Nearly 70 businesses — including dozens of some of the most recognizable food and drink establishments in southeast Michigan — have pledged to donate 100 percent of profits between Monday, October 23 and Sunday, October 29, to humanitarian aid for Gazans impacted by the Israel-Hamas conflict that began nearly three weeks ago.
On October 7, the militant political group Hamas initiated a surprise attack on southern Israel killing 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostages. Hamas has been the ruling body in Gaza since 2006. In response to the attack, Israel, which, along with Egypt, controls borders around Gaza, cut off the area from water, food, and fuel, limited aid from entering Gaza, and bombed large areas, killing more than 5,700 Palestinians, according to the Gazan Health Ministry. (News outlets including the New York Times and CNBC have been unable to independently verify the death toll, as well as other information being released from the conflict zone.) Hamas continues to direct rockets towards Israel, and hostage negotiations are ongoing.
In the U.S., the conflict has sparked rising tensions and incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia. In response to the mounting humanitarian crisis, metro Detroiters of various backgrounds have engaged in several protests and demonstrations — from downtown Detroit to Dearborn — calling for a ceasefire. In addition to the candlelight vigils and demonstrations, a growing number of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, chefs, and other food business owners are mobilizing the community to raise money to aid the people of Gaza.
Dearborn restaurateur Sam Abbas is the founder of Afor Concepts restaurant group, which operates Brome Modern Eatery and the Great Commoner. Abbas launched the initial campaign to donate 100 percent of proceeds from his two establishments on October 18. He tells Eater that he plans to continue donating all of the proceeds from both spots indefinitely.
“We really wanted to just encourage other business owners that are able to jump on board. Really, we just want to see a collective effort coming from the community,” says Abbas.
Since Abbas’s fundraising efforts began, more than six dozen other businesses in and around Dearborn have since joined in, including Al Ameer, El Sayed Meat Market, Alnour Bakery, Zo’s Good Burger, La Palma Restaurant, Royale With Cheese, Big Al’s Pizzeria, and others.
Some 300,000 Arab Americans reside in Michigan, with the bulk of that population concentrated in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, according to Census estimates. About 120,000 individuals in Michigan are of Lebanese or Syrian heritage, 25,000 of Palestinian or Jordanian background, and another 15,000 hailing from Yemen. A shared regional history of unrest and geopolitical conflict has created a deep sense of urgency among Arab Americans in metro Detroit to call for aid for Palestinians in Gaza.
“”Everybody feels a sense of stepping up and doing their part,” says Amad Elzayat, co-founder of the Dearborn-based nonprofit, the Amity Foundation, which is collecting proceeds from the restaurant fundraisers.
After the regional charity efforts are completed, the Amity Foundation — a nonprofit focused on raising money for families in need — will contribute 100 percent of proceeds to the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund and the Palestinian American Medical Association. Elzayat tells Eater that the organization has previously fundraised for Yemen, sending more than $1 million in medical equipment and helping with the construction of two bakeries in the country, which has been locked in a protracted civil war since 2014. And when an explosion ripped through a port in Beirut, Lebanon, in August 2020, Elzayat says the foundation again stepped in to ask metro Detroit’s diaspora community for support.
Elzayat says he woke up in the middle of the night the other day to use the bathroom and began scrolling on his phone images of Gazan children sitting on the ground, making him think of his own warm bed that he could climb back into.
“I actually slept on the floor because I said, ‘How am I sleeping in a warm bed? And these people have nothing,’” says Elzayet. “My wife woke me up in the morning, she goes, ‘Why are you sleeping on the floor?’ I told her I felt guilty. Me and my kids have a warm bed in a house over our heads and these kids have nothing.”
Alongside the wider fundraising efforts, on October 30, at least 20 chefs are confirmed to participate in Chefs for Palestine, a strolling dinner organized by chef and activist Amanda Saab, who has used her culinary talents — and her star power as a former MasterChef contestant — to speak out against Islamophobic attitudes and racism. Individuals are asked to donate $25 to attend the dining event, which will be held at the Bint Jbeil Cultural Center in Dearborn.
Saab is no stranger to using her platform to bring forward issues around social justice, including in 2020, when in the months following the murder of George Floyd, she created the WhatsApp group Dearborn for Black Lives, bringing attention to racial profiling that she and others said at the time was a common practice within the Dearborn Police Department.
“It’s heartbreaking and depressing, and it gives you so much anxiety. It makes me so worried for the world, for the future that I brought my daughter into that this is happening,” Saab tells Eater. “I still feel so blessed and it compelled me to take action. I think that’s the biggest thing. I can sit and spiral into depression or I can do something,” she says. “That’s how my parents raised me. You can always do something, even if you think it’s small, just do something.”
Correction, October 27, 9:25 a.m. PST: Roma Bakery and Pizzeria, not to be confused with the shuttered Roma Cafe, is participating in the fundraiser.
Clarification: This piece has been updated to reflect that Egypt also controls a border into Gaza and that Israel no longer occupies Gaza or Southern Lebanon.