How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

Special How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 
The Dead Sea bordering Jordan and Israel recedes about a meter every year, leaving vast stretches of salt and mineral plains as a result of the water’s high salinity. (AFP)
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Updated 08 December 2022

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 
  • Water levels have been falling over the past half century, endangering the salt lake’s very existence
  • Joint effort to revive the Jordan River and a canal to the Mediterranean Sea among potential solutions

AMMAN: From Greco-Roman times, the Dead Sea’s unique equilibrium was finely balanced by nature. Fresh water from nearby rivers and springs flowed into the lake, combining with rich salt deposits and then evaporating, leaving behind a brine of 33 percent salinity.

Now, owing to a combination of climatic and man-made factors, this balance has been disrupted. As a result, the Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century, endangering its very existence.




The Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century. (AFP)

At the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, held in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh in November, a joint Israeli-Jordanian agreement was signed to try to address the Dead Sea’s decline.

However, given that the deal excluded the Palestinians and was signed by an outgoing Israeli environment ministry official, some say that its chances of success are low.

Without sufficient funding, and in the absence of a three-way agreement, Jordan and Israel have instead decided to focus on cleaning up the Jordan River to help replenish the Dead Sea’s main water source.

What was signed by Israeli and Jordanian officials on the sidelines of COP27 was an agreement to this effect. But if the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater sources and to set aside political rivalries for the common environmental good.

No one knows exactly how the Dead Sea came into being. The Bible and other religious texts suggest this lifeless, salty lake at the lowest point on Earth was created when God rained down fire and brimstone on the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Russian experts have even tried excavating under the lake bed in the hope of finding evidence to support the Biblical tale. A nearby religious site called Lot’s Cave is said to be where the nephew of Abraham and his daughters lived after fleeing the destruction.

Scientists, meanwhile, point to the lake’s more mundane, geological origins, claiming the Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago.

Halfway through the 20th century, among the first big decisions made by the newly formed state of Israel was to divert large amounts of water by pipelines from the Jordan River to the southern Negev, in order to realize the dream of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion to “make the desert bloom.”




If the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater. (AFP)

In 1964, Israel’s Mekorot National Water Company inaugurated its National Water Carrier project, which gave the Degania Dam — completed in the early 1930s — a new purpose: to regulate the water flow from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River.

One result was that the share of water reaching the neighboring Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan fell drastically, thereby depriving the Dead Sea of millions of cubic meters of freshwater per year from its primary source.

Another potential contributing factor at present is the Israeli company behind Ein Gedi Mineral Water. The Ein Gedi bottling plant has monopolized the use of freshwater from a spring that lies within the 1948 borders of the state of Israel and which long fed into the Dead Sea.

However, not all the blame for the lake’s decline rests with one country. According to Elias Salameh, a water science professor at the University of Jordan, every country in the region bears some responsibility.

“All of us are responsible at different levels for what has happened to the Dead Sea,” Salameh told Arab News. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have all sucked up water intended for the Dead Sea in order to satisfy their own needs.

FASTFACTS

• The Dead Sea receives almost all its water from the Jordan River.

• It is the lowest body of water on the surface of the planet.

• In the mid-20th century, it was 400 meters below sea level.

• By the mid-2010s, it had fallen to 430 meters below sea level.

In 1955, the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, brokered by US Ambassador Eric Johnston, allowed Israel to use 25 million cubic meters of Yarmouk River water per year, Syria 90 million and Jordan 375 million.

“But not all countries abided by the commitments made to the American, Johnston,” said Salameh. “It was never signed because Arab countries had not recognized Israel and refused to sign any agreement with Israel. Syria took the biggest portion, getting away with 260-280 million cubic meters annually.”

In the 1970s, Jordan and Syria began their own diversion of the Yarmouk River, the largest tributary of the Jordan River, again reducing its flow. Another agreement, in 1986, gave Jordan the right to 200 million cubic meters. But, in reality, Jordan took barely 20 million.

According to the UN, Jordan is the second most water-scarce country in the world. The 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, which led to the mass exodus of Palestinians, more than doubled Jordan’s population, making its water needs even more acute.

As a result of these deals and diversions, the Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating.




“Climate change has aggressively hit Jordan in the past two years,” said Motasem Saidan, University of Jordan professor. (Supplied)

During the first 20 years after 1976, the water level dropped by an average of six meters per decade. Over the next decade, from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, it fell by nine meters. In the decade up to 2015, it fell by 11 meters.

