It is not much too look at. Yet two Israeli innovators – one Jewish, one Arab – hope that a humble backpacker’s hostel may be the key to spreading understanding and turning around an Arab village on the Mediterranean Sea.
Juha’s Guesthouse is located in Jisr az-Zarqa, just five minutes from the beach and close to Crocodile Stream Natural Reserve.
The locals rely mostly on income from fishing and housekeeping, yet the steady stream of backpackers has encouraged new fledgling businesses to blossom.
Some specialize in preparing authentic local meals for guests while other offer classes on traditional arts.
Co-owner Neta Hanien said in the year since the hostel has opened, things have changed a lot in the village.
“The media liked our story and it brought a lot of Israeli visitors on weekends, not to stay at the guesthouse but to explore the village,” she told Israel 21c in a recent interview. “More small businesses are opening and more people are starting to believe they can do something in their own village to make a living. They turn to us and ask our advice.”
Hanien, a former lawyer, who first spotted the village while on trips with her mom as a child, had long wanted to own a guesthouse in the area, but she needed to have a partner.
She found a perfect one in Ahmad Juha, a local café owner, who was trying to bring tourism to his town.
Working together, the two developed a hostel that would also serve as a business incubator to encourage local entrepreneurship.
“Our business consults and cooperates with local residents, including those interested in establishing ancillary or similar businesses,” the duo write in their mission statement.
They also hope that the Jewish-Arab partnership and the genuine friendliness of the locals will help visitors change perceptions.
“We established the first guesthouse in Jisr as a means to not only help improve their economic and social situation, but also give world and local travelers an opportunity to experience the uniqueness of the village and the warmth and friendliness of its people,” the pair said.
So far, Hanien said that the hostel is yet to turn a profit, but she stressed that they are working hard and it will someday soon.
“We will do all we can to label the village as a tourist destination and invest money and time to promote the whole village and encourage other local people to start their own tourist initiatives,” Hanien said of the innovative social venture.