If you want to get off the beaten track, eat great food and meet locals in Palestine than a stay at a Palestinian guesthouse could be the thing for you. Rather than staying with huge, impersonal hotels that don’t connect with you or reflect your views, you could stay at a number of small guesthouses which support everything from Bedouins, women’s right, environmental conservation to community arts and culture.
A new website by Green Prophet’s very own eco-tourism guide Sarah Irving has been launched with a comprehensive list of guesthouses in Palestine. As Sarah points out, the guesthouses are important ways for the local communities to generate income and jobs, to build personal connections between diverse communities and also help tourists see a little bit more of the real Palestine.
“The important thing about all these guesthouses is that they are small, locally-run operations which create jobs and income, separate from the ‘aid agencies’ which are so involved in the West Bank,” explains Sarah who has been visiting the Middle East since 2001. “It’s about Palestinian people working to improve their own living conditions, rather than being dependent on donors.”
A not-for-profit project, the website which is called ‘Guesthouses in Palestine’ consists of listings with contact information- no fees will go to the guesthouses. As such, Sarah welcomes all visitors to add their recommendations and experiences (positive and negative) if they’ve stayed at any of the guesthouses.
Visiting Parts of Palestine That Mainstream Tourism Ignores
Sarah Irving, who is the author behind the Bradt Guide to Palestine– the only mainstream guidebook to Palestine which will be published in November 2011, explains that the website is particularly important as it bridges the gap between tourists and the guesthouses. “The main problem for many of these guesthouses has been publicising themselves. Most do not have the resources to set up bespoke websites or conduct marketing campaigns… [This] means that the Palestinian economy is missing out on an important market, and independent travellers in Palestine miss out on great opportunities to meet local people, eat local food and see parts of Palestine which mainstream tourism doesn’t cover,” explains the site.
For example, a recently opened guesthouse in Sebastia near Nablus uses soap made by local women from olive oil grown in Sebastia’s groves and breakfast might include taboun bread still smoky from the nearby oven, zeit (olive oil) and za’atar (thyme) from the surrounding hills, jam made from figs or cherries from the village’s orchards, and fresh fruit grown only yards away. Sarah adds, “The other important thing about guesthouses is that they give visitors a great opportunity to meet local people and stay in more out-of-the way places than if they just go to the big hotels in Ramallah, Bethlehem or Jericho.”
Embracing Community Tourism Which Supports Locals
The local guesthouse are also a much needed alternative to commercial tourism in the region which jumps from tourist hotspot to the next without considering the locals and ways to support them. Community tourism, which works more closely with locals as many of the guesthouses do, means that not only can you have a thoroughly enjoyable holiday but you can leave with the knowledge that you made a real contribution to the community you visited.
Guesthouses like Ibdaa in Deheishe or the Yafa Centre in Balata are also important ways for people to witness daily life in the West Bank refugee camps, and to support cultural and social organisations there. Rather than your money going to big businesses, you will have supported a local initiative and you also get the opportunity to explore the country through less conventional means such as bike tourism or hiking through Palestinian countryside. “Sure, it’s a difficult situation – the Palestinian economy will be constrained by Israeli military decisions and the presence of settlements for as long as the Occupation is in place,” admits Sarah. “But Palestinian people deserve the chance to build a better life even under these conditions.”
:See Guesthouses in Palestine for more information.
:: Image via Sarah Irving.
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