Palestinian twins open cafe in converted West Bank jet
RAMALLAH, West Bank
Few Palestinians in the occupied West Bank can board a plane these days. The territory does not have a civilian airport and those who can afford a plane ticket must fly to neighboring Jordan. But just outside the northern city of Nablus, a pair of twins are giving people the next best thing.
Khamis al-Sairafi and his brother Ata have converted an old Boeing 707 into a cafe and restaurant where customers can board.
Ninety-nine percent of Palestinians have never used an airplane. Only our ambassadors, diplomats, ministers and mayors use them. Now they see a plane and that’s something for them, ” Khamis al-Sairafi said.
After a quarter of a century of efforts, the brothers opened on July 21 “The restaurant and cafe of the Palestinian-Jordanian airline al-Sairafi”.
Families, friends and couples showed up for a drink in the cafe located under the body of the plane. Many more came to take photos inside at the cost of five shekels (around $ 1.50) per person.
Customers said they were motivated to visit after seeing photos of the refurbished plane circulating online. “I have wanted to see this place for a long time. I would have liked to see this place before it was turned into a cafe, ” customer Majdi Khalid said.
For years, the airliner has sat along a major highway in the northern West Bank, providing an endless topic of conversation for passers-by bewildered by its towering presence.
The identically dressed 60-year-old twins dream of turning the plane into a cafe and restaurant was born in the late 1990s when Khamis saw the abandoned Boeing plane near the northern town of Safed. from Israel.
At the time, the plane already had an illustrious history. The plane was used by the Israeli government from 1961 to 1993 and carried then Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the United States in 1978 to sign Israel’s historic peace agreement with Egypt, according to Channel 12.
It was later bought by three Israeli business partners who dreamed of turning it into a restaurant, but the project was scrapped due to disagreements with local authorities, the station said.
After finding one of the owners, the brothers agreed to buy it for $ 100,000 in 1999. They spent an additional $ 50,000 on licenses, permits and transporting it to the West Bank.
Khamis said the mayor of Nablus, Ghassan Shakaa, quickly approved the transport and refurbishment of the plane.
The plane’s trip to Nablus took 13 hours, requiring the dismantling of the wings and the temporary closure of roads in Israel and the West Bank. At the time, Israel and the Palestinians were engaged in peace talks, and going back and forth was relatively easy.
The al-Sairafi brothers were successful traders and scrap dealers. They traveled regularly to and from Israel to buy pieces of metal which they sold and then smelt in the West Bank. They also owned a successful waste disposal business and used their income to build an amusement park – including a swimming pool and a concert hall – on the same land where the plane was placed.
But they said their project was put on hold after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in late 2000.
An Israeli military checkpoint was built nearby, they said, preventing customers from the nearby city of Nablus from reaching the site. The checkpoint remained for three years and the IDF took over the site. The project collapsed.
“They even built tents under the wings of the plane,” said Ata al-Sairafi.
The Israeli military did not respond to a request for comment.
For nearly 20 years, the aircraft and the site were abandoned. After the uprising disappeared in the mid-2000s, the brothers got rid of their waste disposal business and the small Nablus amusement park they opened in 2007.
After more than a decade of savings, they decided in 2020 to start rebuilding what they lost, this time starting with the refurbishment of the aircraft. The coronavirus crisis, which included multiple lockdowns, hit the Palestinian economy hard and caused further delays.
After months of work, the aircraft is almost ready for full service. The interior is freshly painted, fitted with electricity and nine tables, and the doors are connected to two ancient staircases allowing guests to board safely. The nose of the plane was painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag and the tail in the Jordanian colors.
The cafe is already open and the brothers hope to open the restaurant next month. They plan to install a kitchen under the body of the plane to serve food to customers on board.
However, their long-term goal of rebuilding the amusement park and swimming pool remains a long way off. The couple said they were disappointed they had not received financial support from the municipality and were looking for investors.
“God willing, I hope the project will work and become the best it can be,” said Ata al-Sairafi.