A social-justice bakery in Oakland chose a controversial subject for its wall mural: Rasmea Odeh, a woman convicted as a terrorist for her role in a deadly 1969 bombing in Jerusalem.
The bakery’s founder, Reem Assil, told SF Eater she wanted her bakery to be “a place where people can really sort of speak their mind and maybe have the hard conversations and talk their politics.” Elaborating on that idea to Berkleyside, she said, “If my food can stir up a conversation—even if it’s a hard conversation—that’s what I want to do. I welcome that it my space.”
Odeh, the subject of Assil’s mural, also used food politically, albeit in a much more sinister fashion.
Her group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, targeted the Shufersol grocery store, stowing their explosives in a box of candy. When it exploded, it killed two young men, Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe. When I interviewed Joffe’s brother Basil a few years ago, he described how the bodies were so burnt they were nearly unrecognizable.
— (((ArchitectGuy))) (@architectguy) June 19, 2017
The Israeli government arrested Odeh for the bombing, later freeing her in a prisoner swap. Lying about her terror conviction, she managed to immigrate to the United States, where she has lived under as many as nine aliases. Since then, she has claimed that she confessed to the bombings only after nearly a month of torture and rape in Israeli custody.
But a 2004 documentary, Women in Struggle, elucidates Odeh’s role more clearly. Another member of the PFLA, who was either Odeh’s close friend or sister, said she was “more involved than I was” in the 1969 attack. The woman then goes on to describe how the group calculated the timing of the explosives, seeking to maximize fatalities and injuries and target not only civilians but also Israeli soldiers.
Assil, a former community organizer, claims she wants her bakery to bring people together, but is unapologetic for the mural portraying Odeh as a heroic figure. She called her “an emblem of resilience” and a symbol of intersectionality.
The public’s reaction was less enthused.
“If you really want to alienate your neighbors, a great way to do it is to glorify a convicted murderer and terrorist,” one local Yelper wrote. “Instead maybe Reem should promote coexistence and not glorify violence.”
“Any business that glorifies a convicted terrorist who killed two young boys in cold blood and is about to be thrown out of the United States is not worth your attention,” another Yelper wrote, referring to Odeh’s pending deportation.
But Assil blames Trump and anti-Arab racism for the negative reaction to the mural of Odeh.
“The attacks coming against Reem’s are part and parcel of the increased attacks we are seeing against Arab and Muslim communities, even more so under Trump,” Assil told SF Eater. “Yet these kinds of attacks labeling Arabs and Muslims as terrorists or terrorism supporters are not new, and as unfortunate as it is, we knew we’d experience some level of this kind of racism and xenophobia. Anybody who accuses us of not being inclusive and not being a safe place for people can walk into our space and know otherwise.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.