(photo credit: Courtesy: Israel Images)
Every few months there is talk about bringing tourists to some forlorn Arab
village. The latest involves Bueina- Nujidat, located on the side of a hill
overlooking the flat plain of Beit Netufa, not far from Nazareth. Once a small
village of a few hundred people, including a few Christians, it is now home to
more than 8,000, some of whom are Beduin from the Nujidat tribe.
latest tourist venture was the brainchild of local women. In his article
“Putting Bueina-Nujidat on the map,” Eli Ashkenazi described how the women
approached a local council head, who turned to the tourism ministry, and so on.
Now the middle- aged women are creating crafts which they plan to sell. Other
villagers hope to open a bed and breakfast.
THIS RECENT hol ha-moed
me in the Galilee on a day-long tour. Driving wildly on Route 65, I sped past
the turnoff to Bueina; I can’t recall even seeing a sign, although undoubtedly
there is one. My girlfriend and I were focused on getting south to see Mount
Tabor, Nain and Nabi Dahi before the sun got too low. Nain is an Arab village
not far from Afula which was on the route of Christian pilgrims. In 1878 the
Catholic Church purchased land there reputed to be the place where Jesus revived
a widow’s son. A photo in 1914 shows the miserable village, which was entirely
Muslim, with the newly constructed church in the background. Now there is a
mosque next to the church.
Nabi Dahi is another village near Afula and
the resting place of a companion of the Prophet Muhammad. The tomb is pretty
and, oddly, decorated in the same blue and white common to the rabbis’ tombs of
the Galilee. Next to it is a lookout tower that provides an excellent view. The
village itself, while the people are very friendly, offers no real interest, as
there doesn’t seem to be a place to park, have a meal or do anything.
idea that Arab villages present an untapped tourist resource is not new. Umm al
Fahem, whose name means “mother of the coal,” has long attracted attention as a
potential touristic investment. The huge sprawling “village” lines Route 65 as
it weaves its way from the Jezreel Valley toward the coastal plain, and is home
to 50,000 people. The 65 is notorious as a place for accidents, and the site of
Arab riots in October 2000. And yet this is supposed to be a cornerstone of
tourism. In 2008, more than 70 Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists from
the US wanted to visit to see an Islamic pharmacy and promote social projects.
They were met with a boycott. Plans for a museum of Arab art have gone forward
with much fanfare. The 2006 idea envisioned a 15,000 square meter facility
costing $25 million. Esther Zandberg, the architecture correspondent for
, notes that “The planning process is underway now, and documentation and
materials are already being collected.” Hadassah
magazine spoke of
“rebranding” the village.
But the truth is that the plans are progressing
slowly. Maybe that is typical of Israel in general, or maybe the museum and any
tourism in Umm-Al Fahem are just smoke and mirrors. For most Israelis, the
people there are known more for stoning cars and voting for the Islamic Movement
than for welcoming tourists.
The main problem facing many villages is
historical. Not all the Arab villages in Israel have a great cultural heritage.
Several dozen offer something in the way of historical interest because of the
presence of old Christian communities or connections to the story of Jesus. Kafr
Kana, for instance, is where Jesus turned water into wine. Several villages may
offer tourists a glimpse of minority communities. Kafr Kama and Rihaniya both
are home to Circassians. Kababir, a suburb of Haifa, is an Ahmadiya
Muslim community. Shibli, at the base of Mount Tabor, has a museum for Beduin
culture, and is quite welcoming.
Some villages offer interesting
connections to Jewish history. Dabburiya, which is not an inviting village, is
connected with the prophetess Deborah. Jish, a Christian- Maronite village, is
the ancient Jewish town of Gush Halav. Shefa-‘Amr is definitely worth a visit,
as it contains an old synagogue and was one of the places the Sanhedrin convened
after the destruction of the Temple. However it is a very large town and hard to
A few villages have interesting forts and ruins. Mi’iliya not
only provides access to a hike to the Crusader fortress of Montfort, but also
has a small Crusader fort of its own. The “port” of the Beduin village of
Jisr-al- Zarqa near Caesarea contains antiquities.
BUT MANY villages are
neither ancient nor particularly interesting. Kabul, aside from sharing the name
with a place in Afghanistan, doesn’t offer anything. It is perhaps unfortunate,
because the village’s main road has been redone with a delightful jogging and
exercise track along it. No one would probably ever want to visit Feredeis,
Taybe, Tira, Qalansuwa or Wadi Ara. Khawalid, Umm al Ghanem and
Tuba-Zangariya – all Beduin villages – seem to offer little for tourists. Ras
Ali, a beautiful hamlet perched on a bend in a river, is next to an old mill
named Nazarim, but the mill itself bars tourists.
From a standpoint of
access, almost all the Arab localities of Israel, except those such as Abu
Ghosh, Acre Hurfeish, Peke’in and Nazareth (that already cater to tourists) are
not easy to find, have little public transport and less parking. Nevertheless,
the Arab towns and villages certainly are an unexplored cultural resource for
Jews, Arabs and foreign tourists. An effort to put this sector on the tourist
map could yield benefits, but would take the commitment of more than just a few
pluralist dreamers or academic theorists.The writer has a PhD from
Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market