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The Meaning of Bread in Palestine

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 18.02.2006:

It is usage in Palestine to serve bread with almost every dish. The women used to make it in the oven which they shared with others in the neighbourhood or village, the tabun. Most of the wheat came on a camel’s back from Beersheba, 90 kilometer away from Bethlehem, to the town’s Saturday market. People used to buy a supply enough for one year. They kept it in stores next to their houses to prevent rottening.

When wood-burning ovens were introduced in the towns, people sent their dough to these ovens for baking. After a while commercial ovens were introduced and Palestinian women gave up grinding, kneading and baking. Nowadays most people eat ready-made bread bought at the market. Some families still have a tabun outside their house for the very tasty bread it gives.

While food in general is very much respected by the Palestinians, bread receives special treatment. It is considered holy as people believe it comes, like manna, directly from heaven. Mousa Sanad, director of the Artas Heritage Center: “When I was a child I once walked with my mother in the village. Suddenly we saw a piece of bread on the street. My mother got very upset and uttered a prayer. She taught me that bread is holy and that throwing it away is very disrespectful. Till the present day we teach our children to respect bread. In the Koran is written that people should respect everything that God gives and which comes from the natural elements: water, earth and sky. We give bread leftovers to our animals or we burn it.

A suggestion is to toast bread leftovers and add it to a salad. Fattoush is a delicious fresh salad with pieces of bread, usually eaten during the hot Summer.

From: “Sahteen: Discover the Palestinian Culture by Eating”, published by the Freres School, Bethlehem, part of the Culture and Palestine series issued by the Arab Educational Institute-Open Windows, Bethlehem, 1999. To order the book, send a mail to

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