A purr-fect cup of coffee: The cat cafe providing companionship in war-torn Gaza

Cat cafe Gaza
4 min read
01 September, 2023

The global trend of the cat cafe where people get to play with the cute furry animals as they sip their coffee has found its way into the war-torn besieged coastal enclave.

Meow Cat Café was established by Naima Maabad, a Gaza-based woman in her 50s in late August to help locals release the psychological pressure that they have been suffering from as a result of the long-term political and economic crises.

Naima Maabad
Naima Hassan Mabad opened the first cat cafe 'Meow Cat Café' on August 17 in Gaza [Getty]
Locals have been enjoying the experience of playing with cats while drinking their coffee [Getty]

"I came up with the idea of establishing my cat cafe when I saw the success of similar cafe experiences in Arab and European countries. These provide an additional fun atmosphere for customers and I felt we needed it here too,” she told The New Arab.

"I wanted to transfer the unique experience to our community as it has been found that playing with cats or just being around them can help people relax and charge their positive energy,” Naima added.

“In fact,” she continued, “cats are very popular within the Palestinian community, as they are considered friendly to adults and children, as well as a source of joy, fun, and a relief from psychological stress.”

Live Story

The 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza have been subjected to various kinds of psychological problems resulting from the economic and political deterioration. 

After Hamas, an Islamist group considered a terrorist by Israel and other European countries, forcibly seized the territory, Israel imposed its tightened blockade on Gaza in 2007. 

Since then, the Israeli army has launched several large-scale military wars in attempts to curb Hamas' power, killing thousands of Palestinians, including militants, and destroying thousands of facilities, including civilian and military ones. 

The furry animals are great stress relief companions [Getty]

As a result, the economic, political, and humanitarian conditions in the Strip have deteriorated; 45 percent of locals are suffering from unemployment, 53 percent from poverty, and 64.4 percent from food insecurity, while 80 percent of them depend on international aid, according to Palestinian records and United Nations data released on various occasions.

What made matters worse was that about 71 percent of Gaza residents suffer from depression, according to a new survey conducted by the World Bank and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in February. 

Live Story

"Because of the difficult circumstances and illogical conditions we live in, we need from time to time to distance ourselves from everyone and to be alone with pets that give us positive energy," Naima said. "This is what cats provide; they are vital animals who thrive off enjoy energy and movement.

“As a companion for coffee, the cat distinguishes from a human because it is a good listener, does not interrupt conversations, and does not pass judgment on the actions or words of others — and most importantly, it does not transmit conversations to other cats or humans,” Naima explained in a playful tone as she petted her white fluffy friend. 

45% of locals are suffering from unemployment while 53% suffer from poverty [Getty]

Naima believes that such reasons were enough to attract a large number of customers who flocked to her cafe as soon as she officially announced its opening, taking selfies with cats and posting them on their social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. 

Live Story

However, Naima's cat project did not appeal to everyone, with some locals unhappy with the new venture. 

Since the photos of the cafe became a trend, the population has been divided between supporters of the idea, considering it pioneering and creative, and those who opposed to it due to the difficult economic situation experienced by the local population. 

Naima hopes her cat cafe witll help locals release some of their psychological pressures [Getty]

"The idea is strange and wonderful, and the prices here are somewhat reasonable, whether it is to play with cats or to drink a cup of coffee," Zainab Hajj Ahmed, a Gaza-based young woman, said to The New Arab, as she pets one of the cats.

"Playing with cats makes you forget the pressures of life and changes your psyche for the better," the 24-year-old lady said, adding that "it is not easy for any new project to be accepted by Gazans.” 

Customers have to pay 2.64 US dollars as an additional charge to play with the cats in the cafe for an hour.

This angered Mohsen Ismail, a Gaza-based man, who questioned "Why would I pay money to play with cats when I must collect money to feed my three children. Not all ideas that succeed abroad can be applied in the coastal enclave,” the 45-year-old only breadwinner of his family said.

"Cats are pets, and many street cats also enter our homes, feeling reassured to sleep in front of our doors knowing that we will not harm them. But the idea of paying money to play with an animal we see roaming around the streets freely is ridiculous," he added. 

Sally Ibrahim is The New Arab's correspondent from Gaza