A popular Ramadan treat is now hard to get
Gaza’s electricity crisis is making one of the territory’s small pleasures, the cheesy Ramadan treat known as qatayef, hard to get.
The al-Jaleel dairy factory used to produce hundreds of kilos of unsalted cheese used as filling in the dough for qatayef, the most popular Palestinian dessert during Ramadan. This year, production is just a small fraction of that.
The cheese quickly spoils if it is not properly refrigerated. When people are getting barely four hours of power a day, huge quantities have been getting ruined long before their expiration date.
“Ramadan is the season for us,” said Yehiya Abu Kmail, the production manager. “When we want to introduce a new product, we do so in Ramadan. But this year, the market is stagnant and we lost the season.”
The cheese can be hard to find in supermarkets, and the dairy’s problems have been compounded by Gaza’s economic woes.
Unemployment is estimated at more than 40 percent, and many of those who are lucky enough to have jobs are not getting paid on time. The cash-strapped Hamas government, for example, has been paying its workers only about half their promised salaries. The rival government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who lost control of Gaza to Hamas a decade ago, has slashed the salaries of his former workers in Gaza by a third. The net result is that people do not have money to buy.
Trying to adjust to the situation, the factory has stopped producing items with short sell-by date, such as butter milk, and replaced them with salty cheese that can be stored for longer time.
However, things are not working well. Abu Kmail says 30 percent of his cheeses are being returned unsold to the factory, up from 5 percent last year.
With the help of an international aid organization, the factory got a large-scale solar system installed to overcome power cuts in the factory. But until his customers have more spending money and reliable electricity, the solar panels are little help.
“I resolved the internal problem, but we can’t resolve the outside one,” he said.