A small oasis of green in Gaza

Louay Khdair tends to his garden of potatoes and beans outside his tent in al-Mawasi, southern Gaza.

Ahmed Salama

Louay Khdair, 47, has planted a small vegetable garden outside his tent in al-Mawasi, southern Gaza, where his 32-member family is now living.

When the family was forcibly displaced from their ancestral land in the northern area of Beit Lahiya by Israeli attacks, Khdair set about cultivating a garden to help feed his family.

In al-Mawasi, food is either unavailable or exorbitantly priced, and Khdair took matters into his own hands.

“Everything was expensive in the market,” he said.

Khdair said that this is the third time his family’s land and home in Beit Lahiya have been destroyed.

The family’s farm was bulldozed by Israel during the war on Gaza in July 2014.

His father and grandfather were farmers in Beit Lahiya, growing strawberries and zucchini, and Khdair would help them farm the land. Khdair himself was a nut roaster before being forcibly displaced.

“Each time [our land] is destroyed, we return to plant it and build our houses, and this time, we will rebuild again.”

“Let him plant it”

Khdair’s connection to the land runs deep, and he drew on his knowledge of farming to create a small oasis of green life beside his tent. He is growing a variety of crops, including beans, tomatoes, potatoes and onions.

Every day, as Khdair and his sister Najah planted seeds, they said a prayer: “In the name of God who feeds us and feeds the birds.”

He spread the news about his garden to the neighboring tents.

“Everyone was excited about the project,” he said. “People are tired of canned food, which holds little nutritional value. We have been depending on the few available canned foods in the market that are not good for everyone.”

Malnutrition and starvation are daily realities in Gaza, and a small garden could provide a boost of nourishment.

Yet gardening is not without its challenges. Water is also scarce, so Khdair has devised an irrigation system.

He collected funds from his displaced neighbors to install a water line that stretches 350 meters from his tent to a water source.

“When I started planting, my neighbors told me, ‘You won’t have enough time to harvest. Soon enough, we will return to the north.’”

Khdair responded to them with a hadith, or a saying from the Prophet Muhammad: “If the resurrection were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a sapling, then let him plant it.”

When they saw the vegetables that Khdair had harvested, they were encouraged and started their own gardens.

Khdair helped them out along the way, providing tips and cuttings from his garden.

Ahmed Salama is a writer in Gaza.