The municipality of Rahat has approved a large-scale tourism initiative that will see 500 guesthouses constructed throughout the city over the coming decade.
More than 250,000 Bedouins – a sect of tribal nomadic Muslim Arabs – reside in Israel, with the majority concentrated in Rahat and villages across the southern Negev Desert.
The city has a population of over 77,000 people, according to the latest figures released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
Located roughly 60 miles from Israel’s main population centers, Rahat has never been a major draw for tourists.
Mahmud Alamour, CEO of the Rahat Economic Company, is hoping to change that with a 10-year plan that includes buildings hundreds of guesthouses and launching new cultural festivals.
“The establishment of the guesthouses will provide a place to stay for hundreds of visitors from Israel and the world who wish to come and get to know Bedouin culture in the Negev,” Alamour said.
“I hope that the establishment of new guesthouses in Rahat will lead to more and more people from Israel and the world coming to stay with us, help break down stigmas and barriers, and allow [guests] to enjoy the tradition of Bedouin hospitality that we know how to provide.”
Rahat’s local Planning and Building Committee recently approved Alamour’s plan to construct 500 guest house units in the city. The move is part of a massive joint initiative spearheaded by the Rahat Economic Company together with the Bedouin Tourism Development Authority.
The project is also part of a broader program that aims to boost tourism to the area, which in recent years has seen several new festivals and events welcome Israeli visitors.
Among the most popular existing cultural events in the city is the Ramadan Nights Festival, an annual event that allows visitors to experience the unique flavors and traditions of the Muslim holy month.
“Tourism in Rahat has improved the financial situation of dozens of families in Rahat, especially women,” Alamour noted. “Thanks to the project that we are leading, there will soon be new and unique festivals in the city, including a first-of-its-kind culinary festival, a camel festival, and other special cultural festivals. We are facilitating significant economic growth.”
As a result of the new plan, some 250 families in the city will be able to join the city’s budding tourism industry.
Fatma Alzamlee, who owns the Flower of the Desert guesthouse, welcomed the municipality’s decision and said that it would greatly benefit the local population by bringing in more visitors.
“It will help us develop our businesses,” Alzamlee said. “People will stay overnight in Rahat, go from place to place, visit the mosques, market and get to know our culture. There were also many archaeological discoveries here recently.”
In addition to providing guests with a place to stay the night, Alzamlee also cooks local dishes for them and leads workshops. Last year, she hosted Israelis for the “summer school” program, which enabled visitors to learn Arabic and gain exposure to the local culture. The program included guided tours of the city, meetings with local artists, and cooking workshops.
“We want international tourists to come and visit us, not just Israelis,” she said. “We also want investors to come and build hotels here.”
The story is written by Maya Margit and reprinted with permission from The Media Line.