Inspired by their time working in an Israeli prison canteen, two Palestinians have launched a food truck in the West Bank city of Ramallah, in a first for the occupied territories.
It's not quite the captive audience they were used to, but Khaldun al-Barghuthi and Abderrahman al-Bibi's brightly coloured van is drawing attention – and hungry patrons – on the pavements and in the parks of the West Bank's political centre.
Barghuti, who spent eight years in an Israeli prison, and Bibi, who spent nine, served food to fellow inmates during their time in jail. They said they served time for "resisting the Israeli occupation" but refused to provide further details.
Barghuti, who was freed at the beginning of this year, said it was no coincidence that he decided to open a mobile business – dubbed the "Food Train" – following his release.
"I had to get on the move after so much time spent in a small cell, I was tired of the long hours of boredom and I wanted to move all the time, like a train," he said, filling a baguette with grilled chicken and diced onions.
The colourlessness of prison life, with its monotone brown and blue uniforms, also inspired the van's psychedelic paint job in red, blue, orange, purple and yellow, he said.
Setting an example
Street stalls flogging falafel, grilled corncobs or Turkish coffee are a common part of any Palestinian street, but a restaurant in a truck with two fridges and a stove, powered by four huge solar panels, was unheard of before the Food Train.
Although such food trucks are all the rage in cities from New York to Paris, the two friends had to ask the Palestinian ministry of transport to issue its first licence for their mobile restaurant.
Serving Middle Eastern street food alongside hot dogs and sandwiches, the truck has proven surprisingly popular.
"We didn't expect to have so many customers this fast," said Barghuthi.
Since opening the truck three weeks ago, the two men take turns at the stove from 8am until midnight, seven days a week.
Barghuti, sporting a neatly trimmed black beard and an apron tied around his neck, said that in general they park next to "universities or public gardens, and sometimes employees ask us to come in to their industrial zone".
When AFP visited, the coloured minivan was posted near a vegetable market.
Anaam Sheikh, buying a sandwich, said the Food Train was positive in many ways.
"It shows how ex-prisoners can bounce back and it is also environmentally friendly with solar energy," she said. "I hope it will set an example and others will be inspired."
Since the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, at least 850,000 Palestinians have passed through Israeli prisons, according to Palestinian government estimates.
More than 7,000 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli prisons, with around 600 serving life sentences, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club rights group. – AFP Relaxnews
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