BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters Life!) - It might be a while before some future U.S. president prevails on Israel to “tear down this wall,” so Palestinian restaurateur Joseph Hazboon printed his menu on it instead...in waterproof colors.
When Israel ran a towering concrete “security barrier” past the window of the Hazboon family’s Bethlehem property a few years ago, it seemed liked the kiss of death commercially.
But Hazboon, 35, hit on the idea of transforming what was now a highly undesirable location into a lucrative attraction.
He renamed the place “The Wall Lounge” and, judging by the results, the setting is surprisingly popular with tourists.
It seems to give them a satisfying taste of the political realities of the modern Holy Land, in addition to the religious antiquity they come to experience in the town of Bethlehem, which is revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus.
“The idea just came to me, like a vision,” said Hazboon as he busily served lunch to a roomful of mostly foreign customers.
Hazboon has 15 years in the restaurant business. He said he had pondered leaving Bethlehem for the United States, where his mother lives, but decided instead to give the Wall Lounge a go.
Clients interviewed this week clearly appreciate it.
“Watching and reading about it at home is so different from driving through this beautiful land and seeing this very ugly, bad wall,” said U.S. visitor Chrys Reynolds.
“It is strange to put the menu on the wall. But if your business is right here you are totally affected by it, so maybe this is one way to deal with it.”
Lunchtime at the Lounge finds clients pointing through the window to pick out scampi or filet mignon dishes from the menu displayed in large print on the 4-meter (13-foot) high concrete slabs that form the wall just across the street.
“I think it is wonderful to have a restaurant in this situation where you can see the wall. It helps you realize that there are problems,” said Carol Spiller of Australia.
“But I think that you are overcoming those problems, and to have the menu on the wall seems to me putting it to good use,” she added.
Not many Palestinians or Israelis would share her conviction that their 60-year-old “problems” are about to be overcome.
A World Court ruling says the barrier Israel began building in occupied territory in 2002 with the declared aim of stopping Palestinian bomb attacks is illegal. Palestinians call it a land grab. Israel says the project has helped to curb bombings.
The barrier is made of razor wire-tipped fences, walls of the sort that block the sound from motorways, and mightier sections of concrete panels similar to those that East Germany once used to seal off the West, complete with watchtowers.
When finished it will snake 790 km (490 miles). The Israelis have rerouted the barrier several times after their own high court ruled against tracts that divided Palestinian communities.
Like the Berlin Wall, which Ronald Reagan famously demanded be torn down, the Israeli barrier has attracted artists, poets, spraypaint taggers and jokers, whose colorful works take some of the menace out of its hard gray concrete slabs.
“The wall is negative because it divides the land,” Hazboon said. “It has so complicated the situation, but at the same time if we can make something positive out of it, why not?”
“We are in a big jail. We are not free. But we can be free of speech and write whatever we want to on the wall.”
Writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Paul Casciato