Palestinian-American restaurant owner mourns relatives in Gaza Strip

Khalid Mekki hosted an event at his restaurant Bawadi on Monday to raise funds for Palestinian refugees

Palestinians look for survivors following Israeli air strikes in Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. AP
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Every day is an emotional struggle for Khalid Mekki, owner of Bawadi, a Palestinian restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia.

He is constantly following the news, consumed with sadness after his niece, her husband and their three daughters were killed in an Israeli strike on their home in Gaza last week.

“She was my favourite,” Mr Mekki told the National.

His niece's eldest son, aged 17, was badly injured, while her youngest, aged three, escaped with minor injuries and is now being cared for by other relatives.

“At least we have something left of her,” he said.

Mr Mekki is the son of refugees from the city of Ramle, now in Israel. He grew up in the Nusseirat refugee camp in Gaza and moved to the US more than a decade ago, completing a doctorate in engineering.

His entire family lives in Gaza, some in Nusseirat while others, including his niece and her family, lived in El Bureij refugee camp.

Like many Palestinian Americans with relatives in Gaza, his life has been consumed by worry since October 7, when Israel began bombarding the coastal enclave and later beginning a ground invasion in response to a Hamas attack that killed 1,200 in Israel.

More than 11,200 Palestinians have been killed in the past six weeks, the majority of them women and children. The violence has drawn international condemnation as concerns rise over breaches of international humanitarian law.

For Palestinian and Arab Americans, the response of President Joe Biden's administration to the war, which has included pledging more military aid for Israel and opposing a general ceasefire, has drawn intense anger.

“Collective punishment is not right – what is happening in Gaza is going beyond human acceptance,” Mr Mekki said.

“They're living in fear, poverty, starvation, deprived of everything and the whole world is watching.”

On Monday, Mr Mekki hosted a fundraising event at his restaurant to benefit UNRWA USA. About 500 people came and he said he was overwhelmed by the show of support.

He served traditional Palestinian dishes such as chicken and meat kebabs, stews, rice, hummus and bread, all in a buffet style.

Mohammad Shouman, a Palestinian-American lawyer living in Washington, is a regular at Bawadi and over the years, he has befriended Mr Mekki and his family.

He attended the fundraiser on Monday with a group of friends.

“It's just very tragic. I feel very sad for him and I thought he must feel very stressed and sad and helpless,” Mr Shouman told the National.

“I had an opportunity to meet Khalid and his wife and other family members to express my condolences and to let them know that I'm here for them if I can do anything.”

Mr Mekki said that he tries to get in contact with his family every day, though this is difficult with constant interruptions in internet and phone service.

Israel began a siege on Gaza following the attacks by Hamas, blocking the entry of water, food, medicine and fuel and triggering a humanitarian crisis among the enclave's 2.3 million residents.

Most residents have been ordered to leave the northern Gaza Strip and head south near the border with Egypt, where they face shortages of food, water and medical care, as well as an uncertain future.

But Mr Mekki's family, for now, has stayed put.

“I feel paralysed. I can't do anything for them. If anything happens to them, I would have no one,” Mr Mekki said.

“It's very sad.”

Updated: November 15, 2023, 6:21 PM