Jisr al-Zarka, Israel’s only remaining coastal Arab town and nearly forgotten by both local and foreign visitors has made a small beginning to promote tourism to the town with the completion of the first tourist guest house called Juha’s.
Located on top of a busy eatery in the center of town, the Juha Guesthouse is a joint undertaking by an Israeli Jew, Neta Hanien of Moshav Aviel, and Jisr resident Ahmad Juha, the owner of the café (photo below).
Composed of two private bedrooms and a central dormitory style room, the guesthouse opened its doors with the idea of offering visitors an opportunity to get to know Jisr al-Zarka more intimately.
Jisr, a town of 12,000 inhabitants, is wedged in between one of Israel’s most affluent kibbutzim, Maagan Michael; and its most luxurious residential community, Caesarea. Often described as one of the poorest towns in Israel, with a high “drop out” rate among school children, Jisr al-Jarka was described by its mayor, Az-Adin Amash, as “the most beautiful place on earth.”
Amash believes his town has a great tourism potential with its still unspoiled beach front and quaint Fisherman’s Village (photo below).
The guest house project is only a small start in a community where outside visitors are still few and far between.
“For years, we felt that Jisr was a ‘desert Island’, due to being avoided by both the Jewish and Arab communities; but now things may be changing,” says guest house partner Ahmad Juha.
Some of the big issues, from a tourism standpoint, is not having banks and similar tourism infrastructures; as well as easy access from the main coastal highway that runs by the town: “We need a more direct access road to the main coastal highway. Although we own the property adjacent to the highway, we still have no direct access to it,” said mayor Az-Adin Amash told me during a visit to Jiser a while back.
Neighboring kibbutz Maagan Michal does not have a direct access to the coastal highway either. An access sollution would be of benefit to it as well.
A special access road and bridge over the coastal highway was built a few years back to allow visitors to come to the nature reserve without having to pass through Jisr al-Zarka. “We hope to eventually construct a holiday village on our beach site that will benefit both Jewish and Arab visitors. We have funds available to do this, but we need to receive a permit from the government to undertake the development,” said Mayor Amash.
So far, this has not happened, and the beachfront still looked about the same during a recent visit I made there in November, 2013. Jisr al-Zarka is just another example of tourism potential in Arab towns and villages in both Israel and in the Palestinian Authority; where guesthouses and other tourism facilities could benefit from more frequent visitation as well as from better public relations campaigns.
Read more on tourism and guesthouses:
Eco Tour the West Bank with the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem
A Whirlwind Guide to Palestinian Guesthouses
“Forgotten” Arab Town Gets Chance to Change Eco Image
Saudi Teacher Built a Funky Guest House Out of Recycled Materials
Photo of Neta Hanein and Ahmad Juha by Haaretz/Daniel Tchetchik