If you have never walked through a desert, this is a great time of the year to do so! Weather conditions are mild – perfect for a hike from the Jerusalem Wilderness to the mountainous region of Bani Naim.The Rashayda Desert is south of Bethlehem, where you will come across Bedouins, who welcome visitors, offering them a resting place and hot cup of herbal tea sometimes, before continuing their journey through the desert.
The Bedouin Community of the Reshayda in the Jerusalem Wilderness is struggling for its existence on its ancestral lands, which lie in Area C, which is under the Israeli authority, and therefore, has no investment or development. Aware of the threat to the Bedouins’ existence, the Masar Ibrahim al Khalil (the Abraham Path in Palestine) and the Siraj Center have included the Rashayda Wilderness as the starting point for its Bani Naim one-day hike.
The name of the town of Bani Naim originates from an Arab tribe that settled in the area centuries ago. The town is located approximately 8 km southeast of Hebron. Bani Naim is a mountainous area, approximately 1,000 m above sea level. As tradition says, Abraham witnessed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from this mountainous region. According to historians, Bani Naim is where Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is buried.
Today, Bani Naim has a growing population of approximately 26,000. It is a commercial center for the villages in the surrounding area. It hosts various factories mainly for stone-cutting and textiles, an olive press, metal and carpentry workshops, and several educational and social services for the public, such as a library, a youth club which offers recreational activities for young people all year round as well as summer camps, women’s associations which train in handicrafts, health and nutrition awareness and the Palestinian Red Crescent offers medical and psychological support for those in need.
There are quite a few historical sites that one can explore while walking through the Rashayda Desert to Bani Naim, such as ruins of a Byzantine church, as well as remnants of ancient water systems. One of the most popular sites is the mosque named after Lot, whose burial place is said to be under the holy site. Lot’s Mosque features Islamic architecture and domes dating back to the Mumluk period. There are also remnants of three Roman palaces which can be explored.
Bani Naim also offers warm homestays as accommodation for the visitor. As in the tradition of Abraham and Lot, travelers are always welcomed with the utmost hospitality. The traveler will be welcomed by each member, and sometimes even the extended members of the family, to share homemade authentic Palestinian meals, and to experience intercultural exchanges by sharing stories about everyday life, customs, traditions, etc.
For those interested in architecture and applying your knowledge in renovation and rehabilitation of buildings, Bani Naim has a lot to offer! Shrines, ancient palaces, historic buildings, old city roads.