Gaza: In the eastern neighbourhood of Al Shuja’iya, retired policeman Waleed Al Hattab ignites a large fire pit in front of his house to start preparing his speciality: groat soup.
The 55-year-old begins adding the ingredients and stirs patiently over an enormous pot large enough to feed the neighbourhood.
And this is exactly what Al Hattab does.
Waleed offers the soup for free for his neighbors or anyone who comes ask for it. Photo: Wissam Nassar
Everyday, him and his son Mohammad, labour over the soup and distribute it as charity for needy families who often cannot afford meals.
The neighbourhood children line up everyday around the same time with their empty bowls, hoping to get a taste of the delicious offering and bring some back for their families.
After retiring, Al Hattab was struggling with boredom and searching for ways to fill his time.
“One day I was sitting in the house with nothing to do and decided I wanted to help others in my neighbourhood,” he told Gulf News.
“I brought some groats home and began cooking them. My children were shocked as I don’t usually cook, but I told them it was for the needy people around the neighbourhood.”
He borrowed a large pot from a neighbour and bought a big quantity of groats from his own money.
Others in the neighbourhood, inspired by Al Hattab’s act of kindness, began helping him by donating money, so he could sustain the soup charity throughout Ramadan.
Once news of Al Hattab’s soup project spread, Palestinians from other neighbourhoods in Gaza began flocking Al Shuja’iyah to get a taste.
Manal Al Saeedi, a 50-year-old mother of 10, came all the way from Al Buraij camp in the south of Gaza to collect soup for her family.
Waleed cooks a soup prior to distribute it to the needy during the holy month of Ramadan, in Gaza City. Photo: AFP
“I don’t have money to feed my children so it is cheaper for me to take a $2 dollar taxi ride here,” Al Saeedi tells Gulf News while standing in line.
She says she is hugely grateful for Al Hattab’s initiative to help the poor.
Out of Gaza’s population of 2 million people, around 40 per cent are unemployed due to a crippling Israeli-imposed blockade which began in in 2007.
A whopping 70 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza rely on humanitarian handouts to get by.
Ramadan this year comes at a particularly painful time as more than 120 Palestinians peacefully protesting along Gaza’s border with Israel have been shot dead by Israeli snipers, since the demonstrations began on March 30.
The protestors, who return to the border every week, are calling for the right to return to their homes from which they were displaced from in 1948 with the creation of the Israeli state.
The sustained large turnouts have been attributed to the fact that many unemployed Palestinians have nothing to do except protest their dire conditions.
The United Nations warned in January that the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza has brought it to the “brink of collapse”.
Mu’ammar Ammawi, a neighbour of Al Hattab, collects soup for his children every day.
He says its a great relief to be able to feed his children without worrying about paying as his economic situation is very tight.
For Al Hattab, the soup drive has become his passion.
Everyday he cannot wait for the afternoon to come so he can begin his work.
“You can’t imagine how great it feels to make the people around me happy.”
-Abeer Ayoub is a freelance journalist based in Gaza