Laila El-Haddad is a talented blogger, political analyst, engaging public speaker, and parent-of-three from Gaza City. She is the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between (2010); the co-editor of the anthology Gaza Unsilenced (2015); and co-author of The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey (2nd Ed. 2016).
The evening started off with a Q & A between UW-Madison professor Nevine El Nossery and El-Haddad about her blog and books inspired by her experiences while living on the border in Gaza. That was followed by a short cooking demonstration and potluck social featuring samples of Palestinian food, including dishes from El-Haddad’s cookbook.
El-Haddad explained that initially, she created her blog to relieve and process some of the emotions and experiences she underwent while living in Gaza, but it then grew to be something much bigger.
“At the time, I had a close friend who I thought was really well informed but just had this kind of naivety about the whole experience. ‘Oh, you must be used to this by now, always being stranded,’ she said. And trying to explain, “Like no, you never get used to this kind of thing.'” El-Haddad said. “Or just being ill-informed in general about the modes and methods of transportation and lack of freedom of movement (in Gaza) that made me realize that there needs to be a better ways to communicate this experience than the traditional, ‘Here are the numbers, here are the facts, here are the maps’ kind of thing. That’s when I began to use the blog as a vehicle and kind of just blogging about everyday mundane experiences, as a vehicle for people to understand the bigger political issues that exist in the background.”
To her, it was just a way to vent, but also inform her few readers about the events happening in Gaza. She did not realize how important her “everyday mundane experiences” were to others interested in Gazarian affairs.
“I didn’t think much about it at the time, but suddenly there was a lot of interest, including from like Israelis and others who had no other access,” she said. “It was all mediated cover from mainstream channels that were telling the same dismal, dark, anonymous story of Gaza. So that’s how it (her blog) became an effective tool to bypass all that.”
Rabha Elfarra was there to hear from El-Haddad, a neighbor who saw her grow up in Gaza.
“She’s very fascinating. I think she’s very smart,” Elfarra said. “She’s an advocate and you feel like she’s really, really Palestinian, it’s in her blood.”
Elfarra also reported that El-Haddad’s cookbook has helped her add more flavor to her own recipes.