In the battle against fascism and bigotry in the United States, a Palestinian-owned restaurant has found itself in the crosshairs. Reem’s California Bakery, located in the heart of Oakland, California, boasts a grand mural of former Palestinian political prisoner and revolutionary Rasmea Odeh.
But just as Odeh’s name and legacy has been tarnished by an international campaign of hostile aggression — that seek to brand her as a “terrorist” — so too now does Reem’s California Bakery face the same aggression.
“Now we’re terrorists ourselves,” Cece Carpio, one of four artists who brought the mural in the community-centered-and-funded bakery to life, told teleSUR.
Carpio explained that Reem Assil, the owner of Reem’s, and her extensive history of organizing for Palestinian liberation, had long been pinned as a target by pro-Israel groups in the Bay Area.
But it wasn’t until Assil opened her eatery a few months ago, with Odeh’s profile gracing the walls in neon colors, that the forces long opposed to her work, struck fire.
For the past couple of months, Reem’s California Bakery has seen a coordinated political and economic assault that has since spread internationally.
While StandWithUs, a Zionist organization based in Los Angeles, first led the attacks against the restaurant, organizing a rally in front of it at the end of June, the issue was then picked up by Breitbart News Network, one of the largest conservative media outlets in the United States.
Now the attacks have been led by “mainstream, right-wing, conservative” groups and outlets from the United States, to Europe, to Israel itself, Lara Kiswani, the executive director of Arab Resource and Organizing Center, part of Reem’s grassroots defense network, told teleSUR.
Besides rallies and demonization through media, the attacks have also come in the form of hundreds of negative reviews on Yelp, a website which publishes crowd-sourced reviews of services and establishments.
“Zionist repression is global,” Kiswani pressed, adding that it has always seeked to “erase and criminalize Palestinian resistance.”
The basis of the attacks, added Carpio, “focus on Rasmea”, and her mural inside the restaurant, which has led to messages that are “dirty, violent” and replete of “harassment and accusations”.
For indeed, Rasmea Odeh has faced a lifetime of attacks against her character for her involvement in the Palestinian resistance movement.
At 19-years-old, Odeh was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1969 in Jerusalem for her connections to two bombings in which two people were killed. While in an Israeli prison, she was beaten with wooden sticks, metal bars, open hands and fists and kicked with booted feet. She was also denied sanitary supplies while menstruating, prevented from using a washroom, denied regular sleep and left naked most of the time, often in front of male guards. One guard punched her repeatedly on her ears, which resulted in her hearing being impaired for two years.
Odeh was finally forced to sign a confession when guards brought in her father and ordered him to have sex with her. But according to an affidavit from clinical psychologist Mary Fabri, which detailed her PTSD, even after Odeh signed the confession, the torture did not stop.
She spent a decade in imprisonment till she was released in 1980 during a prisoner exchange with the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Odeh now faces deportation from the United States, where she has lived for more than 23 years, after she accepted a plea agreement at the end of March in her three-year battle with the United States government over alleged “immigration fraud.”
For Assil, the choice to feature Odeh and her struggles through her community space, were never a second thought.
“I put Rasmea up there because she is an emblem of resilience,” she told Eater. “She reminds me that as an Arab woman, I should never be afraid to speak up against injustice, no matter what the consequence.”
“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,” she added. “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.”
But for a space that has been community-supported since day one, the concerted efforts of hostility have only affirmed how much Reem’s California Bakery is supported.
“There was a whole campaign that said that there was blood in my food and all this crazy stuff,” pressed Assil.
“And within a day (my supporters) responded and took all those one star reviews away and so that just shows to me that there's a force field of community, that there's nothing to organize to understand the truth.