The Value of Their Voices: After Threats, Conflict Kitchen Returns to Serving - Gasp - Palestinian Food

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Arguing that "food is a way of looking at our common humanity," the artist owner of Pittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen, whose mission is to promote understanding by serving food from areas of the world in conflict with the U.S., re-opened after death threats to continue serving musakhan, falafel, namoura and other Palestinian delicacies wrapped in paper bearing the narratives of Palestinians. The tired argument the venture is "anti-Israel," he said, is "to reinforce (the) most dehumanizing reading of their lives and perpetuate the silencing of their voices."

The Conflict Kitchen, a small take-out restaurant crammed in amidst university campuses, was opened in 2010 by Jon Rubin, an art professor at Carnegie Mellon whose field is socially engaged art, and a partner. The idea was "to fill what we felt was a void" by serving food from the city's under-represented communities to facilitate "a conversation that's not already here." Working on a three-to-five month rotation, they have offered food and viewpoints - and gorgeously flamboyant storefronts - representing Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan, North Korea and Venezuela. As part of the cultural exchange, each rotation features cultural events, including online conversations between someone local eating the food and someone from the focus country talking about it, with both parties labelled, "Foreigner."

Starting last month, the Palestinian venture offered wrappers with testimonials, gathered from local Palestinians and those in the West Bank, on subjects ranging from food, dating and olive trees to settlements, resistance and the Nakba. It promptly, tiresomely ran into opposition from rabid Zionists who argued the wrappers in particular were "anti-Israel" and "one-sided" and howcum Jews weren't "invited to the table to participate in the discussion" and, most disingenuously, as far as they know, Palestine isn't in conflict with the United States anyway, so why should we listen to them?

Rubin briefly closed the restaurant last week following a death threat, while police investigated. The shutdown prompted a wave of support, with customers covering its storefront with encouraging notes - "Fuck hate, I'm hungry" - and hundreds turning up for a protest organized by University of Pittsburgh  Students for Justice in Palestine. Before re-opening Wednesday, Rubin posted a statement on the kitchen's website thanking supporters and blasting mainstream media and Zionist lobbying groups for "continually misrepresenting" material that is simply "promoting the understanding of Palestinian viewpoints.” Certain desperate parts of the American Jewish community, he charged, will "do everything possible to keep from allowing Palestinians to be humanized...If Palestinians have a cuisine, if Palestinians have an identifiable culture, it suddenly becomes a lot harder (to) unthinkingly regard them as sub-human." The kitchen was reportedly flat-out busy their first day back.

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