Mr.Raed Saadeh is the co-founder and chairman of the Rozana Association for Architectural Heritage Conservation and Rural Tourism Development based in Birzeit. Mr. Saadeh is also the owner and general manager of the Jerusalem Hotel, a boutique hotel in Jerusalem, the current president of the Arab (Palestinian) Hotel Association, and the co-founder of the Network for Experiential Palestinian Tourism Organisations. Originally Published in " this Week in Palestine " Issue No 187, November 2013.
A Sparrowhawk’s view of Palestine! By Raed SaadehWhat is Palestine? Every time I hear this name, I can’t help but think of all the perceptions created about it. This is not a small matter when thinking about promoting Palestine. How can all the perceptions and stereotypes be dealt with in order to convey the true face of Palestine? When I went to Syracuse University in upstate New York, I had a discussion about perceptions with my economics professor who was originally from Czechoslovakia. He told me, “Beware of the media; the most accurate piece of information is the weather report, which is only 85% wrong.” Having said that, I still believe that Palestine has a lot to offer. This is not only true in the traditional tourism sense, but also in the globally growing field of experiential tourism. When I think of Palestine, I imagine the Sparrowhawk. It is a resident bird of Palestine. It is a small bird of prey, but it is quite capable. It is one of my favourite birds and I used to go out into the Palestinian landscape just to get a glimpse of this great bird riding the winds and commanding the skies. For me, it is representative of Palestine. It is small but capable. Indeed, Palestine is a small country, but it possesses a diverse and varied product in terms of landscape, climate, culture, people, stories, and history. I would like to present some of this diversity that Palestine can offer its visitors, both domestic and foreign. In my capacity as the chairman of the Rozana Association, and because of the nature of work we do in rural tourism development, I will focus on the experiential Palestinian tourism potential, rather than restating the well-known pilgrimage travel package. Palestine’s experiential tourism takes into consideration a number of underlying principles that makes it unique. Palestine offers visitors a code of ethics that forms the platform necessary for people from different cultures to get together, to indulge in cultural exchanges and to experience the details that formulate Palestinian daily life. The code of ethics is essentially a document that came about as a result of an initiative led by Alternative Tourism Group (ATG) to summarize what is expected of both the visitor and the host in responsible tourism. Packages are designed to expose the multiple historic layers, to promote socio-economic development, and to meet the local community. Most importantly, however, Palestine provides a safe, secure, and enjoyable encounter. Father Sigrist, from the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem is a righteous, wise, and knowledgeable man. He has had a lot of experience taking people on special mosaic, tombs or nature tours. He has often reiterated to me that in Palestine, we need to offer visitors silence. By that, I believe he means that Palestine has the potential to offer visitors a spiritual experience. This is taken into consideration in the experiential tourism package, and considerable attention is given to travel dynamics, space and landscape assimilation, and shrines and monuments integration. Shrines, historic monuments, and castles are spread all over the Palestinian landscape. They are great venues to visit as many command beautiful hilltops, contribute to the wealth of local popular stories and link people to the thousands of years of history that runs in their veins. Many of these monuments belong to Sufi traditions or are Byzantine mosaics, caravansaries, or Roman tombs to name a few. The Rozana Association has embarked on an endeavour to delineate a number of Khans and Sufi paths and trails. I have just returned from the Adventure Travel World Summit that took place in Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands. Different countries had many packages to offer. A considerable number of these offers take into consideration sustainable, socially and economically responsible packages. Some others bragged about their mountain ranges and diverse ecosystems. I thought to myself again, Palestine is small but capable; we command the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea located next to Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Jericho, which is celebrating its 10,000 birthday this year, is part of one of several ecosystems that exist in this small country. The Jordan Valley offers a unique climate and a diverse flora and fauna system because it lies 300 meters below sea level. Palestine also offers part of the mountain range that runs through Syria and Lebanon. The Palestinian mountains are ecologically and geographically different from the Jordan Valley. Most of Palestine’s rural network is scattered all over the mountain range. Hiking through the landscape, which is typically commanded by the famous olive tree, one may encounter fresh water springs, Ottoman water mills, Roman water canals and harvest watchtowers commonly known in Palestine as “palaces”. The Palestinian desert, although perceived as arid and harsh, conceals in its topography many desert palaces, Byzantine monasteries and Sufi shrines. Desert hilltops are likely locations of ancient Canaanite kingdoms or Roman garrisons. Still, somewhere in the desert skies, a Sparrowhawk would be quietly circling the landscape with effortless stature and keen overview. Organized desert excursions include sleeping in Bedouin tents, walking the landscape, and drinking tea mixed with herbs picked directly from the rock cracks. A vital part of the experiential tour package and an important pillar in differentiating the Palestinian tourism product remains to be discovered. Palestine possesses a rich and varied culture. Fortunately it has found many venues to reach out to visitors through the various rural festivals that take place throughout the year. Some rural festivals coincide with certain harvest seasons like the olive, the apricot and the lettuce harvests, while others package the available resources and capacities to offer the visitor a unique and rich experience like the Heritage Week in Birzeit or Sebastya Festival. Once I asked my doctor for a vitamin supplement. His immediate reaction was: why? I was a bit puzzled when he said I don’t really need it as Palestine offers a healthy and organic cuisine. This is not surprising, being part of the Mediterranean; the landscape provides a lot of herbs, produce, and fresh fruits throughout the year. Palestine’s cuisine is exquisite and varied. Different towns and villages often offer different versions of the same dishes characterized by the addition of special herbs, texture, and content. I am often confronted with the question, “Are Palestinians Arab?” I used to think so without giving it too much attention. However, after thinking about it more, it strikes me that Palestine is a melting pot. Indeed, the prevailing culture is Arab and Muslim, however, how do we categorize the Armenians, the Assyrians, the Gypsies, the Africans, the Moroccans, the Kurds, the Indians, the Turks and so on and so forth? In fact, the cultures of many of these ethnic groups are strong and evident. A walk in the wondrous Old City of Jerusalem with all of its fragrances and colourful shops, or a short trip to any Palestinian city can expose a lot of the demographic mix to the discerning eye. I personally see this as strength and an added value to the Palestinian fabric. We are able to offer a diverse and varied culture in such a small country like Palestine. Hence, I think of the Sparrowhawk: small yet capable, which is how I would like to promote Palestine-keeping in mind the great potential of resources and capacities that have yet to be incorporated in the tourism package.
