29 August 2021
Few Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are able to travel by airplane. The territory does not have a civilian airport. Those who have enough money to pay for a plane ticket must catch their flights in neighboring Jordan.
But just outside the northern West Bank city of Nablus, twin brothers are offering people the next best thing.
Khamis al-Sairafi and his brother Ata are turning an old Boeing 707 airplane into a cafe and restaurant. Customers are given a chance to see what it is like to be onboard an airplane.
Khamis al-Sairafi said, "Ninety-nine percent of Palestinians have never used an airplane. Only our ambassadors, diplomats, ministers and mayors use them. Now, they see an airplane and it is something for them."
After years of planning, the 60-year-old brothers opened "The Palestinian-Jordanian Airline Restaurant and Coffee Shop al-Sairafi" on July 21.
Families, friends and couples came for drinks in the cafe, set below the body of the plane. Many others came to take pictures inside for a small price.
Customers said they decided to visit after seeing pictures of the plane online. "For a long time, I have wanted to see this place. I wish I had seen this place before it was turned into a café," said Majdi Khalid.
For a long time, the plane sat along the side of a major road in the northern West Bank.
The twins' dream of turning the airplane into a cafe and restaurant started in the late 1990s, when Khamis saw the airplane near the northern Israeli city of Safed.
At the time, the plane already had a long history. It was used by the Israeli government from 1961 to 1993. It flew then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the United States in 1978 to sign Israel's historic peace agreement with Egypt, reports Israel's Channel 12 TV.
It was later bought by three Israeli business partners who wanted to turn it into a restaurant. The project, however, was abandoned following disagreements with local officials, the television station said.
After finding one of the plane's owners, the brothers agreed to buy the plane for $100,000 in 1999. They spent an additional $50,000 for permits and to transport it to the West Bank.
Khamis said the then-mayor of Nablus quickly approved the transportation and renovation of the airplane.
Moving the plane to Nablus was a 13-hour operation. The effort required the wings to be removed and the temporary closure of roads in Israel and the West Bank. At the time, Israel and the Palestinians were taking part in peace talks. Movement between the two places was somewhat easy.
The al-Sairafi brothers were successful traders and scrap metal sellers. They often traveled to and from Israel buying pieces of metal that they then sold in the West Bank. They also owned a successful waste removal business. They used their earnings to build an amusement park on the same piece of land where the plane was placed.
But they said their project was delayed after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in late 2000.
An Israeli military checkpoint was built nearby, they said. The checkpoint remained for three years and the Israeli military took over the entire area. The project collapsed.
The Israeli military did not answer a request by The Associated Press for comment.
For nearly 20 years, the airplane and the area were abandoned.
After the uprising ended in the middle-2000s, the brothers earned a living from their waste removal business and the small amusement park in Nablus.
After more than 10 years of saving money, they decided in 2020 to begin rebuilding what they had lost. This time, they started with the repair work of the airplane. But the coronavirus crisis hit the Palestinian economy hard, causing additional delays.
Following months of work, the aircraft is almost ready for full service. The inside is freshly painted and fitted with electricity. There are nine tables. The doors are connected to two old jetways to let customers board the plane safely.
The cafe is already welcoming customers. And the brothers hope to open the restaurant part of their business next month.
I'm Ashley Thompson.
The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.
Words in This Story
twin - n. either one of two babies that are born at the same time to the same mother
cafe - n. a small restaurant where you can get simple meals and drinks (such as coffee)
customer - n. someone who buys goods or services from a business
renovations - n. changes and repairs made to (an old house, building, room, etc.) so that it is back in good condition
scrap - n. things from an unwanted or broken object (such as a car) that are useful only in making or fixing something else
amusement park - n. a place that has many games and rides (such as roller coasters and merry-go-rounds) for entertainment
uprising - n. a usually violent effort by many people to change the government or leader of a country