Masar Ibrahim al Khalil has organized, for a group of journalists (Palestinians and internationals working in Palestine), in the presence of Ms. Rula Maayah, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, a hiking trip within the Thruhike, aiming at promoting Palestinian tourism, especially hiking.

The hike went through the Bedouin communities of Al-Rashiydah, in the east of Bethlehem, starting in Tuqu’, and moving through Wadi Jihar to Reshayda village.

The journalists and other participants walked a wonderful desert trail through the Jerusalem Wilderness, descending into the spectacular Wadi Jihar, a deep limestone canyon that winds down into the desert.

Palestinian Minister of Tourism Rula Maayah participated in the hike, expressing her hope that Palestinian tourism in general will develop with the end of occupation.

Maayah told the PNN that community based participation is very important for the tourism sector in Palestine, because it will give tourists from all over the world the chance to learn more about Palestine, about Palestinians and their culture, adding that tourists will see many places they would not have the opportunity to see, if they were to come simply as Christian pilgrims.

The Minister of Tourism said that its very important that tourists meet with Palestinian villagers and Bedouin communities, expressing that this kind of tourism had excellent chances of success.

The Director of Masar Ibrahim, George Rishmawi, talked about the Economical, political and social dimensions for the Bedouin families which the program visits. He also talked of how beneficial this program is for Palestinian Youth, and of his hopes for the Masar in the future.

Rishmawi expressed the significance behind community based tourism, pointing out that, first, Palestinians have a story which had not been told, that Palestinians love to tell their story and talk to the internationals visiting them, about life under occupation, sharing Palestinian culture and food — and that’s a very important issue!

The second important issue, according Rishmawi, is that community based tourism provides a source of income for so many marginalized communities in which tourism has arrived for the very first time.

George Jakaman, tour guide from Bethlehem and working with Masar Ibrahim, said that community based tourism opens the way for tourists to come and meet Palestinians, visit their homes and see how they are living.

One of the hiking hosts, Abu Ismail, who has been doing this for 9 years, talked about the way the program helped the economy by providing job opportunties for people working with him.

Abu Ismail added that he is working with Masar Ibrahim, now, for many years, and has managed to blaze several tourist trails. Most important are the trails from the desert to the Dead Sea, where participants can see the sun set or rise, while enjoying good traditional food.

Participants in the program said that the program helped introduce them to the diversity of Palestinian lifestyles and, also, the environmental diversity they experienced by walking from one place to the other.

Jordi, a participant from Spain, said that it was very interesting, geographically, because its located between west and east, in terms of culture, and you don’t know if you can find such a dynamic in any place in the world. He said that there are many interesting things happening in the world, that it was very nice to be in Palestine and its desert, and is advising everyone to come.

An American participant on the trails said that being in the desert, meeting villagers and Bedouin communities allowed her a glimpse of a different life style. She said that it was important for her to see each one of them, adding that it was a very unique experience for her.

Masar Ibrahim Al-Khalil is a long-distance cultural walking route in Palestine. The trail is 330 km long and extends from the village of Rummana, northwest of Jenin, to Beit Mirsim, southwest of Al-Haram al-Ibrahimi (Ibrahimi Mosque), in Hebron.

The trail passes through 53 cities and villages where hikers, walkers and other travelers can experience the legendary Palestinian hospitality.

For more information visit: #ThruMasar is a special biannual (March and November) event on the Masar Ibrahim al-Khalil that offers hikers the experience of crossing the full-length (330 km) of the trail in 21days in a row.

The event is organized by the Masar Ibrahim al-Khalil organization and Siraj Center for the Holy Land Studies, in partnership with the Palestine News Network (PNN).

(Edited for the IMEMC by c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.)