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Community supports Palestinian restaurateur grieving the death of relatives in Gaza

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas rages on, those with loved ones and friends affected by the fighting or who are just concerned members of the diaspora can often do little more than watch the events unfold. But the owners of a Palestinian restaurant in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., are doing what they can. NPR's Nina Kravinsky reports from a restaurant where people eat in support of Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF SILVERWARE CLINKING)

NINA KRAVINSKY, BYLINE: Bawadi Palestinian restaurant in Falls Church, Va., is packed on a recent Monday evening. There are over a hundred people here. The line is out the door.

SARA MEKKI: We have chicken shawarma. We have lamb qidra.

KRAVINSKY: That's Sara Mekki. She and her husband Khalid own this restaurant. The buffet table is piled with hummus, baba ganoush...

S MEKKI: Three, four kinds of sweet. I cannot just remember all of them (laughter), but they all taste good.

KRAVINSKY: Tonight, the restaurant is hosting a fundraiser. Half the proceeds will go to the United Nations Relief Agency.

KHALID MEKKI: Originally, I was born in Gaza.

KRAVINSKY: Khalid came to the U.S. 26 years ago. He has a Ph.D. in engineering but decided to open this restaurant to celebrate his culture.

K MEKKI: We created this little Palestine restaurant just for people to come. I had many customers, they come and say, I don't have to go back. I can come to Bawadi, and I enjoy it.

KRAVINSKY: But lately, his mind has been back at home. Khalid's niece and most of her family were recently killed in an airstrike launched by Israel as they continue to root out Hamas militants following that group's October 7 attacks.

K MEKKI: My niece has no affiliation with any, like, militants or any of that. My whole family is in Gaza. And if I lose them, I'll be without a family. So I - that's why I'm very adamant we need a cease-fire.

KRAVINSKY: Their cause appears to have support. First-time diner Sara Klein says she saw the fundraiser on social media.

SARA KLEIN: I want to show support for people that are losing homes, losing families out of this conflict.

KRAVINSKY: Twenty-five-year-old Alia Haleem came with her dad. His mother was a Palestinian refugee who was forced from her home during the creation of Israel in 1948. She's impressed that the Mekkis continue to push through.

ALIA HALEEM: If he can wake up and come to his restaurant and know that there's a full house waiting for him of people who support him and are there for him, then we're happy to be those people.

KRAVINSKY: Khalid Mekki says business has picked up since the war started.

K MEKKI: Our support is from everyone, like different background, different religions, all - Jews, Christian, Muslims.

KRAVINSKY: Nina Kravinsky, NPR News, Falls Church, Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FLASHBULB'S "PRECIPICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.