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Vibrant Food Train empowers Palestinian ex-prisoners

Juicebox Gallery

By Cynthia Wang - September 28, 2016
Section: [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [culture] [Israeli Prison Service]

 The classic food carts are pretty boring and utilitarian, and they all look the same. At the hustle and bustle of modern Ramallah city center, an eye-catching rolling restaurant airbrushed with a riot of color thus immediately draws not only hungry foodie’s but every passerby's attention.

This smiling food truck, named “Qitar Ata’am” in Arabic, which represents the “Food Train”, is the first restaurant that obtained permission from the Palestinian Authority to run in an automobile in Palestine. The project was initiated by two former political prisoners, Khaldoon Barghouti and Abdel Rahman Bibi, whom both were jailed for nearly nine years in Israeli prisons.

“I want to move freely. I am tired of being trapped in a closed space,” Barghouti told the Palestine Monitor the idea behind this bright mobile restaurant. “Smile outside, smile inside. We want everything to be colorful. We were looking at the same brown color - of the inmate's’ clothes - for so long.”

Driving around in Ramallah from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and stationed at the al-Manara square in the evening until midnight, this food truck was once a two-people-built small enterprise. In less than 6 months, it expands to a four-shift business that supports four families.

“We are all released prisoners. We want to be self-reliance. It is difficult to find jobs after you stay so long in the prison away from the society; but we need to work,” said Barghouti, father of six children.

Not only the paints on the truck are unique, the solar panels on top of the roof are also noticeable. It generates enough power from the sun to support the truck’s appliances.

“In prison, Israelis often torture us by cutting our electricity. We don’t want to be restricted by electricity shortage,” said Barghouti.

The two founders were responsible for food service in the prison. Although life behind bars is tedious and tasteless, Barghouti and Bibi were inspired by cooking recipes in different cities from their fellow inmates. Therefore, apart from serving traditional local snacks such as sharwarma, falafel and hummus, they invented their own new flavors combining tastes from a range of diverse areas.

“People in Ramallah eat everything! But there are some differences between different cities. Chicken fingers and turkey breasts are famous in Jenin, al-Khalil is well-known for hamburger, and people from Hebron like boneless chicken more,” told Barghouti, while showing the various choices regarding to sandwich flavors.

Fresh breads and vegetables are picked up every morning from the market; and some of the meat are hand-made and customized with special sauce by them.

An average of 150 to 200 sandwiches is being sold daily. The success behind the Food Train is not random. Many customers were, at first, attracted by their stories and the hard-working positive attitudes. Now, food patrons in Ramallah who visit everyday are appeal to their mouthwatering food.

“Being busy at work makes me happy. After all, this is life. We work, we live. Right?” said Amjad Hamshari, who also spent more than four years in Israeli prison. As he wiped out the sweat, he smiled and went on serving another round to hungry food lovers in the busy modern city night.

The story of the Food Train sets a unique example for Palestinians who struggle to earn a livelihood after jailed in prison to pioneer their own business.

According to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner support and human rights non-governmental organization, there are currently more than 7,000 Palestinians jailed and detained in Israeli prisons. Nearly 1,000 prisoners among all are serving a 20-years to lifetime term sentence, while another 700 Palestinians are under administrative detention based on secret information without charges or permission for them to stand trial, which lead to an indefinite time without basic rights and freedom of movements. Since 1967 to date, more than 850,000 Palestinians have been arrested. An average of 1 in 5 Palestinians have endured imprisonment.

The human rights violation and a dual Israeli unequal criminal system against Palestinians are one of the main issues in the context of Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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