After a visit in rainy Caesarea we went to the nearby town of Jisr-az Zarqa where Neta (together with her local partner in business, Ahmad) were about to open a new hostel. I was the very first guest of the place and after listening to their story I couldn’t be any prouder to be a part of it! This town, the only Arab one on the coast and one of the poorest places in Israel (yet surrounded by the richest – Caesarea and kibbutz Ma’agan Michael) is wrongly considered one of the most dangerous areas in the country. Sadly, these are the reason why Jisr az Zarqa is a neglected and forgotten place that not many are interested in. Thanks to Neta and Ahmad this is about to change!
Their history is a great lesson that proves that Israel is not only a conflicted country, that the collaboration of Jewish and Arab people is possible and can be really successful. Deep inside we all want the same things. Neta, a Jewish woman, a mother of 3 little kids, had a really good job at the Israeli Ministry of Justice yet she had a dream of opening her own hostel. Once she visited Jisr az Zarqa she knew that’s the place where she wants to make this dream happen. Neta spent half a year knocking doors of Jisr az Zarqa and looking for a local business partner. Eventually another door were opened by Ahmad. He’s been living in the town all his life and always wanted to change something in its difficult reality, open Jisr az Zarqa to the world. The chance appeared when he and Neta met. This unlikely duo has been working very hard to open the hostel and that’s just the beginning of amazing plans they have! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for their success as I believe they and the town deserve all the best, and so much more!
Jisr az Zarqa has everything to become a tourist hot spot in near future. One of the most beautiful and untouched sandy beaches, perfect for surfing is at the edge of the town, 10 minutes walk from the center and the hostel. The Israel National Trail goes right through it. Beautiful ruins of Caesarea are located just half an hour walk on the beach. The area surrounding Jisr az Zarqa is beautiful with rolling hills and clean streams crossing the fields. It’s a perfect place to relax, an ideal getaway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. After a difficult time in Hebron I couldn’t find a better place to get myself together!
Despite the bad reputation the town has I didn’t feel unsafe there, not for a single moment. It was actually quite the opposite. On every step I was welcomed with bright smiles of local people who were excited to interact with me. Two teenager guys offered to show us the mosque and take me up to the roof, kids were shyly saying hello, fishermen invited us for coffee. I experienced an incredible hospitality in Jisr az Zarqa, like nowhere before, and I can honestly say I enjoyed every single minute of my stay there.
The town was also a food paradise for me! It’s full of small coffee places or bakeries with delicious, fresh bread. Right on the beach there’s a small restaurant, run by Musa – one of the fishermen’s. When the weather is nice the tables are set on the patio outside so you can eat enjoying the view of the Mediterranean Sea. Sadly that was not possible when I was there as it was raining really badly. But I didn’t mind these untoward conditions as the food was so good anyway! At that time I wished I had eaten the fish as that’s definitely the place to get in in Jisr az Zarqa! But the biggest fest waited for me in the evening when Haifa, Ahmad’s wife, prepared an incredibly delicious dinner for us as a way to celebrate opening the hostel. The food was just amazing, probably the best I’ve eaten in Israel. Haifa is another incredible woman I met on that day – she’s a mother of 7, helps to run the coffee house (downstairs from the hostel), goes to the university for evening classes and tries to encourage the local woman to be more active. On top of that she’s an outstanding cook! Just amazing!
My day in Jisr az Zarqa wasn’t an adventure in the typical meaning of that word, there were no extreme sports or no adrenaline rush involved. But being there, discovering the place and feeling as a part of the community for this short time was so much better! I learnt so much from this short visit, about breaking stereotypes, about giving chances, about opening to people. Getting to know Neta, the bravest and most inspiring woman I’ve ever met, changed me in a way too and now I’m so proud I can call her my friend. That’s the true meaning of travelling for me, not visiting yet another tourist attraction (what I like doing anyway) but meeting local people that I can learn from. Jisr az Zarqa was the best travelling lesson I could ever ask for.
If you plan to visit Israel I strongly suggest stepping off the beaten path and going for a day or three to Jisr az Zarqa. With my big sympathy to all the places I’ve visited in Israel I can easily say this town, its beach, streets and people were the highlight of my trip. I just wish I could have stayed there longer…
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If you want to see more pictures from my stay in Jisr az Zarqa visit Juha’s Guesthouse FB page, there’s the whole album about my time there!
Do you often go off the beaten path in your travels?
I stayed in amazing Juha’s Guesthouse in Jisr az Zarqa – a place with the incredible history that really is making a huge difference to the local community. You can book your stay there here!
If you think of visiting Israel or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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