How a novelty plane restaurant in Palestine is keeping dreams of an independent state alive

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

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

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

Even so, it means that for some Palestinians, eating a meal on a disused plane in the middle of nowhere could be the closest they get to a holiday abroad. 

The Oslo Accords, which were signed roughly around the time the brothers were purchasing their plane, are far from delivering the two-state solution that at the time had filled Palestinian leaders with optimism.

More recently, the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, which saw Israel normalise relations with Gulf neighbours Bahrain and the UAE, has left the Palestinians diplomatically isolated. Many of them regard the decision to embrace Israel before resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a betrayal.

Smoking on board 

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

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

Mr Sairafi said it took so long to open the restaurant due to disruption caused by the second intifada, some financial difficulties and more recently the coronavirus pandemic. 

And it was no easy task getting the plane, which was purchased in the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, up to their home in Nablus. It had to be disassembled and then moved on trucks for a hundred miles up the mountainous terrain. 

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

They are also undecided on allowing visitors to smoke shisha inside the plane, which has novelty value but risks turning the venue into a smokebox. 

“That was the idea,” Mr Sairafi says as he inspects the plane’s interior. “But I think it might be too much.” 

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