Some attribute this accelerating decline to man-made climate change. Climate scientists say global warming has already resulted in significant alterations to human and natural systems, one of which is increased rate of evaporation from water bodies.

At the same time, the waters of the Dead Sea are not being replenished fast enough.

Although the Dead Sea borders Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and despite the valiant efforts of such cross-border NGOs as Earth Peace, which includes activists from all three communities, no serious collective action has been taken to deal with the ecological disaster.

Cooperation is essential, however, to stave off the wider environmental consequences — most concerning of all being the rapid proliferation of sinkholes along the Dead Sea shoreline.

According to scientists, when freshwater diffuses beneath the surface of the newly exposed shoreline, it slowly dissolves the large underground salt deposits until the earth above collapses without warning.

Over a thousand sinkholes have appeared in the past 15 years alone, swallowing buildings, a portion of road, and date-palm plantations, mostly on the northwest coast. Environmental experts believe Israeli hotels along the shoreline are now in danger.

On the Jordanian side, too, the fate of luxury tourism resorts along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea face is in the balance.




Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago, scientists say. (AFP)

“The main highway, which is the artery to all the big Jordanian hotels, is in danger of collapsing if the situation is not rectified,” Salameh said.

Israel has developed a system that can predict where the next sinkhole will appear, based on imagery provided by a satellite operated by the Italian Space Agency, which passes over the Dead Sea every 16 days and produces a radar image of the area.

By comparing sets of images, even minimal changes in the topography can be identified before any major collapse.

Israeli officials have been searching for solutions to prevent a further decline in water levels and thereby stave off the spread of sinkholes. One suggestion is the construction of a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal.

A report compiled to assess the potential impact of transferring Red Sea water into the lower-lying Dead Sea found that a moderate flow could slow, but not halt, the retreat of the Dead Sea and reduce the number of new sinkholes per year.

Ironically, it found that too much Red Sea water could have the opposite effect. If the flow was significant enough to raise the level of the Dead Sea, the report predicted the sinkhole problem would be exacerbated.

Because the Red Sea is less salty than the Dead Sea, it would likely increase the dissolution of underground salt deposits and thereby speed up the appearance of sinkholes.

Although many solutions have been suggested to help address the Dead Sea’s decline, none has been implemented owing in large part to a lack of funding.




The Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating. (AFP)

According to Salameh, the most logical solution proposed to date is the Med-Dead project, which would allow for a channel to run from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.

Two of the sites proposed for this channel are Qatif, near the Gaza Strip, and Bisan, north of the Jordan River in Jordan. However, such a plan would first require Jordanian and Palestinian approvals.

Jordan has also suggested a similar project establishing a channel from the Red Sea, but Salameh does not consider this feasible.

“The distance is long, and it is not a viable project,” he said.


Blinken says US considering actions against Sudan leaders

Blinken says US considering actions against Sudan leaders
Updated 01 June 2023

Blinken says US considering actions against Sudan leaders

Blinken says US considering actions against Sudan leaders
  • Blinken did not spell out what actions Washington could take or whether it would personally target the heads of the army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces
  • He said the US would remain engaged and stopped short of blaming one side for violating the truce, after the army announced its withdrawal on Wednesday

OSLO: Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Thursday that the United States could take action against rival Sudanese leaders after the collapse of a US-brokered truce.
The United States is “looking at steps that we can take to make clear our views on any leaders who are moving Sudan in the wrong direction, including by perpetuating the violence and by violating cease-fires that they’ve actually committed to,” Blinken told reporters.
Blinken did not spell out what actions Washington could take or whether it would personally target the heads of the army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces or take a broader approach.
Blinken, who was in Oslo for NATO talks, said the United States would remain engaged and stopped short of blaming one side for violating the truce, after the army announced its withdrawal on Wednesday.
Blinken acknowledged wide violations of a series of cease-fires brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia between the army and the Rapid Support Forces.
“We did see the provision of humanitarian assistance going forward. But it has been incredibly imperfect and incredibly fragile,” Blinken said.
“Now we’re seeing actions — again, by both sides — in clear violation of the commitments they made,” he said.
A number of US lawmakers and activists have criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for not taking earlier action, including sanctions, against army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
US diplomats have argued that it was more useful to preserve relationships to negotiate between them.


