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Palestinians visit the interior of a Boeing 707 converted to a cafe restaurant in Wadi Al-Badhan, near the West Bank city of Nablus. Photo: AP

In a place with no airport, restaurant in a Boeing 707 is off to a flier before it’s even opened, with visitors paying an entry fee just to see the cabin and cockpit

  • A magnet for selfie takers, wedding photographers and wide-eyed children, an airliner refurbished as a restaurant is already a hit – and it hasn’t begun serving
  • Bought in 1999 by twin brothers who grew up as refugees and converted at a cost of US$620,000, its opening in Nablus, West Bank, will fulfil a long-held dream

In Nablus on the West Bank, an old Boeing 707 plane is nestled among brambles, dust and stones.

It might look as though it crash-landed on the concrete strip. But for 60-year-old twin brothers Ata and Chamis al-Sairafi, the aircraft is the product of decades of work.

The plane, the wings and tail fin of which are decorated with the colours of Palestine and Jordan, shines bright against the backdrop of mountains, prepared for a new kind of journey. The twins are just weeks away from opening a restaurant in the Boeing, a long-held dream.

Despite pandemic-related turbulance, “hopefully in two months we can open the restaurant, insha’Allah”, says Ata Sairafi. Born five minutes before his brother, he does the talking.

The Boeing 707 aircraft that has been converted to a cafe in Wadi Al-Badhan, just outside the West Bank city of Nablus. Photo: AP

The twins grew up in the Askar Palestinian refugee camp, in Nablus, and made a living buying and recycling scrap metal for years. But they dreamed of working in tourism and entertainment.

Nearly 30 years ago, they heard about a Boeing jet parked in Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, in Israel.

The Boeing 707 awaiting conversion in 2009. Photo: AP

“Its last passenger flight was to Berlin,” says al-Sairafi.

They were thrilled and hoped to buy the plane, to transform it into a restaurant. It turned out that the purchase, completed in 1999, was the easiest step.

They needed a permit from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport to transport the plane once its engines, flight instruments and seats had been removed. Then for the trip itself, they needed special vehicles and roadblocks. The journey was more complicated than anyone expected.

Twin brothers Khamis and Ata al-Sairafi opened The Palestinian-Jordanian Airline Restaurant and Coffee Shop in July, serving customers on the ground, but expect to welcome their first in-cabin diners soon. Photo: AP

“Trees had to be cut down for the plane to get through,” says al-Sairafi.

A further complicating factor was that an Israeli army camp had been temporarily set up on the site where the plane is now located. Conflict also intruded on their plans.

Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem, among other territories, during the six-day war in 1967. However, Palestinians want to establish an independent state of Palestine on the territory with East Jerusalem as its capital. The second Intifada, from 2000 to 2005, caused huge delays for the reconstruction that was scheduled at the time.

People pay an entrance fee to be able to visit the plane
Ata al-Sairafi

Once the site was finally free for civilian use, the pandemic came along, presenting fresh hurdles.

This year, the twins were finally able to fix up the aircraft’s interior, during the spring and summer.

“Because of the coronavirus, our restaurant is only set up for 35 visitors for now,” says al-Sairafi. “We’re going to have a kitchen down on the ground and use an elevator to bring the food up.”

Palestinians in the West Bank, where there is no airport, have been visiting the Boeing 707 ahead of its restaurant opening. Photo: AP

Until the restaurant opens, the brothers will be able to serve coffee, tea or soft drinks to visitors on the ground. The area also serves as a shisha bar, with groups of tables with parasols facing the Boeing.

With its red plastic tables and white plastic chairs on grey carpet, the restaurant recalls an economical airport cafeteria more than a first-class lounge. But it has a powerful appeal for the people of Nablus, as the West Bank doesn’t have an airport.

A small boy holds his father’s hand as he walks through the plane, wide-eyed.

“People pay an entrance fee to be able to visit the plane,” says Ata al-Sairafi. While that doesn’t earn them as much as a restaurant will, it helps spread the word.

Visitors sit in the cockpit of the converted Boeing. Photo: AP

“People want to take selfies in front of or on the plane,” Chamis al-Sairafi says. “And the plane is popular with wedding couples as a backdrop for their wedding photos.”

So far, the twins have invested 2 million shekels (some US$620,000) in their business. Since the West Bank sees little international tourism, they are relying on locals who are looking for a meal in a different kind of setting.

Will they make a profit?

“It was a big risk,” says Chamis al-Sairafi. But their hearts are in it, he adds.