Jaffa might be best known for the story of Jonah but this ancient seaside city possesses a striking backdrop for the modern story of how Jews and Arabs live together.
On this special two and a half hour walking tour participants weave through the ancient and modern city beginning with Jaffa’s connection to the mythical story of Andromeda as well as the story of Jonah.
Guided by both a Jewish and Muslim guide specialists participants enjoy two different perspectives on modern life in this very ancient of cities. Our Moslem guide, Ehab, led us on the first half of the tour, providing his personal insight on Jaffa’s large Moslem population which has had a presence in Jaffa for hundreds of years. We learned a bit about life under Ottoman rule as well as Ottoman architecture which remains quite prevalent today. The most fascinating aspect of the tour was the visit to one Jaffa’s most prominent mosques situated off a small alleyway near the ancient walls to the Old City. We entered through a huge door into an extraordinary landscaped compound surrounding a beautiful courtyard designed with archways and stone excavated from a quarry near Jerusalem.
After removing our shoes we entered the large prayer room constructed with an ornate domed ceiling containing handpainted designs with beautiful detail. Each corner of the room portrays various colorful motifs symbolic of many of Islam’s prophets, several of whom are Old Testament figures of importance to Judaism and Christianity.
Our guide educated us as to some of the traditions and beliefs related to prayer and the Koran. He also provided an insightful overview of Moslem culture in Jaffa and the different mosques in Jaffa (there are a total of eight – fiver of which are moderate, dialogue seeking and focused on co-existence while three are more extreme.) He explained how every Iman is free to preach as he wishes as opposed to in Saudi Arabia where the government tells the clergy what they must preach.
After a 20 minute question and answer session the tour continued with a Jewish guide who led us to the new deck overlooking the sea and Tel Aviv then back through the alleys with a quick stop at the famed family owned Abulafiya bakery (recently opened in England) to taste this famous family’s renowned ‘bagela’.
We later toured the artists colony and its unique hanging orange pit and tree and continued through the old city past the archaeological site over to the lookout point over the old City. Throughtout this part of the tour we learn about the evolution of the new city – both Tel Aviv and Jaffa and we also saw remains from the numerous civilizations that lived in Jaffa before. The program concluded with a visit to the Church of St. Peter, one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Christians.
The tour is substantial in its content and depth and allows participants ample opportunity to learn about the different cultures and provides them a vision of Jaffa through a much wider lens. What’s very unique is the fact that you see and feel the diversity of people and the extraordinary beauty that this diversity brings to such a historical and densely populated area. People walk away awed by the beauty, and appreciation of the people and the city.
Israel’s ‘Masterchef’ winner, Tom Franz, recently hosted a television series entitled “A Taste of Israel” which was shown on German and French public television. The series takes viewers on a culinary journey through parts of Israel and features a segment where Breaking Bread Journeys takes Tom into the Palestinian Territories. The series can be viewed at this link.
For those interested in learning more about the Israeli Arab narrative and afternoon in Wadi Ar’a is a must. Our most recent delicious home hospitality visit at the home of Amna in Kfar Qara offered a very engaging opportunity to learn about the the life and role of tradition Arab Moslem women in society.
Amna was introduced to us through the Wadi Ara’sa “Marvad Yarok” initiative, a non-profit organization established in 2007. The project is a joint venture of Arabs and Jews, volunteers and local tours entrepreneurs that joined together to promote local tourism to build trust and dialogue between cultures.
On this particular tour, we traveled to the home in of Amna in Kfar Ka’raa. Amna is the head of an AMUTA called “lmanech l’moda’ot” – which seeks to empower Arab women in the Wadi Ara area by teaching them how to enhance their economic livelihood by utilizing their domestic skills and hosting tourist groups.
An extraordinary story teller, Amna talked about her upbringing in a traditional Moslem household as the only daughter in a household of boys. She discussed in detail how she was expected to focus on the home and the associated duties and traditions that are typical of a traditional Moslem family including an appropriate home arranged marriage. Amna, however, is an extremely independent thinker and ultimately found herself drawn outside her village where she would eventually engage with similarly independent Israeli Jewish women and ultimately become involved in coexistence work. She became active in a non profit association focused on peacebuilding. The Knesset named her one of the top 10 most influential women in the country.