18 dead in attack on Khartoum market after army abandons talks

18 dead in attack on Khartoum market after army abandons talks
Updated 01 June 2023

18 dead in attack on Khartoum market after army abandons talks

18 dead in attack on Khartoum market after army abandons talks
  • Khartoum and other parts of the country gripped by warfare between the army and the paramilitary forces
  • The army on Wednesday blasted RSF bases in Khartoum after pulling out of the talks

KHARTOUM: Shelling and aerial bombardments killed 18 civilians at a market in the capital of Sudan where fighting showed no signs of abating Thursday after the army abandoned truce talks.
For more than six weeks, Khartoum and other parts of the country have been gripped by bloody warfare between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
The army on Wednesday blasted RSF bases in Khartoum after pulling out of the talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah, accusing its rival of violating a cease-fire that was meant to allow aid deliveries.
“Eighteen civilians were killed and 106 wounded” by army artillery fire and aerial bombardments Wednesday on a market in southern Khartoum, a committee of human rights lawyers said.
The toll was confirmed by a neighborhood group that organizes aid, which said the situation was “catastrophic” and appealed for help from doctors and for blood donations.
The United States said Thursday there had been “serious violations of the cease-fire by both sides” and warned it would only be ready to mediate between the warring parties when they get “serious.”
“Once the forces make clear by their actions that they are serious about complying with the cease-fire, the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are prepared to resume facilitation of the suspended discussions to find a negotiated solution to this conflict,” a State Department spokesperson said.
In both north and south Khartoum on Wednesday, troops loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan attacked key bases of the RSF led by commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, residents said.
One witness said there was “heavy artillery fire from army camps” in the capital’s north.
Another reported “artillery blasts on the RSF camp in Al-Salha” in southern Khartoum — the largest paramilitary base and arsenal in the city.
The attacks came two days after US and Saudi mediators said the two sides had agreed to extend by five days the initial week-long humanitarian truce.
Mediators admitted the truce had been “imperfectly observed,” but said the extension would “permit further humanitarian efforts.”
The army walked out “because the rebels have never implemented a single one of the provisions of a short-term cease-fire which required their withdrawal from hospitals and residential buildings,” a Sudanese government official said.
Despite repeated pledges from both sides, fighting has flared this week both in greater Khartoum and in the western region of Darfur.
“The army is ready to fight until victory,” Burhan declared during a visit to troops in the capital.
The RSF said they would “exercise their right to defend themselves” and accused the army of violating the truce.
Since fighting erupted on April 15, more than 1,800 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
The UN says 1.2 million people have been internally displaced and more than 425,000 have fled abroad.
Yaqout Abderrahim escaped Khartoum for Port Sudan, where she has been waiting 15 days for a rare seat on a flight out.
“We want to leave at any price because our houses are destroyed and we no longer have any means to raise our children,” she said.
More than half the population — 25 million people — are now in need of aid and protection, the UN says.
Entire districts of Khartoum no longer have running water, electricity is only available for a few hours a week, and three quarters of hospitals in combat zones are not functioning.
Hundreds have been killed in Darfur, on Sudan’s western border with Chad, the United Nations said.
Darfur has never recovered from the years-long war that began in 2003 when a rebel uprising led strongman Omar Al-Bashir to unleash the Janjaweed militia, from which the RSF are descended.
Experts say Burhan is facing increasing pressure from his own Islamist supporters and remnants of the Bashir regime, with whom he had built a symbiotic relationship in order to gain power.


UN chief rejects Sudan’s call to axe his envoy but ‘Security Council has final say over UNITAMS mission’

UN chief rejects Sudan’s call to axe his envoy but ‘Security Council has final say over UNITAMS mission’
Updated 01 June 2023

UN chief rejects Sudan’s call to axe his envoy but ‘Security Council has final say over UNITAMS mission’

UN chief rejects Sudan’s call to axe his envoy but ‘Security Council has final say over UNITAMS mission’
  • SG Guterres briefs council over ‘shock’ request at closed talks
  • Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan claims Volker Perthes is ‘partisan’

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday rejected a request from Sudan’s military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan to remove his office’s special envoy, but said the Security Council has the final say on the fate of the world body’s overarching mission in the conflict-ravaged nation.

