Dining Out For Gaza This Valentine's Day
Will You Free My Palestine? Wednesday 14th February (Valentine’s Day)
Crowd favourites Coco’s Cantina, Ima Cuisine and vintage store Crushes are among the many restaurants, cafes and shops celebrating Valentine’s Day by raising funds for Gaza in the inaugural “Will You Free My Palestine?” event (a take on ‘Will you be my Valentine?’).
The fundraiser will see businesses supporting Palestine with their own unique Valentine's Day offering, and raising money to support ReliefAid’s humanitarian efforts in Gaza.
Lovebirds, spouses and very dear friends will have the opportunity to grab a pal and support Gaza by: feasting on a multi-course Palestinian meal at Ima Cuisine, having 20 percent of Valentine's day spending donated by Cocos Cantina, purchasing a limited edition custom tee from K-road vintage store Crushes or simply enjoying a great coffee or bite out, knowing that a portion of sales will go towards supporting besieged Gazans.
Coco’s Cantina owner Renee Coulter says when she heard about the idea she had to get involved. “Coco’s has always been about more than just polenta chips and prosecco. When we laid out our values 14 years ago, we said we want to use our wider voice to highlight issues that are important to us. The ‘Will You Free My Palestine’ kaupapa is something that we are passionate about. We really want to get behind positive actions, where people can actually be a part of something - not just watching horrible videos of Gaza on our phones, feeling powerless and disconnected.”
For the WYFMP event on Valentine’s Day, Coco’s Cantina will be donating 20 percent of their total turnover to the cause. “Not everyone can afford to come and have a full meal and we wanted it to be really accessible to everyone - and light and fun. You don’t have to be coming out with your Valentine, you can be with a group of mates after work or your friends or flatmates - and even if you just share a bowl of polenta chips and get a happy hour drink you can still feel like you are part of the event, and part of the positive action.”
Coulter says she and the staff at Coco’s are fully supporting the call for the government to demand a ceasefire. “The Palestinian people are no different from us. They want to hang out with their friends, go out for a meal, raise their children, celebrate life's celebrations and eat with friends - just like us in Aotearoa. But they can’t because that place is hell on earth right now. No good can come from this continued conflict.”
Israeli-born restauranteur Yael Shochat will also be supporting the cause at her restaurant Ima Cuisine on Fort Street. Shochat has been a vocal advocate for a ceasefire, and has even met with the MP for Epsom, David Seymour, to discuss it.
Hailing from the portside city of Haifa, Shochat says that her friendship with a Palestinian woman, and a trip back to Israel together, irrevocably changed her views on Palestine-Israel relations. “I feel like I was asleep and now I’ve woken up. I’ve learned that everything I was taught about the occupation and Palestine was an outright lie.” She says her work to try and bridge conversations between the Jewish and Palestinian communities has caused a lot of controversy, and a boycott of her restaurant from many members of the Jewish community. “My goal is to create a safe future for both Israelis and Palestinians, and I’m proud to be working for that peaceful future.”
Ima Cuisine will be supporting the event by presenting a sumptuous five-course meal showcasing traditional Palestinian food including vegan and meat arayis–a popular Palestinian, stuffed-pita dish–and maklubah; the quintessential, well-loved Palestinian rice dish. There's also food inspired by Palestinian cuisine and a special appetiser reflecting the colours of the Palestinian flag.
Aside from supporting the event, Shochat says that even small acts can be a way for people to show their support for a ceasefire. “Imagine if everyone came to the rallies. Imagine if there were 10,000 people walking down Queen Street demanding a ceasefire. People have the power, we just need to get up and take action.”
Organised by Tāmaki Loves Palestine, Palestinian Youth Aotearoa and Dayenu: New Zealand Jews against the Occupation, the event aims not just to raise funds to send much-needed aid to Gaza, but also to provide a unique, and tasty, way for Kiwis to help alleviate the suffering in Gaza.
“It can feel really hopeless to see the devastating images and videos coming through from Gaza, so we wanted to provide people with a way to not only give practical help in the form of donations, but also to encourage conversation about what’s happening, and how we can take small actions like getting together on Valentine's Day and using our money for good,” says Robin Wilson-Whiting from Tāmaki Loves Palestine. “We hope this event will cause people to think about what other small actions they can take in their lives, from finding which products to support or boycott by downloading the Halal Kiwi or No Thanks app, joining the weekly rallies all over Aotearoa, or meeting with their local MP to demand a ceasefire.”
Money raised will be sent to ReliefAid, a New Zealand humanitarian aid organisation operating on the ground in Gaza through impartial and independent humanitarian action. The organisation was founded in 2014 by Mike Seawright and has supported people living in war zones in Afghanistan, Syria and the Ukraine. “ReliefAid was set up out of the frustration that not enough was being done to help families affected by war and conflict,” says founder Mike Seawright. “Our vision is simple - helping families who have no one else to turn to.”
In Gaza, ReliefAid works day and night to deliver 8000 litres of water to families in displacement camps, and distributes food supplies and ready meals to people who have been forced to leave their homes.
Seawright says things in Gaza are at a critical point. “Over 26,000 people have been killed, 60,000 people injured and 1.7 million people displaced. Clean, potable water is vital for survival and is not accessible in Gaza due to the damage to central water systems during bombing and conflict. The healthcare system is also in crisis with only 14 of 36 hospitals in Gaza being functional.” Compounding the distress, Gaza's closed borders have made humanitarian access all but impossible, leaving families traumatised, abandoned and without the basics needed to survive.
Sadly, ReliefAid’s team in Gaza has not been immune to the conflict; three members of staff have been killed in their homes in Gaza, and all of their team have been displaced. “They fled with nothing but the clothes on their back. They, along with countless other displaced families, found themselves homeless, living in tents, without access to safe water and food. They see families standing in queues for drinking water, and often waiting for hours to get bread. When not queuing, families are out searching for wood for fuel to cook food. The situation is dire for these people, and aid is required immediately.”
By supporting Will You Free My Palestine, and donating to ReliefAid, Kiwis can make a difference. “Help is needed urgently and this is one way to show our humanity,” says Seawright.