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Rukabs: The History of the World Renowned Ice-Cream from Ramallah

posted on: Oct 20, 2021

Classic dish being served at Rukabs. Emily Harris/NPR

By Mohamed Erekat / Arab America Contributing writer

The word ‘Palestine’ has become a particular buzzword in today’s world often given with demeaning undertones with the thoughts of war or bombs instantly coming in one’s head. As many of us know that is much far from the case of Palestine, a place blooming with colors. Those colors also come in the form of stretchy, gum-like ice-cream. In the heart of Ramallah lies a place that holds great history whilst serving ice-cream, this is the shop of Rukabs. Today I Will cover the rich history of this Ramallah business.

Early Beginnings

Rukabs is not your average ice-cream shop. With an 80+ year history, it holds one interesting story. The story of this iconic Ramallah ice-cream shop goes all the way back to 1930s in which Palestinian lady Sarah Rukab began crafting this fine delicacy in which her sons would sell her creation on the streets. Sarah would store the ready-made ice-cream in large ice molds to prepare for her sons. One of these sons was Jamil “Jimmy” Rukab who would then sell ice-cream on the streets of Ramallah after school in anyway he could. This came in the form of finding public events and attracting the public with the ice-cream, or even at soccer matches. They sourced the entire business right out of their family home. The Rukab family would store the money made from selling ice-cream to save up to buy an actual shop to sell from. Success was bound to come out of the dedication the Rukab family had.

A Dream is Accomplished

As the family was working extensively, a flower was able to bloom. When Jamil turned 18, the family had saved up enough money to buy their first store for 500 Palestinian pounds. In 1940 the family gained licenses in English, Arabic, and Hebrew in which the store would open the next year in 1941, kickstarting the official journey of Rukabs.

Early photograph displaying the first Rukabs Store. Raid Khoury

Ever-growing success

The greatness of Rukabs would first spread all around Palestine, to cities all around. Rukabs began to commercialize as the ice-cream was packaged to be sold in stores. While this was a great beginning for expansion, it would only be the start. Soon the ice-cream spread to surrounding Arab nations such as Jordan. It is documented that prior to the Naksa (setback) in 1967, the Kuwaiti royal family commonly visited Palestine just to enjoy Rukabs! Ihsan Rukabs even mentioned how when the late president Yasser Arafat was hosting guests, he took them to Rukabs to have ice-cream! The president of a country taking guests to an ice-cream store, that was the impact of Rukabs.

Modern Success

Although I covered much of the past history of Rukabs, it is important to note that its success does not end there! The family spark never left the Rukabs family as each generation held onto to the legacy. Recently in 2019, Fadi Rukab, Sarah’s great grandson took the legacy all the way to Houston! He opened a shop named Booza which literally translates to “ice-cream” The store now servers countless flavors yet still of course holding onto the original creations.