Guterres’ remarks, outlining his “full confidence” in Volker Perthes, as special representative of the secretary-general, came after briefing a closed Security Council meeting. The UN chief had requested the meeting to discuss the situation in Sudan and Burhan’s letter seeking the removal of the allegedly “partisan” Perthes, who serves as the special representative for Sudan, and head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS.

This is only the fifth time during his mandate that Guterres has requested a meeting of the Security Council behind closed doors.

The closed Security Council meeting came days after the UN chief had received a letter from Burhan, Sudan’s military leader and chairperson of the Transitional Sovereign Council, asking for Perthes to be removed from his post.

Guterres told reporters in New York after the Security Council consultations: “In relation to the situation in Sudan, there are areas of responsibility of the Security Council and there are areas of responsibility of the secretary-general. 

“In my area of responsibility, I reaffirmed to the council my full confidence in Volker Perthes as special representative of the secretary-general. 

“It is up to the Security Council to decide whether the Security Council supports the continuation of the mission for another period or whether the Security Council decides that it is time to end it.”

Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that Guterres was shocked by Burhan’s letter. He added that the secretary-general was proud of Perthes’ work in Sudan and backed him.

Burhan reportedly accused Perthes of “being partisan,” and claimed the envoy’s strategy in pre-war talks between the generals and the pro-democracy movement aggravated the conflict.

Last year, Burhan accused Perthes of “exceeding the UN mission’s mandate and blatant interference in Sudanese affairs.” He threatened to expel him from the country.

Perthes had earlier this month told the Security Council that the responsibility for the fighting “rests with those who are waging it daily: the leadership of the two sides who share accountability for choosing to settle their unresolved conflict on the battlefield rather than at the table.”

According to the UN, at least 730 people have been killed and 5,500 injured since the outbreak of hostilities last month. The actual toll could be much higher.

Clashes between Burhan’s forces and the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, a paramilitary group led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo have continued across several parts of the country, including in the capital Khartoum, and in Zalingi, Central Darfur, Al-Fasher, North Darfur and Al-Obeid.

The internal displacement of Sudanese civilians and the influx of refugees into Sudan’s neighboring states have also been a source of concern for Security Council members. The International Organization for Migration has said that over 1.2 million people have so far been internally displaced since April 15 and about 370,000 have sought refuge in the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

Dujarric said that IOM’s estimates “are based on preliminary reports from field teams while additional reports are likely to emerge as humanitarian access improves.”

That is while on Wednesday Sudan’s military announced that it would no longer engage in talks with the RSF that it accused of “repeated violations” of the humanitarian ceasefire, including their continued occupation of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in the capital, Khartoum.

On May 20, both sides signed a ceasefire agreement as part of US-Saudi facilitated talks in Jeddah. It demanded a seven-day ceasefire to allow for the delivery of emergency humanitarian aid and the restoration of basic services. The warring parties agreed to protect civilians from violence and refrain from targeting civilian infrastructure or population centers and from acquiring military supplies, including from foreign sources.

In a joint statement issued on May 26, Saudi Arabia and the US said that the monitoring committee had observed significant breaches of the May 20 agreement, including the use of artillery, military aircraft, and drones in Khartoum, as well as clashes in the town of Zalingi in Darfur. Riyadh and Washington “cautioned the parties against further violations and implored them to improve respect for the ceasefire.”

So far, there have been seven declared ceasefires in the country, all of which have been violated. The two sides have accused each other of these violations.

In another joint statement Sunday, the US and Saudi Arabia called out both warring sides for specific breaches of the weeklong truce, saying the military continued to carry out airstrikes, while the RSF was still occupying people’s homes and seizing properties. Fuel, money, aid supplies and vehicles belonging to a humanitarian convoy were stolen, with theft occurring both in areas controlled by the military and by the RSF, the statement added.

A spokesman for Burhan said on Wednesday that by suspending participation in the talks with the RSF the military wants to ensure that the terms of a US-Saudi-brokered truce “be fully implemented” before discussing further steps. The RSF has for its part said it “unconditionally backs the Saudi-US initiative.”

Meanwhile members of the Security council are negotiating a draft resolution renewing UNITAMS’ mandate, first introduced in 2020, which is due to expire on June 3, amid diverging views on how to reflect the situation in the country.

