In Israel Arab citizens comprise more than 20% of the total population of more than 8.5 million people, yet Arab and Jewish citizens live almost entirely separate lives within their own respective communities.
As a result, there are few opportunities for Jews and Arabs to meet and mutually learn about the other, visit their communities, and gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of their lives. These results in a deep fear of Jews and Arabs towards each other, embedded negative stereotypes, and reinforced inequalities between the two populations.
Within the Jewish community, there is a highly developed culture of internal tourism as well as an active international tourism industry. Tourists travelling in Israel can plan and organize attractive and interesting tourist excursions. Almost all of this tourism is in Jewish communities. With the exception of places such as Nazareth or a few Druze communities, neither Israeli Jewish nor international tourists visit or stay in Arab communities in any significant numbers.
This reality is compounded by the fact that tourism opportunities and infrastructure are practically non-existent in Arab communities even though more than half of the residents of the Galilee are Arabs where the most popular tourism destinations in Israel are located.
While the government has invested extensively in developing tourism throughout Israel’s periphery and specifically in the Galilee and the Negev, government resources almost exclusively target Jewish communities, and tourism infrastructure is almost entirely for the economic benefit of the Jewish communities.
Since 2012, Sikkuy has led Shared Regional Tourism Development through two projects that were funded by USAID. It pioneered in the development of local initiatives in four regions in the center and north of the country to promote shared tourism.
The projects advanced:
- Four local regional initiatives by Jews and Arabs working together led to the establishment of new shared tourism NGOs.
- “Ramadan Nights” tours in which thousands of Jewish Israelis visit Arab towns on organized tours during the annual evening Ramadan celebrations.
- Training programs for local tourism entrepreneurs focusing on home hospitality businesses run by women.
- Participation in international tourism marketing fairs in Israel.
- Organizing group tours for foreign tour groups including “Birthright” programs.
- Marketing outreach to Israeli and foreign tour packagers.
- Government funding for shared tourism advertising and promotion.
As the USAID-funded project concludes at the end of 2016, Sikkuy is gearing up to continue the SRT project IN 2017 with support from overseas and local supporters.
The SRT project advances shared Jewish-Arab tourism with the following goals:
Expand awareness of the unique tourism resources in the Arab communities.
Expand economic development through the development of shared Arab-Jewish tourism initiatives and of tourism attractions in the Arab communities.
Assist local groups of Jewish and Arab tourism entrepreneurs to develop NGOs.
Increase government funding for tourism development in the Arab communities.
The project will continue to expand effective Jewish-Arab sustainable tourism infrastructure including jointly led Jewish-Arab tourism forums in four regions:
The Southern Sharon (Kfar Saba, Tira, Taibeh, Kafr Qassem, Southern Sharon Regional Council)
Galilee (Jezreel Valley, Misgav, Nazareth region)
The activities coordinated by Sikkuy with the local forum members to include:
Supporting the advancement of regional Jewish-Arab tourism forums with local volunteers. These forums will organize shared society events such as festivals, exhibitions, hikes, etc. The Jewish-Arab tourism forums will ensure that Arabs are represented as participants, planners, organizers and performers and regional tourism events are publicized also in Arabic.
Advancing cooperation with the local and regional municipalities to increase regional tourism development.
Advancing tours for the general Jewish public to Arab communities including home hospitality visits and meals and guided tours with local Jewish and Arab tour guides.
Organizing and advancing tours to Arab communities for Jewish schools and their student/pupil population.
These activities will provide a common platform for Jews and Arabs to enter each other’s communities as equals, broaden the shared public space between Jews and Arabs, and lessen the alienation and isolation between the two communities.
Some of the measurable outcomes to be achieved in 2017:
Substantial and measurable increase in the number of Jewish tourists from within Israel as well as foreign tourists visiting Arab communities in Israel for educational tours.
Substantial and measurable increased local opportunities for Arab citizens to develop and run tourism based businesses.
Substantial and measurable increased cooperation between Jewish and Arab citizens for tourism development at the regional level.