How a new airplane restaurant in Palestine keeps dreams of an independent state alive

“It took us 20 years to make this dream come true,” Ara al-Sairafi told the Daily Telegraph as he smoked a shisha on the tarmac next to his so-called plane for nowhere. “People love the idea, it’s a fun place for a day.”

Israel controls entry and exit points to the West Bank, which, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, “forces Palestinians to live in constant uncertainty, which makes it difficult to carry out simple tasks. and the development of plans ”.

Israel says the restrictions are essential for national security, and Palestinians can fly from Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv or from neighboring Jordan if they have a permit.

Even so, it means that for some Palestinians, having a meal on a disused plane in the middle of nowhere might be the closest thing to a vacation abroad.

The Oslo accords, which were signed around the time the brothers bought their aircraft, fell far short of the two-state solution that had at the time filled the Palestinian leadership with optimism.

More recently, the signing of the Abrahamic Accords in 2020, which saw Israel normalize its relations with its Gulf neighbors Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, left Palestinians diplomatically isolated. Many of them see the decision to embrace Israel before resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a betrayal.

Smoking on board

At a preview of the restaurant in the summer, “people brought their children to show them how travel works, because as Palestinians we are deprived of such things,” Sairafi said.

“Since we don’t have an airport in Palestine, people thought it was important to have a plane, even if it’s not at an airport,” he said. “It gives people enthusiasm and excitement about flying.”

Mr Sairafi said it had taken so long to open the restaurant due to the disruption caused by the Second Intifada, certain financial difficulties and more recently the coronavirus pandemic.

And it was not an easy task to bring the plane, which was purchased in the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, to their home in Nablus. It had to be dismantled and then moved on trucks for a hundred kilometers over the mountainous terrain.

Some obstacles remain, even as opening day approaches. The brothers are still working on the menu, which will likely feature a mix of hummus, falafel, coffee, and shisha pipes.

They are also undecided on whether to allow visitors to smoke shisha inside the plane, which has novelty value but risks turning the place into a smoke box.

“That was the idea,” Sairafi said, inspecting the interior of the plane. “But I think it might be too much.”