Lifelong dream of two twin brothers: a Boeing 707 becomes a restaurant
Two Palestinian twin brothers have lofty plans in the West Bank: The long-haul jet they have acquired is given a new function. They’ll soon be ready to go.
Between dust and boulders, thorny undergrowth and the mountains around the city of Nablus in the West Bank, the aircraft appears to have landed on the edge of a concrete surface. For the 60-year-old twin brothers Ata and Chamis al-Sairafi, the old Boeing 707, whose wings and tail fin are adorned with the Palestinian and Jordanian colors, is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream after decades of preparation.
When the announcement “Ready for takeoff” comes from a cockpit, passengers and crew know that everything is ready to take off and that the aircraft will speed down the runway in a few minutes. But the plane of the Palestinian twin brothers will no longer take off. And yet they also feel ready to go with their project: They are about to open a restaurant in the old Boeing. Only the corona pandemic caused additional turbulence. “But hopefully we can open the restaurant in two months, Inschallah,” says Ata Sairafi fervently. Born five minutes before his brother, the energetic man is the spokesman for the twins.
From Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee to Nablus
The brothers, who grew up in the Askar refugee camp in Nablus, have always been interested in tourism and entertainment, but for years they earned their living buying and recycling scrap metal. In this function, they also heard about a disused Boeing from the 80s almost 30 years ago, which was meanwhile unused in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee in Israel. “Your last passenger flight was to Berlin,” says al-Sairafi.
But that is a long time ago. Nevertheless, the aircraft aroused desires among the twins: They wanted to buy it, not to scrap it, but to convert it into a restaurant. Buying it in 1999 was still the easiest. For the transport of the machine, from which the engines, flight instruments and seats had been removed, a permit from the Israeli airport Ben Gurion was necessary, for the transport itself special vehicles and roadblocks were necessary.
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“It was quite complicated, even trees had to be felled for the plane to get through,” recalls al-Sairafi. The fact that an Israeli army camp was now located on the site where the aircraft is now was not exactly helpful.
Israel had conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, among others. The Palestinians, on the other hand, want the territories for a Palestinian state of their own. The second Palestinian uprising, the Intifada, threw back the restaurant renovation planned for the beginning of the millennium.
When the area was released for civil use again, the corona pandemic came and brought the brothers’ plans into new turmoil. That spring and summer, however, they were finally able to fix the interior of the aircraft. “Because of Corona, our restaurant is initially only designed for 35 visitors,” says al-Sairafi. “We’ll have a kitchen down on the floor and an elevator will take the food upstairs.”
Until the restaurant opens, the brothers can provide visitors with coffee, tea or soft drinks on the floor. The area also serves as a shisha bar with its table groups under parasols and a view of the Boeing, the wings of which tower over the guests.
Jet as a background for the wedding photos
Admittedly, with the combination of red plastic tables and white plastic chairs on gray carpeting, the future restaurant is more reminiscent of the very economy-oriented design of airport cafeterias than of the jet set atmosphere in the first class lounges. For the people in Nablus who do not have their own airport in their home country, it is still an attraction. Big-eyed, a little boy walks through the plane holding his father’s hand.
“People pay admission to visit the plane,” says Ata al-Sairafi. It doesn’t generate as much as a restaurant, but it does make for word-of-mouth. “People want to take selfies in front of or on the plane,” says Chamiss al-Sairafi. “And the plane is also popular with wedding couples as a backdrop for their wedding photos.”
The brothers have invested two million shekels in the company so far, the equivalent of around 530,000 euros today. Since the West Bank is not exactly an international tourist spot, they rely on local guests who simply feel like dining in an unfamiliar setting.
Will the company be profitable? The two brothers firmly believe that they will soon be able to take off. “It was a big risk,” admits Khamis al-Sairafi. “But we have the heart for it.”
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