Israeli separation wall becomes huge TV screen

Palestinians project WC games onto separation wall


Its purpose may be to divide, but for the past few nights, the wall that separates this biblical town in the West Bank from nearby Jerusalem has been bringing an international crowd together to watch the World Cup games.

In a first for Bethlehem, local restaurant owner and avid football fan Joseph Hasboun has been projecting every night game of the World Cup onto the wall facing his eatery, the Bahamas Sea Food Restaurant, located just a few hundred yards away from the city's main checkpoint.

Israel built the barrier along the West Bank to keep out Palestinian attackers, including suicide bombers. Several bombers from Bethlehem blew themselves up in Jerusalem, just three miles (five kilometers) away.

Palestinians complain that the barrier juts into the West Bank, and here in Bethlehem, the 30-foot concrete wall is an imposing presence that bears down on the town.

But for a month, during the football tournament, Palestinians are putting it to good use.

On a chilly Sunday night, Germans, Austrians, Americans and local Palestinians gathered at outdoor tables to watch Germany beat Australia 4-0.

"It lets you forget for a short time about the harsh reality," said Michael Exeler, 61 a German development worker living in Jerusalem. "It's the best you can make of it."

It isn't the first time that Hasboun has made use of the wall, directly across the street from his restaurant, monopolizing the view from its windows. When he decided to reopen the family restaurant two years ago, he used the cement canvas to paint larger-than-life menus in English and Arabic.

"The wall is a very negative thing, so if we can do something positive with it, we will," Hasboun said. "My goal is to bring everybody together. It's good for business, and it's good for Bethlehem."

Bethlehem's economy centers on tourism, and years of Mideast violence has depressed its economy. Even in the best of times, the town is not known for its night life.

The World Cup has changed that, at least for now. Hasboun says his restaurant is staying open late to accommodate the night games.

Locals are hopeful that even once the World Cup ends, the late-night projections will stick around.

"It's a new idea in Bethlehem," said Raneem Hosh, 25, a Bethlehem native who has come to watch the games every night, even though she says she doesn't even like soccer. "I come here for the ambiance. Maybe we can use it as a cinema after, since we don't have one here."

It lets you forget for a short time about the harsh reality. It's the best you can make of it

Michael Exeler