Dujarric said that meanwhile “the mission continues to do its job the best it can, given the circumstances. We continue to have a political presence in Port Sudan. Mr. Perthes will make his way back to the region, I believe, in early next week.

He added: “I don’t think I want to say we’re getting great or good cooperation (from) both sides. We are able to deliver humanitarian goods in certain places when we can manage to talk to the men with guns and to ensure safe passage.

“(The) WFP (World Food Programme) has been able to resume food distribution in Khartoum. We’ve had a large number of trucks being able to move. But what we would like to see is a nationwide cessation of hostilities, so we don’t have to do a case-by-case negotiation for each convoy or each movement, which is time consuming and which is also risky.”


Turkiye’s Erdogan faces struggle to meet Syrian refugee promise

Turkiye’s Erdogan faces struggle to meet Syrian refugee promise
Updated 01 June 2023

Turkiye’s Erdogan faces struggle to meet Syrian refugee promise

Turkiye’s Erdogan faces struggle to meet Syrian refugee promise
  • Turkiye hosts 3.4 million Syrian refugees
  • Erdogan wants to send a million back as resentment grows

ANKARA: President Tayyip Erdogan played up his plans to repatriate a million Syrian refugees as he rode a wave of nationalism to his third decade in power, but he could struggle to make good on the promise as conflict lingers on in neighboring Syria.
Erdogan, long seen as an ally by Syrian opponents of President Bashar Assad, emphasised refugee repatriation during bitter campaigning for Sunday’s run-off against Kemal Kilicidaroglu, who took an even tougher stance on the issue.
The focus on refugee return ahead of the election caused alarm among the 3.4 million Syrians living in Turkiye, where resentment toward them is growing.
Many of the refugees came from parts of Syria that remain under Assad’s control and say they can never return to their towns and villages while he remains in power.
Under Erdogan’s plans, they would not have to. With Qatari help, he says Turkiye has been building new housing in rebel-held northwest Syria — a region where Ankara has troops on the ground whose presence has deterred Syrian government attacks.
The plans imply a redoubling of Turkiye’s commitment to the rebel-held area where it has been building influence for years, even as Assad demands a timetable for the withdrawal of Turkish troops as a condition for progress toward rebuilding ties.
With Turkish voters increasingly resentful of the refugees — Turkiye hosts more than any other country – Erdogan’s plans put the issue at the heart of his Syria policy, alongside concerns about Syrian Kurdish groups that have carved out enclaves at the border and are deemed a national security threat by Turkiye.
Erdogan has said he aims to ensure the return of one million refugees within a year to the opposition-held areas. His interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, last week attended the inauguration of a housing project meant to accommodate returning Syrians in the Syrian town of Jarablus.
“It is our duty to fulfil our citizens’expectations about this issue through ways and means that befit our country,” Erdogan said in his victory speech on Sunday, adding that nearly 600,000 Syrians had already returned voluntarily to safe areas.
But for many Syrians in Turkiye, the prospect is unappealing.
“I would like to go back to Syria but not to Jarablus ... I would like to go back home, to Latakia,” said a Syrian who gave his name as Ahmed, a 28-year-old student at Ankara University, referring to a government-held region on the Mediterranean.
“I would like to go back, but if Assad stays, I can’t due to security concerns.”
Controlled by an array of armed groups, much of the northwest also suffers from lawlessness.
“Conditions in northern Syria remain so bad and unstable that large-scale return will be difficult to arrange, despite all these reports about Turkiye and Qatar building housing and infrastructure,” said Aron Lund, a Syria expert with Century International, a think tank.
“It seems like a drop in the ocean and the overall economic situation keeps deteriorating.”
Driven partly by its goal of securing refugee returns, Turkiye has changed diplomatic course on Syria, following other regional governments by reopening channels to Assad, who Erdogan once called a “butcher”.
But the rapprochement is moving more slowly than the thaw between Assad and his former Arab foes, reflecting Turkiye’s much deeper role in a country where Russia, Iran and the United States also have forces on the ground.
Analysts think Ankara will not agree easily to Assad’s demand for a withdrawal timetable, noting that any sign of Turkish forces leaving would prompt more Syrians to try to flee for Turkiye, fearing a return of Assad’s rule to the northwest.
“Turkiye is highly unlikely to compromise on troop withdrawal, which likely means hundreds of thousands of refugees heading their way if and when they leave Idlib,” said Dareen Khalifa of International Crisis Group, a think-tank.
Many Syrians in Turkiye were relieved at Kilicidaroglu’s defeat. During his campaign, he said he would discuss plans for refugee returns with Assad after reinstating relations, and that returns would be completed in two years but would not be forced.
He sharpened his tone after trailing Erdogan in the first round, vowing to send all migrants back to their countries.
Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser, said on Monday that Turkiye wanted a safe, dignified and voluntary return.
International refugee law stipulates that all returns must be voluntary.
“We’re making plans to secure the return of one or 1.5 million Syrians in the first place,” Kalin told a local broadcaster.
Samir Alabdullah of the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies in Istanbul, a non-profit research institution, said he did not expect much to change now the election battle is over.
“Syrians are relieved after Erdogan’s victory ... There is nothing wrong with voluntary return. We do not expect policy change on migration,” he said.


