But one Arab baker doesn’t care. He’s rushed off his feet at Pesach

By Ben Lynfield, April 7, 2009
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Baking matzot for Pesach: while rabbis spearhead the fight against chametz on supermarket shelves, many Israelis head for Arab bakeries

Baking matzot for Pesach: while rabbis spearhead the fight against chametz on supermarket shelves, many Israelis head for Arab bakeries

Bread may be off the shelves for Passover in Jerusalem but for the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, it means a boost in trade.

Passover is the busiest week of the year, according to Thabet Abu Ghosh, owner of the 59-year-old Caravan restaurant, the oldest among the town’s many eateries catering mostly to Jewish Israelis. “We get about 50 per cent more customers. We have to cook more food, prepare more food, and order more pita.”

A few doors away at the Abu Ghosh Bakery, pita bread, baguettes, Jerusalem bagels — the elongated, seeded Arab variety — whole wheat bread, cookies and cheese pockets will attract about a third more customers than the rest of the year, says baker Mohammed Abdallah.

“I don’t really know the Passover story but not eating bread for a week seems difficult,” he says. “If you are used to it, and it’s your holiday, maybe it’s not so hard. For people who are not Muslims, fasting during Ramadan also seems difficult. But for me it’s no problem.”

Because Abu Ghosh’s residents are not Jewish, the 1986 Israeli law banning public displays of bread — and the controversy over whether leavened products should be sold at all by Jews — does not apply. A court decision last year legalised the sale of chametz in Israel as long as it was not on view in markets, fuelling anger among the strictly Orthodox. Activists have sent dozens of letters to restaurant, pizzeria and store owners in Jerusalem in a last-minute appeal not to sell chametz.

But in the Caravan, a more liberal philosophy pervades. “The human must safeguard tradition as long as it doesn’t harm another person,” says Mr Abu Ghosh, whose father, Youssef, sided with Jewish forces before and during the 1948 war.

“One should not engage in coercion whether in Islam, Christianity or Judaism. You can be a strict Jew but your neighbour must be free to do what he wants,” he says.

“I am a Muslim believer in the Holy One, blessed be he, but I do not want to impose on others and others should not impose on me,” said Mr Abu Ghosh.

Last updated: 10:17am, April 7 2009