The desert and its people: Building Bedouin resilience through eco-tourism

13 May 2015
Hikers walk alongside Jamil, Sahari tour guide, as he leads them through Wadi Mukalak and surrounding areas during a 4 hour hike. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Ruba Hafayda

A group of Bedouin youth living in the desert of Palestine have created an eco-tourism initiative to support their community.

Jamil Hammadeen, 28, and Tareq Al-Korshan, 24, decided to use the beautiful landscape of Palestine to advocate for the protection issues facing Bedouin refugees in the West Bank, through their Sahari Desert Eco-Tourism initiative. Now Palestinian Authority Ministry of Tourism-certified guides, Tareq and Jamil spend their days – and sometimes their nights – leading visitors on hikes in the Jerusalem and Jericho areas.

Bedouin like Jamil and Tareq, who live in the E1 zone, and others throughout the central West Bank, are under threat from Israel’s Bedouin transfer plan, which, if implemented, would forcefully relocate the mobile pastoral people, who traditionally rely on wide pastures for their livestock, into three centralized townships. The Bedouin transfer plan would also potentially isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, which would have consequences on the territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state.

Sahari aims to make Bedouin voices heard by sharing with the public the Bedouin culture, heritage, and way of life.

“Israel claims this is an area with no people, ignoring more than 30,000 Bedouin refugees living here after being exiled from the Negev,” explains Tareq. “Through this initiative, we want to show the world that this land is not empty – that we live here, and show them how we Bedouin live a beautiful way of life that would be destroyed if we were forced to live in towns.”

Sahari is a vehicle for both advocacy and income, Jamil explains. “We also want to create a source of income for community development,” he says. The initiative has already started paying off, with a brand new kindergarten in development thanks to the tour profits.

Jamil continues: “We’re using what we know best – our Bedouin culture – as a tool to improve our community. With the support of UNRWA, we took a course at a Bethlehem college to prepare us for the Ministry of Tourism exam and improve our English to communicate with non-Arabic speaking visitors.” Sahari’s guides are the first Bedouin in the West Bank to be certified as local guides for desert areas by the Palestinian Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities.

Sahari’s guided trips include full moon hikes at night and daytime hikes through the ancient shepherding routes of the West Bank. As Sahari develops, the initiative will also include camping, mountain climbing, and journeys by camel.

Sahari Eco-Tours celebrates the desert and its people. Bedouin youth are giving voice to their story, and inviting everyone along for the hike.

For more information on Sahari, please visit their Facebook page, Sahari Desert Eco Tourism Palestine.

Read more about the risk of forcible transfer faced by Bedouin the West Bank here