Not typically on any tourist route, our new “Life on the Front Line” program focuses on the history of the southern Israel region and its changing borders in context to the reality of life on the ground since Israel’s independence in 1948. The day included a visit to a new museum documenting Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza strip in 2005, a visit to Sderot to see the concrete reinforced playground that doubles as a bomb shelter and to tour Israels southernmost agricultural community lying right on Gaza’s northern border to meet with residents, see where the tunnels were discovered and destroyed and to participate in a colorful peace project.
The new museum situated in Nitzan tells the story of the withdrawl of the 8,600 residents who settled in the aftermath of the 1967 war, in 21 different communities within the Gaza Strip. From 1967 to 2005, the Israel Defense Forces controlled the Gaza Strip, and the Jewish settlements there became known as Gush Katif. In the summer of 2005, Israel carried out a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip removing all the Jewish settlements in the region. Through film footage we heard the personal stories stories of the many families that left their homes through difficult film footage documenting how the army prepared the soldiers for the removal of these residents. The documentary also presented footage of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s announcing his decision to disengage, the Knesset vote in favor, and the heartbreaking scenes of young soldiers removing Israeli mothers and their children from their homes . The army had handed out cardboard boxes each family to pack up their belongings and we sat on these same boxes as we watched the footage.
In Sderot we met with Odelia, a local leader of an non profit organization Afikim B’Negev, that moves families from outside the area to Sderot in order to strengthen the disadvantaged populations of single families, Holocaust survivors and victims of terror,that are so prevalent within this border community. Odelia, discusses life in Sderot including the trauma of her own six year old son who will not go to the bathroom alone because living in Sderot you have only 15 seconds to find shelter.
Sderot’s protected playground features a cylindrical caterpillar-looking creatures enabling kids to play within its protected walls.
We also saw the collection of missiles and shrapnel on display in the local police station, with each item dated.
Next we visited the agricultural community of Netiv Ha’asara which likes on the sand dunes the divide Israel from the Gaza Strip. Like everything else we visit on this day, Netiv Ha’asara is located within the internationally recognized boundaries of Israel. A nine-foot concrete wall separates Gaza from Israel 200 meters south of of Netiv Ha’asara.
Standing at the southern edge of the moshav, we not only saw the many greenhouses where members grow tomatoes and flowers and other fruits and vegetables, the Erez Crossing, a pedestrian/cargo terminal on the border; but also the now destroyed entrance to an uncovered tunnel that was dug 75 meters underground, wide enough for a tank, and destroyed in last summer’s war.
We learned about the challenges of raising children in a community seeking to live life normally but yet one that unfortunately claims the title for more deadly mortar fire and missile activity than any other community in Israel. Each home in the community sustained some sort of damage during last summers war. Our local guide, Hila, explains that its not really about Hamas wanting to take over Israel, but rather, “they just want to break our spirit”. She explained how a couple years ago a missile landed inside the moshav on the first day of school in September. On the missile it was written “Shalom Kita Aleph” or “welcome to first grade”.
Nevertheless, residents are hopeful as exemplified by the young families joining the community and 68 new units under construction. A local artist created an inspirational mural along the interior separation wall (constructed in order to protect the homes on the southern side of the community from mortars and missiles fired from the Gaza Strip). Dubbed the “peace wall” the art project has attracted moshav members, Israelis and tourists alike who come to write a message of peace on the back of colorful mosaic tile and affix it to the wall. Another area of the wall which faces Gaza will soon be adorned with another mural that says “Salaam”, which in Arabic means “peace”. Why? According to the artist “we want them to see that we want peace”.
There were so many themes running thru this day – Israel’s demonstrated willingness to give up settlements for peace, the unfortunate reality of day to day life in the south where occasional missiles and mortars are launched by Hamas from Gaza. But what really stood out the most – was the strength of the people and the importance of commitment to their community and the still strong hope and belief in peace.