Established in 2008, Bait al Karama was designed to bring tourism into the Old City, deliver economic independence for the women who work at the centre, and also to encourage healthier gastronomic lifestyles which, as Kadumy goes on to explain, can be harnessed as a form of resistance when allied with the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
The cooking school launched under the banner of being the first slow food gathering in Palestine. ‘Slow food’ is a global grassroots movement, which aims to combat fast food trends in society and preserve local foods and traditions. Slow food operates under the premise that through certain lifestyle choices comes the ability to influence cultivation, production and distribution of food, and thus affect many spheres of live, whether environmental, cultural or political.
Bait al Karama connects with agricultural producers in the rural areas surrounding Nablus, alongside market sellers in the souk, in order to encourage Palestinians to not only eat well and follow the seasons, but to think critically about food production and the political factors that underpin it.
“Tasting, learning, and breaking bread together – food is a really special thing”, agreed Christina Samara, the co-founder of Breaking Bread Journeys who had brought the tour group to Kadumy’s school. Samara encourages visitors to come to Bait al Karama and gain an alternative perspective of the reality of the Israel-Palestine crisis.
Challenging the narrative
Both Samara and Kadumy emphasized that it is important for their work to try and counter dominant narratives in Western media, which so often reduces Palestinians to the role of arbitrary aggressors.
However, even the act of preserving and celebrating Palestinian gastronomy seems to be steeped in politics. Israeli assertions of various Middle Eastern dishes being their own has particularly rankled those of Palestinian and Lebanese descent, who claim Israel is culturally appropriating their culinary heritage.
Therefore, Bait al Karama is not only tackling the occupation through advocating BDS, but through challenging the assumption of various foods being Israeli, and by providing international visitors with a counter-narrative of who Palestinians are.
Founded on the rubble of the second intifada, Bait al Karama was born from the struggles of the local community in the Old City, when Nablus was virtually under siege for almost ten years between 2001 and 2010.
Whilst the IDF shelling eventually stopped and the seven checkpoints that encircle the city opened – albeit sporadically – the city has been plagued with economic instability ever since. 65 percent of the 35,000 residents of the old city live in poverty, and unemployment is estimated to be as high as 80 percent.
“The situation here was totally devastated – it was the third world war during the intifada. A lot of people were killed and houses destroyed, all the houses here connect with each other like a circuit, so if you drop a bomb on one you will destroy all the houses around the area”, Kadumy remembered.
“A lot of women lost their children, sons, husbands – everything you can imagine happened”.
With male unemployment still worryingly high, Bait al Karama allows women to gain financial security, while also providing an important meeting place and source of psychological support for those who have been living under a volatile military occupation for almost half a century.
Psychological coping mechanisms
“The centre is a way to have an income but also to encourage women to come here, it’s an important social space. To be successful for the women to come here, to meet each other, to have coffee, and to discuss not only the political issues but everything”, said Kadumy.
Back at the school, it is quickly evident how food provides an important source of social nourishment in Palestinian society.
“Preparing food is a group activity which is shared by multiple people”, Kadumy pointed to the bustle of the kitchen where two women were preparing ingredients amongst chatter and laughter.
“This is what makes the food remain how it should be, and it makes us a strong community.”