Gaza's New Stone Age

As electricity and cooking gas remain scarce in the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli blockade, Gazan families are turning to a technique from another time: cooking on makeshift fires, using any fuel available—even if it means burning 3-year-old Beisan's favorite sweater. For MENASSAT, Eman Mohammed documents Gaza's New Stone Age in this photo essay. By
3-year-old Beisan enjoys her favorite sweater before it is thrown into the cooking fire. © Eman Mohammed


GAZA—In their struggle for survival amid Israel's on-going economic blockade, people in Gaza have found a new weapon. In the absence of electricity or cooking gas, families have gone back to the age-old cooking fire—burning whatever they can get their hands in order to feed themselves and their children.

Restaurants in Gaza too have gone back to Stone Age techniques to keep their business from failing. And even the Food Bank,  Gaza's only food charity, is now cooking on makeshift fires to be able to feed Gaza's poor and homeless.

Om Osama is a 40-year-old housewife and mother of 12 children living in Northern Gaza. In order to cook the leftovers from yesterday's dinner, she says she took some of her children's clothes to throw on the fire.

"It is the only way I can manage to cook anything these days", she says. "My kids need food and my husband is doing his best to provide it. I am not ashamed of doing this—I'm only trying to feed my family. How am I supposed to do so with no cooking gas or even wood?"

Wood for cooking has in fact become a luxury item in the Gaza Strip. "Rich people can buy wood," says Om Osama. "Even more lucky people can afford to buy gas, but that is not the case for us."

Afnan, Om Osama's 6-year-old daughter, smiled widely as she watched her mother start getting dinner ready.

But her 3-year-old sister Beisan was crying uncontrollably—today, it had been decided that it was time for her favorite blouse to be sacrificed in order to make fire for dinner.

At the same time, little Beisan was trying to make a room on the floor for her sister to do her homework.

"Nothing would be able to stop my little girl from doing her homework, not even the fact that we don't have electricity. She is so smart and she loves going to the kindergarten," Om Osama said proudly of Afnan.

It is not easy fitting a family of 12 children into Om Osama's humble house, where a narrow corridor serves as the living room for lack of space.

As Afnana explains, "Under my bed is the only place my mum can store the onions. It's OK by me but my brothers keep complaining about it since we all share the same bed room."

These days, being rich in Gaza means being able to buy cooking gas, or for the slightly less fortunate, being able to afford wood.

The very poor are left to send their children out on the streets to collect any rag or piece of clothing they might find to start a fire to light the darkness and to cook as well.

(Eman Mohammed is a freelance photojournalist in Gaza.)

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