Jesr Al-Zarka

After my glitzy visit to the interesting Kibbutz community we moved on to Jesr Al-Zarka. The only Arab society that may remain on the Israeli territory after the terrible civil war(s) that took place here.
The poorest community of Israel lies between the two richest in the country. Caesarea and Kibbutz Sdoy Yam are filthy rich and the difference with this poor community can thus not be greater.

Jeser El-Zerka, Jesr El-Zerka of Jisr El-Zerka. The only Arab community in Israel!

Jeser El-Zerka, Jesr El-Zerka of Jisr El-Zerka. The only Arab community in Israel!

We say goodbye to some of the day trippers who came with us to the Kibbutz and head on to Jesr Al-Zarka.
With our van we have to drive less than ten minutes before passing under a colorfully decorated arch that makes clear we have arrived at our destination. The difference with the kibbutz could indeed not be greater.
Veiled women and curious men watch us from their homes which need urgent reconstruction. The van rocked back and forth on the roads, filled with holes. On the streets you can see quite some trash and it shows you right away that this is a completely different culture.

The four of us get out and we are welcomed by a man and a friend of him. They operate the only hostel in Jesr Al-Zarka: the Juha’s Guesthouse. They actually try to put this place on the tourist map. You wouldn’t expect it right away, but the city could actually become a tourist attraction for sure! There needs to be done a lot though… And by a lot, I mean A LOT!

After we put down all of our stuff, Genevieve (our guide) picked us up to discover the city and the beautiful beach it has.
She tells us that it was very difficult to communicate with these people because they are -of course- skeptical to tourists or outsiders barging into their closed community.
Together with Abraham Tours and some locals they tried to stomp a project out of the ground which would benefit the local community. So far, so good. Let’s hope it stays successful!
The curious faces that welcomed us in a strange way, soon were transformed into warm, friendly smiles. The locals didn’t really talk to us, but they weren’t hostile either.

The streets of Jesr Al Zarka don't look to appealing for tourists at first...

The streets of Jesr Al Zarka don’t look to appealing for tourists at first…

Exploring

Right before we explored the rest of the city, Genevieve gave us an extra reminder: “If you hear guns, don’t be afraid! Tonight is the sacrificial feast, and there are a lot of people getting married as well. It is quite normal that people fire their arms!
The Mexican Carmen already had a very light skin color, but it seemed as she got even paler when hearing this. I started to laugh and the rest of the group seemed to giggle their discomfort away as well.
A little later we got down to the little town to eventually finish in the part where the local fishermen live. Genevieve started chatting with some men here, while talking to us a bit more about this strange little community. At the end we could wander around freely and since almost everyone decided to end this interesting day with a short walk on the beach and a bit of swimming, I decided to join them. At first sight Jesr Al-Zarka seems like a strange holiday destination, but I think I changed my mind after only a couple of hours in this desolate village. Doesn’t travelling also mean that now and then you need to get out of your comfort zone?

The wonderfully warm water kept us in for about an hour before we went back to our hostel, all the way back up into the city.
Tomorrow is the Feast of Sacrifice, which is celebrated in almost all Islamic societies. Similarly in Jisr El Zarka!
When we almost arrived back at out accommodation, we noticed a whole horde of people at the top shouting at each other while standing in a semicircle around a beast.
I was quite uncomfortable, since it looked a little like they were about to fight something or someone. But my curiosity soon took over and thus I went to take a look to see what was going on.
Two stubborn, frightened sheep were taken inside (and they absolutely didn’t want to go!). The animals yelled for help with a scary sound that didn’t sound like a sheep at all. Animals aren’t stupid, you know… I’m quite sure they knew that they would be killed tonight or tomorrow morning as a sacrifice.
As if I wasn’t uncomfortable enough already, I didn’t dare to look at the animals anymore and just walked on saddened by the whole scene, trying to forget what I had just seen.

The beach near the fishermen's village in Jisr-El-Zarqa.

The beach near the fishermen’s village in Jisr-El-Zarqa.

Supper

After all the dust of today was washed off, we all got ready for supper.
Tonight we got to eat together with an Arab family that prepared a lot of delicious dishes for us. The party mode was clearly already on in the village, because here and there we heard some (awfully close) gunshots being fired. Exuberant young people playing loud music through their car radios and the little ones were playing in the middle of the street.
Anxious sheep were tied to trees, poles and grazing in the small gardens of the unfinished houses. Although I am of course sad for the animals, it is part of an ancient tradition. And who am I to comment on that?..

It got pretty dark when we arrived at the Muslim family. The women and children were clearly less accustomed to visitors and isolated themselves quickly back down to the kitchen to get our massive meal out.
With more than ten dishes, the table became a colorful feast, and soon no one talked anymore since we were all enjoying our mouth watering, delicious food.

Completely stuffed, we ended the evening with a nice little tea and we talked all evening about Israel and all of its problems.
One story gave me goose bumps. Genevieve told us that she was living here for about three years now. These last few months have been particularly calm, she said. But before that… There have been some things happening. It is, after all, still the Middle East.

Every time a bomb is fired, an ear deafening alarm wails throughout the country. Genevieve was in Jerusalem during one of these attacks. She told us she had no idea what to do and stood paralyzed on the streets, thinking she might die. Not a second later, she was drawn into strangers homes to seek shelter until the danger had passed.
There actually hadn’t been a real danger, because the Israeli government had invested in the “Iron Dome”. A sort of invisible shield that could neutralize all missile attacks. But still… I’m quite sure it would be incredibly scary!
Genevieve told us that Palestine mainly carried out attacks to scare Israel (or at least to say: “Hey, we’re still here!”). Not so much to make real victims.
Each missile or bomb that must be stopped, after all, cost $100,000 for every anti-missile gun that is fired. And of course, that is payed by taxpayers of Israel…

Yet she also understood the Palestinians, because –just like on the Israeli side– you have extremists everywhere. And as Europe (and in fact, everywhere in the world…) knows: extremists are NEVER the answer to finding a solution.

The food in Jisr El Zarka was DE-LI-CIOUS! I know what I'll be cooking when I get back home!

The food in Jisr El Zarka was DE-LI-CIOUS! I know what I’ll be cooking when I get back home!

 

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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.
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