Welcome to beautiful Elbatouf!

Despite the tremendous historic and religious significance of this site, and the touristic potential, the area had been largely neglected by both the central governments

The Rumat El Heib agricultural fields (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Rumat El Heib agricultural fields
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In between the Jezreel Valley and Tiberias is a regal regional council by the name of Elbatouf, the Arabic name for the abundantly beautiful Netofa Valley.

This largely unknown locality, dipped in one of the most stunning landscapes in the Galilee, comprises four villages – two Moslem, non-Bedouin villages, Romana and El Ozeir and two Moslem, Bedouin villages, Rumat El Heib and Wadi Hamam. Their total population reaches approximately 7,800. 

Three of the villages are clustered together, whereas Wadi Hamam, the Arabic name for the Arbel River which runs in the area, is situated at a 25 km (15 mile) distance from the rest, and lies at the foot of one of Israel’s most impressive mountains – the Arbel, adjacent to the ancient city of Tiberias. 

Wadi Hamam, literally translated as the Valley of Pigeons, was first founded in 1948, to house the Bedouin tribes of Ghu’arna, El Abaseya, Hisar, and El Muftakhra. As such, it is inherently different to other Bedouin villages in the Galilee in that one village became the sanctuary of more than one tribe. This created an atmosphere of diversity and mutual living, which is not necessarily a given among the Bedouin. Furthermore, the fact that this regional council comprises both Bedouin and non-Bedouin Moslems is yet another unique characteristic, highlighting a fascinating model of ethnic diversity. 

Adjacent to the village, lies a hidden archaeological treasure – Hirbat Wadi Hamam, which used to be one of the biggest villages in the Eastern Galilee during the Roman era. 

It was first built during the Hellenistic period in the first century BCE, and thus carries weight amid Christian believers. Researchers believe that it was also mentioned in the literature of Jewish sages as a settlement of great importance during the Second Temple period, thus emphasizing its significance for Jewish history and culture. 

Hirbat Wadi Hamam, or its Hebrew name Migdal Tzabaya, is mentioned in Jewish Talmudic oral law as the place which served the Hebrews as a plentiful source of wood used for the building of the Temple. The Jerusalem Talmud, in Chapter 4, mentions that this locality was completely destroyed due to the transgressions of the Israelites at that time. 

Despite the tremendous historic and religious significance of this site, and the touristic potential, which it thus holds as a sustainable source of income, the area had been largely neglected by both the central governments throughout the years, as well as by the democratically elected local governments of Elbatouf. The adjacent Arbel National Park, however, has been beautifully kept by the Central Authority for National Parks, as well as the Jewish National Fund, and is currently undergoing transformation and renewal. 

Elbatouf’s current, recently elected local leadership of the Regional Council of El Batouf wishes to leverage this transformation in order to create a comprehensive model for sustainable income out of the Wadi Hamam village, which lies just beneath this national pearl. Hence, much effort is currently being placed upon producing a macro economic feasibility study vis-à-vis changing the entire village into a tourist attraction, alongside creating a specific business plan and feasibility study for the creation of a first-of-its-kind Bedouin-style boutique hotel in Israel, as well as a myriad of other complementary tourist attractions. 

This “roadmap” can become a reality with the help of the Israeli government and budget, which has been particularly set aside for the Northern Bedouin community in Israel, namely Government Resolution 1480. This source of funding is to be used for the enhancement of the village’s infrastructure, including roads, pavements, walks and paths, gardening and cleaning up the entire area from debris and unwanted waste. Thereafter, significant outreach will be made to the private sector and potential investors by the local government, both in Israel and abroad, for the purpose of creating the aforementioned attractions and hotel. 

This “roadmap” will be forwarded in a manner that creates out-of-the-box interaction between the private, public and third sectors, as well as with the local community and elected leadership. Together with the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Tourism, the elected local government of Elbatouf will work on endorsing and strengthening local SMEs (small-and-medium-sized enterprises) with the objective of increasing employment opportunities for the local inhabitants and allowing for the greater attraction of tourists from throughout Israel and abroad. All this, naturally, in the post corona era…

This far-sighted, strategic plan is currently being spearheaded by a modest, yet adamant, Bedouin regional council head and mayor, Ahed Rahal. A former police officer for over two decades, Rahal was twice decorated with Israel’s highest medal of bravery for saving the lives of fellow officers and dozens of civilians from terror attacks.

Another concrete objective led by Rahal, in cooperation with the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Social Equality, is the establishment of a municipal industrial park, which will serve as yet another sustainable source of income and further diversify employment opportunities for the local inhabitants, whose average salary currently stands at approximately 6,000 shekels per month (approximately US $1,700).

In general, creating a model of emulation out of an Arab locality in Israel, with both sustainable sources of income and diversified employment opportunities, may serve as a significant vector in encouraging the local Arab Israeli population, both Bedouin and non-Bedouin, to be part and parcel of mainstream Israeli society. Furthermore, it may have a profound impact on the “Arab street,” which in general has little faith in its local leadership throughout the country, albeit they are democratically elected every five years. Municipal authorities are often perceived by the public as corrupt and lacking the necessary tools and the will to work for the people rather than for themselves. 

Strengthening the trust of the “street” in elected leadership throughout the Arab sector in Israel, based upon the success of this particular model, may well serve other local leadership. It may encourage them to follow suit and pursue similar strategic “roadmaps” based upon their own local assets and complexities.

For that outcome, it is vital to recruit the interest of the central government (once it is formed, after an endless election period) and the local community and its leadership, together with the diplomatic arena, the private sector and potential investors, who are not afraid of a risky yet endlessly exclusive environment and a stable and honest local governance, which is ready to provide attractive incentives.

Particularly now, given the intensity of the border-defying COVID-19 virus facing the entire globe, and not differentiating between different countries, faiths and beliefs, it is becoming abundantly clear that the well-being and health of a citizen at one end of the globe has profound impact on another on the very opposite part of the planet. Hence, sustainable growth, well-being, employment opportunities, good health, and partnerships are key to mankind in general; they frame internal differences and socioeconomic gaps in their correct perspectives. It is clear that these must be bridged. 

“The more quickly they are bridged, the better it will be for the country as a whole and humanity in general.” 

These are the words of one of the world’s leading historians, Prof. Yuval Noah Harari and well-encompassed in the old Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (fixing the world), which is so central to the entire endeavor of creating a model for emulation out of the regional council of Elbatouf.