Protesters outside an Oakland restaurant that features a mural of a convicted Palestinian terrorist were physically attacked by counterdemonstrators, according to an organizer of the July 8 nonviolent vigil.
Faith Meltzer said she and four fellow pro-Israel activists had gathered near Reem’s, an Arab restaurant and bakery in Oakland’s Fruitvale district. They came to protest the restaurant’s wall-size mural depicting Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian woman who confessed to participating in a 1969 Jerusalem grocery store bombing that killed two and injured nine.
“We felt the need to inform the community about what was being promoted there,” Meltzer said. “We had a sign that said, ‘Honor the victims, not the killer.’ I think it’s appalling that a convicted murderer is being lionized in this manner.”
A dozen counterprotesters soon approached, according to the pro-Israel activists, ripping signs out of their hands. One pried a sign from the fingers of a disabled protester and another tried to grab Meltzer’s purse, she said. Police were called, and bystanders filmed portions of the incident, according to Meltzer. Photos taken at the incident seem to confirm that one of the counterprotesters grabbing signs was Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.
Odeh was given a life sentence in an Israeli prison after confessing to taking part in the planning of the terror attack. Released in a prisoner swap 10 years later, she recanted, claiming she was raped and tortured into giving a false confession. She came to the United States in 1995, but was later found to have lied on her immigration papers. Odeh is currently awaiting deportation later this summer.
Reem Assil, founder and owner of the bakery, is of Palestinian-Syrian descent. She has defended the mural, calling Odeh “outspoken on Palestinian rights” and “an emblem of resilience for us.” In an interview with Berkeleyside, Assil called Odeh “a modern-day Malcolm X.”
Once news of the mural broke a few months ago, community reaction on both sides was swift and sharp. The bakery received a string of angry one-star Yelp reviews in an effort to bring down its rating, but Yelp ended up deleting them. J. published an op-ed on May 30 condemning Assil and the mural.
Meltzer said she and her group would be back.
“You can’t allow yourself to be intimidated,” she said. “It’s morally reprehensible to protect murderers, but [Reem’s] took it a step further and just glorified this woman. I spoke to Oakland police and they said, ‘Let us know when you’re coming back and we’ll provide an escort.”