Israeli separation wall turns into huge TV screen

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.”