Giving Palestinian Women a Place to Cook, Learn and Be

Bait al Karama is a cooking school run by Palestinian women, and offers support for those who have suffered trauma of all sorts.

| May 2014

food being prepared

Palestinian women learn to prepare food and gain independent skills at Bait al Karama, a cooking school that also offers social and cultural programs.

Photo courtesy Slow Food

Slow Food Almanac (Slow Food, 2013) argues that something valuable has been lost in this era of fast food and instant gratification. Humanity needs the pleasure meals made with love and attention, and from locally grown ingredients. A global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world, Slow Food International promotes the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment. This excerpt sheds light on a cooking school for Palestinian women in the city of Nablus.

Bait Al Karama

Bait al Karama, whose name means “house of dignity,” is the first center for women in the old city of Nablus, Palestine, and combines a social enterprise based on Palestinian culinary culture with educational, social and cultural activities and programs. It is managed as a social enterprise in order to create jobs for women who have suffered trauma and loss during and after the Second Intifada, as well as offering social, psychological and educational support. The center has a beauty salon, open to the public, and various multifunctional rooms that host courses, conferences, workshops and group lunches. Bait al Karama is also Slow Food’s Nablus convivium and is home to the first international school for Palestinian cooking entirely run by women in the West Bank.

A Cooking School for Palestinian Women

The cooking school is a response to the need to create flexible employment for around 20 women from Nablus’s old city, and is located within the Bait al Karama complex, a recently restored Ottoman building in the heart of Nablus. The kitchen, located on the ground floor, has been renovated and equipped in accordance with Palestinian domestic tradition, while maintaining the highest professional and safety standards. The project evolved out of the awareness that while Palestinian cooking offers an incredible variety of Arab dishes and specialties, it is little known in either the Middle East or the West. Nablus was once the crossroads of many important commercial routes and home to several of the country’s richest families, who supported the development of a refined cuisine. Some of its most fascinating dishes have come from the meeting of spices, meat and vegetables from distant countries. This tradition reaches its peak with the desserts, like knafeh, exported and copied throughout the Arab world. Food and culinary traditions are part of the wealth of Nablus and represent a source of pride for the city and the women in particular. In teaching this heritage to the course participants, the women also have the chance to establish an equal relationship with foreign visitors. The school wants to contribute to constructing and spreading a positive image of Nablus as a city rich in culture, history and tradition, moving beyond the classic stereotypes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The cooking school uses local products and hopes to become a reference point for small-scale food producers in the area. In fact, the courses and workshops already include visits to growers, farmers and food businesses, with the aim of bringing foreigners closer to the rural and productive reality around the city and allowing local producers to meet professionals and enthusiasts from the international food world. The project* also involves commissioning experts and researchers to produce papers about Palestine’s typical cuisine, as well using artists to promote specific aspects with videos, texts and photographs.

* The cooking school project is a collaboration between the committee for women of the Nablus Old City Charity Society, Beatrice Catanzaro (artist) and Cristiana Bottigella (cultural manager).

The City of Nablus

Nablus, 63 kilometers from Jerusalem in the north of the West Bank, was once the economic capital of Palestine. From 2000, when the Second Intifada started, it was the focus of clashes and destruction, which continued until 2010. The historic center, home to archeological sites and treasures dating from between the 1st and the 15th centuries, was a particular epicenter of violence. The city is still suffering the devastating after-effects, with unemployment estimated at 80% and 65% of the population living below the poverty threshold. One of the most important local products is olive oil soap; along with Aleppo soap it was once exported around the whole Mediterranean.

6/9/2014 8:19:03 AM

Great article! Glad to see Palestinian represented. That makes me proud to be a fan of Mother Earth. Did you know King Herod of the time of Christ was an Arab speaker who converted to Judaism! It turns out Arabs have been in Israel as long as Jews. Longer if you count the Canaanites which israel massacred. Canaanites were amazing people who invented phonetic alphabet and writing. The Phoenicians of Lebanon were Canaanites too like the Palestinians.

6/2/2014 11:34:19 PM

Nablus, 63 kilometers from Jerusalem in the north of the West Bank, is also known as Shechem. It was an important city during the rule of King Solomon. Joseph's tomb is located there. Rechabam, the son of King Solomon, went there to win the kingdom. Of course, that was about a thousand years BC. That is why the local "historical center" starts at the 1-st century AD - to obliterate the Hebrew presence in the area and break the link between Jews and Shechem in people's minds. How convenient.

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