Findings: Observations About Social Entrepreneurship in Tourism as a Development Strategy for Israel’s Underserved Arab Communities

Our data set can be organized into three exploratory categories: (i) barriers to tourism development in Jisr az-Zarqa, (ii) social entrepreneurship in tourism and an Arab-Jewish business partnership, and (iii) impacts associated with Jisr az-Zarq’s first commercial guesthouse. The remainder of this section discusses these themes.

Barriers to Tourism Development in Jisr az-Zarqa

The most dominant category from our data set consisted of issues of sustainability, development, and empowerment for Israel’s Arab minority. Respondents emphasized these concerns at the individual as well as community level. The interviews also revealed interesting dynamics between development and the geopolitical context, shedding light on historical as well as present tensions associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, the interviews revealed that sustainability is viewed primarily from a social and economic aspect, rather than the traditionally environmental point of view. Development is mainly perceived as community-focused and highlights the potential for tourism and related entrepreneurial activities. Importantly, nearly every study participant referenced the importance or desire for greater empowerment in order to address the needs of oppressed and chronically underserved segments of Israeli society.

Another key theme that emerged from the data was the negative perception of “self” among residents, which has resulted in low self-esteem. An important element of this theme is the fear that many Israeli Jews have about visiting Jisr az-Zarqa because of its status as a poor and unsafe Arab community. The ongoing waves of cross-cultural violence have exacerbated this fear, and it is obvious that the geopolitical conflict serves as underlying emotional baggage that hinders the ability for each side to engage each other in healthy terms. Furthermore, the interviews confirm the general perception that Arab communities in Israel experience significant institutional and social oppression and repression.

The notion that residents of Jisr az-Zarqa suffer from a negative self-image is supported by observations from one of the founders of Juha’s Guesthouse, who describes the situation as “they don’t believe in themselves” (N. Hanien, personal communication, July 2013). In addition, data gathered from several other interviewees suggest that due to Jisr az-Zarqa’s geographical location, the village has become isolated from other Arab communities in the region and therefore has not had the opportunity to expand or develop in the same way as neighboring Jewish communities. Local resident and co-founder of the guesthouse, Ahmad Juha, notes that living in Jisr az-Zarqa is comparable to living on an isolated island; underprivileged in comparison to its neighboring communities (personal communication, March 21, 2014). This observation is further supported by the NGO Sikkuy, which claims that Jisr az-Zarqa has been neglected by both the Israeli government as well as the other Arab communities in Israel (personal communication, March 19, 2014).

Along with issues of low self-image, study participants also described the failure of several efforts from external NGOs that were designed to empower local residents through the development and acquisition of tourism related skills. Several respondents noted that these efforts were unsuccessful due to their top-down approach, which failed to address the needs of the village and its residents. Neta Hanien was very clear about this issue: “[---] an outsider NGO coming and trying to educate the community to do something or to develop something, it wouldn’t work” (personal communication, March 21, 2014).

Another challenge described by study participants E. Ben-Yeminy, N. Hanien and A. Juha (personal communication, July 15, 2013) is how Jisr az-Zarqa suffers from high rates of school drop-out. These respondents wish to address the issue by introducing tourism education into the curriculum of the local secondary school. Their argument is that tourism education could have a positive impact on the village by providing skilled labor to ventures like Juha’s guesthouse.

Another constraint identified by study respondents is the lack of funding from government development initiatives. Study participants generally perceived that this lack of funding is a direct result of the guesthouse’s location in an Arab community. In addition, study participants reflected on how local power relations influence the process of community development. For example, local political allegiances may ease or aggravate the establishment of new businesses and initiatives depending on which municipal political party (or mayor) holds office at a given time. However, study participants also noted that shared municipal interests can function as a unifying force and create cross-party political traction: “The bottom-line is that an economic interest is something that brings people together” (Hanien, personal communication, March 20 2014).

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