Rahat, a Bedouin city with some 78,000 residents and Israel’s second-largest Arab municipality, hopes to create jobs by developing its tourism sector.
“We used to have tourists go through the city and spend about 100 to 150 shekels [$30 to $45] here. Later we realized that when tourists sleep here, they spend almost 10 times that sum,” Mahmoud Alamour, head of the Rahat Economic Company, said.
“We believe the more people are involved, the better it will be for the city. It will make people treat the place better and be a source of income for at least 250 families,” he said.
Israel’s National Planning and Building Council has approved a plan to develop the tourism industry in the Negev city located north of Be'er Sheva. Under it, residents will be eligible for permits to build 500 hospitality units.
Fatima El-Zamili, one of the first bed-and-breakfast owners in Rahat, has high hopes for the plan. “I’m certain it will succeed, 100%. People want to come here and see how old meets new, and experience the Bedouin culture,” she said.
But to attract tourists, Rahat must overcome significant problems. Improving infrastructure is one of them, but the high crime rate is the main obstacle.
“We have better enforcement than in the past. I’m getting daily updates from the police about weapon being seized in the city,” said Alamour.
Rahat is known in Israel for the many shootouts that take place there, but that doesn’t deter Alamour from going forward with the ambitious plan.
“We will overcome it, I’m sure. In five years, we will have 100 units hosting tourists every weekend. And the more people come, the more they will spread the word and help attract more tourists to the city,” he said.
The story is written by Adi Koplewitz and reprinted with permission from The Media Line