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A restaurant north of Tel Aviv, Israeli is combating violence and hatred between Israelis and Palestinians by paying them to eat lunch together.
Kobi Tzafrir owns the Humus Bar in the suburb of Kfar Vitkin. In order to promote racial and religious harmony, he’s offering a 50 percent discount to Arabs and Jews who choose to eat together. He began the promotion on his Facebook page in October 2015. It was quickly shared by singer Yoko Ono and inspired users from around the world.
“Are you afraid of Arabs? Are you afraid of Jews? By us there are no Arabs, but also no Jews. We have human beings! And real excellent Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel!” he wrote.
The post was shared thousands of times by people who thought Tzafrir’s approach to peace was a smart one.
“We hear a lot of extremists on the news, on Facebook, on TV, and it seems like everything here is very bad,” Tzafrir, an Israeli Jew, told NPR’s The Salt. “But I wanted to show that everything here is not so bad. Things get out of proportion.”
Hummus, a chickpea paste, is enormously popular in Israel, and both Jews and Arabs enjoy it. However, until now, they’ve rarely enjoyed it together.
“If you eat a good hummus, you will feel love from the person who made it,” he says. “You don’t want to stab him.”
Tzafrir opened the Humus Bar in 2015. The first month of the promotion, only about 10 tables had received the discount, but he said his business was up by 20 percent. Foreign journalists were as a big a part of that as local customers.
In January 2016, Tzafrir began an IndieGoGo campaign to help raise funds for the the restaurant. He wrote on the page that he plans to hire a bus to drive out to Israeli and Arab communities, pick up customers, and deliver them to his restaurant. He also wants to open more branches in order to get his message of peace out to more people.
He wrote on the page: “I don’t see myself as part of any of the political streams running here in every direction. Mostly, I think this is an unnecessary and stupid war that we could end quickly if we would just sit down together and get to know one another. Preferably with a plate of hummus between us.”
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Tzafrir, until he was 20, had only eaten packaged hummus from the supermarket. Then he tried it fresh, and he was quickly converted and inspired into opening his own restaurant.
In a swell of violence in 2014 and 2015, at least 10 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians, and at least 48 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in retaliation. Needless to say, Israelis who visit Palestinian restaurants have been staying away.
However, local political leaders are encouraging harmony in the form of food. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai enjoyed some hummus at a Jaffa Arab restaurant and posted a Facebook picture. “The hummus is fantastic as ever, just come,” he wrote.
In the restaurant, Tzafrir prepares every dish of hummus himself, loading each plate with chickpeas, spices and pita bread.
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Amin Tabri, a Palestinian, received the discounted because he visited the Hummus Bar with some Jewish colleagues. He said he thought the discount was a brilliant idea and that “maybe [it would tell] politicians that we’re fed up.”
Itai Stern told NPR:
“This whole story is pretty funny,” he says. “I don’t have problems with Arabs. I can sit with them without the discount.”
“If there is one word for peace in food, it is hummus,” Tzafrir told the New York Times. “This is a social food. You eat together and share the pita. This is a food that came from Arabs, and Jews really like it.”
In March, he posted a picture on Facebook of a group of local students from Hadassa Neurim school enjoying a meal. His campaign has paid off.
He managed to raise 119 percent of his original goal in March 2016, so many more people can share in his message of peace through a simple chickpea dish.