Jerusalem24 – Right on the outskirts of Bethlehem, an Israeli military checkpoint within view, exists a place that defies cultural norms and the circumstances of occupation.
Shari300 is a pub owned by Laura Abuaita, a PhD student in women and gender studies who decided to create a new atmosphere in her hometown.
“I thought it would definitely be a good idea to create a new place for people in Palestine,” Laura tells Jerusalem24. “I thought of a place in Bethlehem that would give something different than other bars in the city.”
But running a business as a woman in a patriarchal society and in a highly volatile location is not an easy task.
Shari300 vs. Society
Laura defied societal norms and created Shari300, becoming one of the very few pub owners in the city of Bethlehem or in the occupied West Bank.
“The vision is to create a new place with different music and parties, to offer a space for people who don’t find such spaces in this country, in Bethlehem specifically,” Laura explains. “I am trying to create a new music line and parties, new atmosphere that is not only a bar, so it’s like a pub idea with loud music of different genres.”
Laura still faces a lot of criticism. “Being a woman staying late at night to run her business, it’s still not really acceptable in my society.”
But two years into her adventure, she’s still holding onto the light at the end of the tunnel. “Even if it takes us a lot of time, stress and money sometimes, it’s worth it and gives women self-confidence and power.”
The wall and the police
Located right next to the Israeli military checkpoint 300 between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Laura sees both advantages and disadvantages to this location.
Some people believe it is an inappropriate location for a pub, she says, but Laura views it as a symbol of resilience and enjoyment of life even under occupation.
“For me, it [made] a really good point that we have a life even though we are under occupation.”
Despite Laura’s fondness for the interesting symbolism of the pub’s location, she still recognizes the inherent risks.
“We’re talking about Area C, where Palestinian police don’t have access and Israeli police wouldn’t [help] us,” Laura explains. “It was a bit risky because we need to have security inside and outside the place”.
We’re still in Palestine
Business owners in Palestine are presented with a particular challenge when it comes to balancing their business with their Palestinian-ness. Laura says the political climate changes “every day or every week”, and can be tricky to navigate as the owner of an establishment which must somehow remain in business.
“We can’t live our life in our city when other people are being killed in other cities,” says Laura, who follows the Palestinian tradition of not holding parties or playing loud music when another city is in mourning.
Last summer, as Israeli military raids increased and the number of Palestinian casualties began to mount, Shari300 remained closed for nearly two months. “For us as a new pub – it was only less than one year since we opened – it wasn’t really good business-wise […] but I couldn’t open while people are being killed.”
“So it’s a challenge, but I never prioritize my business over my patriotism.”
Laura encourages all women in Palestine to pursue their dreams despite the tricky reality here.
“I advise every woman that has the courage to run any business, any type of business in Palestine, to go for it because it’s worth it,” she says. “It’s not easy, because it was created [sic] that we can’t do such things and we can’t get through those difficulties and challenges – but in reality we can do it.”
“Everything is worth it in this world.”
Listen to the full interview on Vibes.