In Israel, a chef rebuilds his restaurant as a symbol of coexistence

On May 4 last year, Israeli star chef Uri Jeremias was taking part in a gathering of interfaith leaders at which his hometown of Acre was hailed as a “symbol” of coexistence between Jews and Arabs.

A week after that meeting, Arab groups burned down his seafood restaurant and a neighboring luxury hotel, the Efendi, also owned by Jeremias. The attacks in the northern coastal city were part of the intercommunal violence that hit Israel’s mixed communities last year.

Nearly three decades earlier, Jeremías had opened Uri Buri in the Arab-majority Old City of Acre. The trip portal Tripadvisor named it last year the 19th best restaurant in the world.

He always hired Muslim Arabs, many of whom are the ones who have been working with him the longest.

Jeremias told AFP that he and local Acre leaders were “very satisfied” with what they saw as a harmonious relationship between Jews and Arabs in the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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But Jeremias, known for his white beard, failed to notice the growing number of young people in difficult conditions vulnerable to radicalization.

“We didn’t see the people transparently, the people who weren’t so happy,” he told AFP.

The violence perpetrated in May 2021 by Jews and Arabs in the mixed Israeli cities was caused by a combination of crises.

Palestinians had clashed with Israeli police in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, sparking an 11-day war that began on May 10.

Intercommunal violence began soon after, leaving two Arabs and two Jews dead. Businesses of both communities, mosques and synagogues were attacked in several Israeli cities.

– Ominous silence –

Jeremias has a long history of hiring disaffected Arab and Jewish youth without vocational training to work in his restaurant and hotel, which he says made them a target of attacks.

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