Former Palestinian prisoners once jailed for murder, now dole out dessert

The two men behind one of Gaza's most famous kenafeh shops spent more than decade in Israeli prison for conspiracy to murder and planting bombs.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Nader Abu Turki and Hamoud Salah, former Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank, prepare nablusi in their new shop. The sumptious version of kenafeh, a traditional Palestinian dessert, includes sheep or goat cheese and pistachios.

Nader Abu Turki and Hamoud Salah are accustomed to cramped quarters; they spent 13 and 12 years, respectively, in Israeli jails.

But since being released two years ago, they have carved out a tiny niche for themselves that has a much sweeter savor than prison: a kenafeh shop. On a recent afternoon, customers fairly mobbed the counter, waiting for a fresh batch of the traditional Palestinian dessert to emerge from the shop’s sole oven.

Mr. Abu Turki and Mr. Salah, who just opened their doors in March, are certainly not the only folks in Gaza making kenafeh, which combines rich cheese with a sweet, crusty topping. But they make the most sumptuous version of the dessert, called nablusi, that makes it more dense and rich. They say demand is so high they’ll soon have to open a second shop.

Nablusi comes from Nablus, a city in the northern West Bank. So does Salah, originally. But upon his release, he was exiled to the Gaza Strip along with Abu Turki – a native of Hebron – and nearly 150 other prisoners. They were sentenced to 22 and 15 years, respectively, for conspiracy to murder and planting bombs, among other things.

In 2011, they were among 1,027 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for a single Israeli soldier, Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who had been captured and held by Hamas for five years. They saw that as a great victory, since the release came about not through mutual negotiation but an act of “resistance” – the kidnapping of Shalit.

“We forced the Israelis to release prisoners,” says Abu Turki.

While he and Salah are now separated from their families in the West Bank, they have started new lives in Gaza. Salah found a wife from Nablus. Abu Turki, who was already married when he was jailed, has a wife and kids back in the West Bank, but has married a second woman in Gaza and just welcomed their first child.

How is life with one wife in each of the Palestinian territories?

“It’s like the political split,” jokes Salah, answering for his partner. In 2007, the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, got into a violent confrontation and Fatah was ousted from the coastal territory. Hamas, the Islamist organization that Israel and the US considers to be a terrorist group, has run Gaza ever sense.

Reconciliation efforts have been under way for years, but have yet to unify the two territories once more. But the people still feel they are part of one nation.

“We as Palestinians consider ourselves as one family,” says Salah, plunging his hands into the mixer as he whips up another batch of nablusi.

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