Gaza Strip’s Palestinians polarized by unorthodox watermelon delicacy

Gaza Strip’s Palestinians polarized by unorthodox watermelon delicacy
Updated 01 June 2023

Gaza Strip’s Palestinians polarized by unorthodox watermelon delicacy

Gaza Strip’s Palestinians polarized by unorthodox watermelon delicacy
  • The dish originated more than 100 years ago with Bedouin Arab tribes in the neighboring Sinai desert in Egypt
  • Lasima is available just two months a year, it is made with melons that are picked when they are small and not yet ripe

KHUZAA: Locals call it “watermelon salad.” But this delicacy popular in the southern Gaza Strip at this time of year is far from the sweet, refreshing taste the name evokes.
“Lasima,” “Ajar,” or “Qursa” are different names for the hot, savory meal that takes hours to prepare. There’s watermelon inside, but one can hardly taste it.
In a territory that prides itself on its culinary traditions, Lasima is surprisingly divisive. Residents in southern Gaza love the dish. Just a few kilometers (miles) to the north, people shun it as unclean, due to its hands-on preparation.
Lasima is available just two months a year. It is made with melons that are picked when they are small and not yet ripe. They are roasted on a fire and peeled, and the soft flesh is mixed with roasted eggplants and thinly sliced tomatoes, lemon, garlic, onion and olive oil. Then it is eaten with a special dough baked in the ashes of the fire.

The name “Ajar,” or “unripe” in Arabic, refers to the baby melons. “Qursa” is the word for the thick dough. “Lasima,” which means “messy,” refers to the sloppy meal served in a large clay bowl.
Many say the dish originated more than 100 years ago with Bedouin Arab tribes in the neighboring Sinai desert in Egypt.
Others claim it’s a traditional Palestinian food. There is little evidence to support this claim, however. The food is popular only in southern Gaza, near the Sinai border. Farther north, the meal is barely known.
Amona Abu Rjila, 70, of Khuzaa, says it’s a little of each. She says she remembers her parents and grandfathers making it outdoors in the watermelon season. “It’s a traditional Palestinian dish with Bedouin roots,” she said.
Farther north, few would agree with her. Those familiar with the dish object to its preparation, with the ingredients typically mushed together with bare hands, as unclean.
On a recent day, a group of friends gathered in a yard adjacent to Israel’s frontier with Gaza. They diced the vegetables and roasted the ingredients in a fire. When the flames faded and the vegetables were charred, the thick dough was buried in the ash.
Abdelkarim Al-Satari, 33, a jobless accountant, started mixing the Lasima. He shredded the dough and put all the ingredients in the large bowl, squeezing everything with his fist. Wary of the onlookers, he put on black cooking gloves.
“In every season, people call me to make Lasima for them about 20 times,” he said.


To challenge the dish’s negative image, social media content creator Mohammed Aborjela brought the meal in smaller clay pots and offered samples to random passers-by in Gaza City.
Most of the respondents in a nearly two-minute video said they’d never heard of it, but all who tried it liked it.
The video attracted over 1,000 comments — many of them baffled northerners who were intrigued about the taste but turned off by the preparation methods.
“The way it’s made, especially by some men, is not appealing for the eyes,” said Nada Azzam, a Gaza City woman.
She said she has never tried Lasima. But after watching a video of women making it with “clean cooking means,” she vowed to give it a taste.