This Wild Plant Is Keeping Gazans Alive

Khobeza is at least free, though harvesting can be dangerous
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 8, 2024 12:25 PM CDT
This Wild Plant Is Keeping Gazans Alive
The round-leaved mallow, Malva pusilla, is shown.   (Getty Images/Orest Lyzhechka)

In northern Gaza, two pounds of rotten-looking potatoes sell for more than $10. Two pounds of rice sell for $20, up from $2 before the war, NPR reports. Many can't afford to buy food, and some say they've had no access to humanitarian aid. "There's no milk, no protein, no bread, no clean water, no fruits or vegetables," says a mother of five, who at one point took to giving her children animal feed. She says every morning she fears waking to find one of her children has starved. For some, there's a lifeline in the form of a wild plant known as khobeza, khobiza, or "cheeseweed." Comparable to spinach or kale, it "sprouts in knee-high thickets along roadsides and empty patches of dirt after the first winter rains," reports the New York Times.

Palestinians have long harvested khobeza, a variety of mallow, which can be boiled into an easy soup or sauteed in olive oil. It's often seasoned with lemon juice or chile pepper. In wartime Gaza, chile pepper is a luxury. But khobeza alone is "making up an outsize portion of many Gazans' diets by providing an inexpensive way to blunt hunger," per the Times. Khobeza has "supported us more than everyone else in the world," a 35-year-old laborer in Gaza tells the outlet. "We are living on khobeza," adds a 22-year-old in northern Gaza. "We make it into soup, we make it into stew, we make it into whatever we can."

"People don't grasp how empty and dire the situation is there, from the price of a bag of flour to a bag of onions," says Palestinian writer Reem Kassis. "In the absence of anything else, [khobeza] is nutritious." Khobeza, or chalamit in Hebrew, also provided a lifeline for Israelis when Arab forces imposed a siege on Jerusalem in 1948, per the Times. But it's only one plant, and harvesting it in Gaza is dangerous. The 22-year-old who spoke with the Times said a relative was shot and killed by a suspected Israeli sniper while foraging for the plant. But hunger is deadly, too. In Gaza, more than 25 children have died from complications from malnutrition, per the Washington Post. (More Gaza stories.)

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