It took two decades, cost a hundred thousand dollars and was nearly scuppered by the outbreak of war.
But the dream of two Palestinian brothers is finally ready for take-off, as they open a patriotic restaurant in a converted Boeing jet atop a mountain.
Ata and Khamis al-Sairafi, both 60, bought the decommissioned plane in 1998 and will fully open the venue in spring with a grand ceremony featuring costumed flight attendants.
It is not the first time a plane has been converted into a restaurant, with similar themed restaurants opening in Costa Rica, Colorado and even Bolton in the UK.
But this remote venue has a political twist: it is a poignant symbol of the Palestinians’ enduring hopes of becoming an independent state.
The West Bank, which the Palestinians claim as their own land, currently has no airport, while their freedom of movement is controlled by the Israeli military. For many visiting the restaurant, it will be their only opportunity to step on board a commercial aircraft.
One of the last remaining Palestinian airports, Yasser Arafat International in the Gaza Strip, closed in 2000 during the Second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israel. Israel bombed its radar station and bulldozed the runway over the following two years.
The restaurant has already been decked out with posters of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and King Abdullah of Jordan, whom the brothers regard as national heroes.
Arrivals and departures signs are also being set up in the courtyard where the plane sits, on the outskirts of the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
“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.
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