“I was born to a Palestinian family from Bir Seb’a (بئر السبع), south of Mandatory Palestine. They were made refugees in Gaza because of the 1948 war and subsequent Nakba (the catastrophe), where over 700,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their houses or be killed. I know what it’s like to live without rights or opportunities.
I understand what it takes to break free from the oppression of a system built to crush you. Nearly 5 million Palestinians live in the diaspora, many having moved to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq or Chile to live as refugees. My father moved us to Jordan from Gaza when we were children, hoping for a better future. But growing up in a refugee camp was a constant struggle. Without the right to build proper housing, we were forced to live in makeshift slums, crammed together in dirty, narrow alleyways. I understood that education was my only pathway to a better future, but even attending school was a daily battle. With no money for the bus, we often walked miles on eroded, muddy roads, and the school was always cold and overcrowded. During our official state exams, I used to go to my friend Ibrahim Obid’s house , whose family had a stable with two cows. That was the only quiet place where we could focus on our studies. We regularly laughed at our situation, studying alongside the cattle and their gentle lowing, but our motivation never waned. Ibrahim is now a well-known university teacher in Jordan.
After finishing my teaching degree, I went to teach literature in Yemen, and as a result of the civil war, I joined my brother in Greece. I learned Greek and got a job in the Trust Trade , selling handcrafted jewellery .That’s where I started my first business. I experienced various business ventures and met two Irish guys during this journey. Our friendship evolved into a business partnership, leading to an invitation to Ireland. I worked in hospitality for many years in Ireland, gradually working my way up through the ranks. I opened Umi Falafel in 2013. I always knew that, as a Palestinian, I had to work harder than anyone else. I always strived for security because I never wanted my children to go through what we did…”
2/2 Currently, I sponsor two Palestinian university students, we employ Ukrainian refugees at our restaurant, and we regularly organise fundraisers. I also do my best to support my parents and my sister, who remains in Gaza. Her house was destroyed in a bombing, and now she resides in a UN school alongside thousands of others. It’s mentally and physically exhausting to see the horrific images pouring in through social media. My team and I had many discussions about finding the best ways to help.
Recently, we reached out to the Irish Red Cross to organise ‘Plates for Palestine’ in one of our restaurants called Shaku Maku and donated all sales from the day. The response was overwhelming; we quickly reached total capacity and operated at our limit throughout the day. It was a beautiful and emotional day, not just because of the donations raised but also because of the profound solidarity shown by our customers. We ended up raising over seven thousand euros solely through sales.
A couple of days later, we were contacted by the well-known artist Emmalene Blake, who proposed creating a mural on the side of the restaurant, and we were delighted by the idea. She made an incredible artwork, and the donations kept pouring in.
A few days later, we saw many negative reviews on our restaurant, Shaku Maku’s Google Business page. It quickly became apparent that the authors of those reviews had never visited our restaurant. I posted about it on our social media, hoping that some of our loyal customers would balance out the negative reviews, and I also reported it to Google. When I woke up the next day, I saw over a thousand five-star reviews on the restaurant’s Google page. We couldn’t believe the support. A couple of hours later, Google flagged all the reviews, removing both good and bad. Despite this, the incident reinforced the strength and support of our community. Now, my focus is not just on running a business that serves excellent food but on fostering a community of well-meaning individuals. Through this, we aim to continue supporting the displaced people of Palestine.”