Israeli donors chip in to save Israeli-Arab business from closing

Jewish-Arab coexistence has shaped the image of the State of Israel from its very beginning.

A fisherman in Jisr a-Zarqa untangles his catch from the net (photo credit: TAYLOR RENEE BISSEY)
A fisherman in Jisr a-Zarqa untangles his catch from the net
(photo credit: TAYLOR RENEE BISSEY)
Juha's Guesthouse, a small hostel in the only Arab seaside town in Israel, Jisr al-Zarqa, can be seen as the perfect model of Jewish-Arab coexistence. But as the country is experiencing its second nationwide lockdown, it faces the threat of going bankrupt, international media reported.
Jewish-Arab coexistence has shaped the image of the State of Israel from its very beginning, but it remains relatively marginal in the sense of public awareness, with many people simply not aware of the projects, initiatives and even businesses that are the product of cooperation between Jews and Arabs.
Juha's Guesthouse was established in 2014 by Ahmad "Juha" Jorban and his Israeli partner Neta Henien, who sought to develop the small fishing town's tourism by attracting Israelis.
Established as a "social business," Juha's Guesthouse offers visitors various experiences, including workshops, seminars for job-seekers and cooking lessons, making the guesthouse a kind of community center.
Today, the hostel is managed by Jorban and Naama Goldman-Shwartz, who see the guesthouse as more than just a place to stay. For them, it is a cultural bridge, providing both Jews and Arabs the opportunity to connect through special encounters – Arabic language classes for example.
"Language brings hearts together and it helps to change prejudices," Jorban, 50, told AFP.
"In the beginning, the idea was to develop the tourist potential of the village," he said.
That was challenging enough, considering that "most people driving along the coast never enter [the town]," according to Goldman-Shwartz. Jisr al-Zarqa is located near Caesarea, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu owns a private home.
Considered one of the poorest towns in Israel, Jisr al-Zarqa is better known for its problems than its beautiful beaches and tourist attractions.
Jorban and Goldman-Shwartz's efforts paid off though, and over the years Juha's Guesthouse became a symbolic retreat for thousands of Israelis looking for a different kind of vacation. The hype also brought new cafés and restaurants opening up in the area.
"Thanks to that we were able to change this negative image," Jorban noted.
"People who come here see the village differently by the time they leave," Goldman-Shwartz added.
But all of that changed when coronavirus entered our lives and virtually brought tourism to a painful halt. Luckily for Juha's Guesthouse, it made enough of a "splash" before the pandemic hit, that once hearing about their struggle, Israeli celebrities and anonymous donors stepped in to help keep the business afloat.
Israeli singer Achinoam Nini was one of them.
"I recently discovered a beautiful place in Jisr al-Zarqa, a guesthouse founded by a Jewish woman and an Arab man whose goal is to create real encounters between Jews and Arabs," Nini said in a video clip shared on social media.
"Now, in the time of the coronavirus, the guesthouse is experiencing many difficulties and needs your help," she added.
More than NIS 260,000 (approximately $76,000) has been raised so far thanks to donations from of over 1,200 donors via a crowd-funding page.
Thankfully, Jorban and Goldman-Shwartz said the fundraising will provide "a little more fuel" to keep the business from collapsing.