In Bethlehem, the party starts at midnight

Welcome to Cosmos Disco, where Bethlehem's movers and shakers move and shake.

disco 88 (photo credit: )
disco 88
(photo credit: )
Driving the empty and dark streets of Bethlehem after midnight, it's hard to imagine that somewhere in this still darkness, the glitter, joy and festivity of club culture flourishes. A plain three-story building in the center of the Bethlehem tourist village looks like an ordinary structure, except for two words written on top of it: "Cosmos Disco." The first thing I notice about Cosmos is the ring of Rambo-looking bouncers at the door, who are scrupulously checking those who come and go - the security in the club is pretty tight and the screening is obviously stricter then in any Jerusalem or Tel Aviv disco or night club. "Cosmos is the 'it' place of the West Bank, and many important people come to hang out here with their wives and girlfriends, so privacy is important," George, my cab driver, explained on my way from the checkpoint. "Also, they serve alcohol, you know, so the owners do not want any trouble with whoever it might be." For more then a year now, the Bethlehem city council has been controlled by Hamas, which has banned the sale of alcohol in the Gaza Strip and in some West Bank cities, such as Kalkilya. Yet Cosmos's splendid bar is flush with booze, and the barman is working non-stop serving beers, whiskey and trendy iced Smirnoff. The owner, Peter Hosh, says he didn't experience any difficulty getting an alcohol license or serving alcohol in Cosmos. "The club was operating prior to the outbreak of the intifada," he explains, "and about two years ago, when it was quiet again, I began to think that it would be good to reopen the club. People need some outlet for their emotions, they need to relax and have a good time." At midnight, mostly Arabic music is played by a DJ - to get those couples out to the dance floor, he explains later. The audience hums enthusiastically the popular hits of Nancy Ajram, Haifa Wehbi, Yuri Markadi and Ihab Tawfiq (Egyptian and Lebanese pop stars) that are constantly played on Arabic music channels like Rotana or Melody. Not exactly the music you'd find in Haoman 17 or Dome. The visitors to Cosmos also look quite different from revelers at Jerusalem or Tel Aviv discos and nightclubs. In their late 20s and 30s, only couples can come here - the strictly enforced rule of the club - and look much more respectable and serious than an average club-hopper in Israel. At the beginning of the night, the place looks a bit like a school dance, with couples dancing only with each other - after all, if you were interested in meeting someone, this wouldn't exactly be the place. A little later the music mix - oriental and techno - and some alcohol seem to be doing the trick: The crowd looks more at ease and more people are taking it to the dance floor. The place gets almost full at 2 a.m. when a group of European volunteers and their friends flock inside. "I heard about Cosmos before, but this is my first time here," says Catherine, a volunteer from Germany who works with disabled children in Ramallah. "It's terrific that there is such a place in Bethlehem. It gives life some sense of normalcy. It's very difficult to live here in Bethlehem or Ramallah you know, even if you have some money, because of all these travel restrictions and so on. So this place is a kind of a refuge for them, it's a reminder of an ordinary life that everyone wants to live." Her Palestinian friend (who didn't want to disclose her name) says that for her Cosmos means even more then that. "The world thinks that all Palestinians are terrorists, that all we want to do is fight. But we are just humans, who, like everybody else, want to live our lives and to have some fun. Having fun in a city, surrounded by a wall, while we are being forced away from our homeland, also takes some courage, don't you think?" The barman says that at Christmas the place was absolutely crammed, because there is a lot of demand for quality venues in Palestinian cities, where locals and visitors don't have much to do at night. A few movie theaters in Ramallah, two or three concert halls and foreign cultural centers in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho - that's about the complete available choice. There are quite a few decent restaurants in Ramallah, such as Darna, Al-Bardauni and the Olive Garden, but when it comes to dancing, there is only Cosmos. According to owner Hosh, Palestinian Christians and Muslims form the bulk of the clientele, but because of the oriental flavor which Tel Aviv clubs lack, many foreigners also come, as well as Israeli Arabs from Nazareth and Haifa. "Will Israeli Jews be welcome here, today or someday?" I ask Hosh. "I don't think so," he answers, without elaborating. Meanwhile the dance floor becomes quite crowded. It's almost 3 a.m., but no one is rushing home, prolonging the pleasure. Scarlet walls, perfect sound, simple but elegant design, Red Bull and Carlsberg posters on the walls, careless dancers - Cosmos is yet is another face of the city beyond the wall.