuries, and arrests. Additionally, the curfews imposed by the Israeli army have caused the loss of thousands of school days.


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A holy land for three religions 

Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, takes place at the end of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God. In honor of this feast, Muslim families slaughter a sheep and share it with families, neighbors and the needy, while gathering to celebrate together with food and sweets. Children are given gifts of money and new clothes.

Eid al-Fitr, the Fast-Breaking Feast, marks the end of the month of Ramadan, believed by Muslims to be the month in which the Prophet Muhammad began to receive his divine revelation. Throughout the month, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims abstain from food, drink and intimacy. Families and friends gather each evening at sunset to break their fast together. Dates and milk are followed by light meals and sweets, like qatayef, a crepe-like pastry stuffed with ground nuts or cheese. Palestinian men commonly congregate at the mosque each evening for taraweeh prayers. One section of the Quran is read each evening, finishing the entire holy book by the end of the month. Eid al-Fitr is a joyous occasion that once again brings families together to share food and sweets. This is also a time of almsgiving for Palestinian Muslims, with money and food given to the less fortunate.

Christmas festivities in Bethlehem begin with prayers and songs nine days before Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, the Patriarch of Jerusalem makes a traditional procession through Bethlehem and the faithful gather in Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity at midnight to celebrate the birth of Jesus. For centuries, they have been joined by pilgrims from around the world. Traditionally coming in the hundreds of thousands, the numbers of pilgrims have dwindled to the tens of thousands in recent years. Palestinian families celebrate Christmas with gift-giving, carols and traditional meals of roast lamb, sweets made with nougat and sesame seeds, roasted chestnuts, a hot, sweet drink of rosewater and nuts and semolina pancakes stuffed with nuts and cheese.

Easter in Palestine is also an occasion for celebration with family. Observances begin with Palm Sunday, when families in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter prepare palm branches decorated with flowers and ribbons for the annual procession from Bethphage, a village on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, to the Church of St. Anne inside Jerusalem’s Old City. At the procession’s end, Christian and Muslim Boy Scouts from all parts of Palestine circle the Old City walls, waving flags and playing music.

On Good Friday, Palestinian Christians and pilgrims from around the world mark the Stations of the Cross, along the Via Dolorosa. Easter observances culminate with Sabt an-Nur, or Saturday of Light, which commemorates the resurrection of Christ. Hundreds of pilgrims sleep overnight by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, waiting to receive the “light” from the Greek Orthodox Patriarch who leads a procession to the site of Jesus’ tomb. After prayer and meditation, the flame from Jesus’ tomb is used to light candles carried by the faithful from village to village, and town to town. Crowds of people gather in villages, towns, and city centers to welcome the flame and greet each other by saying, “al-Massih Qam,” or “Christ is risen.” In the largely Christian city of Ramallah, Boy Scouts parade in the streets in full uniform, with drums, banners and flags, and march towards the Greek Orthodox church where the Easter service takes place.


Additional resources on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict recommended by Tomorrow’s Women:

Apeirogon, by Colum McCann

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Nolan

My Promised Land, by Ari Shavit

The Iron Wall – Israel and the Arab World, by Avi Shlaim

A History of Modern Palestine, by Ilan Pappe

Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East, by Michael Lerner

Israel/Palestine – How to End the War of 1948, by Tanya Reinhart

Drinking the Sea at Gaza, by Amira Hass

The War for Palestine – Rewriting the History of 1948, edited by Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim

A Martyr’s Crossing, a novel by Amy Wilentz

I Shall Not Hate, by Izzeldin Abuelaish*

*Three of Dr. Abuelaish’s daughters attended then Creativity for Peace camp in 2003-4. Three of his daughters, including one camper, were killed in the 2009 war in Gaza.

Peace Be Upon You – Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Conflict and Cooperation, by Zachary Karabell

Jerusalem – One City, Three Faiths, by Karen Armstrong

Kingdom of Olives and Ash, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman

Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land, by Iris Keltz

View Recipes from Palestinian Territories

Palestinian Territories