Raed Saadeh is the chairman of the Rozana Association in Birzeit, and founder and board member of several art, cultural, tourism, and fair-trade organizations. Original Published in " this week in Palestine " Issue No. 151, November 2010 .
Being Rural - By Raed Saadeh
Trails and Health: A Promising Partnership By Raed Saadeh
In the beginning, my interest in trekking and trails was to use them to enrich the potential tourism package that exists in the countryside of Palestine. Visiting and walking along the trails near Palestinian villages is not only a beautiful and serene activity, but it is also culturally enriching. Sufi Trails By Rozana Asscoiation community, who have incredible secrets to reveal about the land and local traditions. Exploring the relationship between the local community and the environment is an enticing activity for a discerning visitor. The fact that local communities have lived continuously in rural Palestine for many centuries has created a wealth of knowledge about the indigenous plants and shrubs that grow nearby and the many uses and benefits they offer. It is not uncommon to meet people from nearby villages picking plants and shrubs along rural trails to make food or medicinal treatments.
However, as I became more familiar with the trails of Palestine, I began to see the significant health benefits of walking as well. Walking is proven to control weight and high blood pressure. It helps to reduce the risk of heart attack, colon cancer, symptoms of depression, anxiety, and arthritis pain, and even helps to prevent osteoporosis. Adopting lifestyle changes that incorporate walking outdoors is proven to have long-term health benefits for both
Photo by Yiota Kutulas.individuals and communities, provided it becomes part of their daily routine. Hence, establishing trails becomes a worthy initiative that offers a good opportunity for regular physical activity, while at the same time offering opportunities to explore and discover the secrets that our surrounding villages, neighborhoods, and unspoiled landscape have to offer. This leads to an interesting partnership. On the one hand, walking trails nourish tourism in nearby villages and neighborhoods, while on the other, they enrich visitors by encouraging physical activity and allowing them to explore the ancient history, beautiful landscape, and flora and fauna of this area. As a result, the trails promote social cohesion, and positive economic and cultural impacts. And this is only the beginning. The promising partnership between trails and health can lead to a healthier society overall, something that insurance companies and government agencies that are responsible for paying numerous medical bills should keep. Shubruq “Ononis Spinosa”.
Hence, the benefits of trails and walkways should attract the interest of various stakeholders, including governments, private health services, planners, philanthropists, and businesses. Together, these stakeholders could develop initiatives for improving health through nature-based physical activity. With some investment, walking trails can make our communities more liveable, enhance the economy through local and international tourism and civic development, encourage the preservation and restoration of open spaces, provide opportunities for people of all ages to improve their physical and mental health, and support the interdependence between nature and local Palestinian communities that has existed for centuries.Tayyoun “Inula Viscosa”.
I would like to take you on a tour of the Deir Ghassaneh Sufi Trail, which was developed by the Rozana Association (www.sufitrails.ps). The trail passes a number of sites and shrines before it brings you to the edge of a 3 km trail that ends at a remote Sufi shrine called Al-Majdhoub, which means “the attracted” in Arabic. This shrine was built in honour of Ibrahim Al-Rabi, a Sufi scholar who lived at the site more than 200 years ago. The trail is not only interesting for visitors who are fascinated by the Sufi story, but also because of its connection with the local community and its links with the multi-layered history of Palestine. There is also a diverse variety of indigenous plant species that seem to sprout up in the most unlikely places along the path. Palestine’s geographical location, its topography, climate, soil diversity, and centuries of agriculture all contribute to its plantQurus Anneh “Eryngium”. There are 114 overall plant species in Palestine and more than 2,700 individual types of plants, which is a proportionally large number compared to the size of the country. Many of these plants are well known to the local community, and have been used throughout history to provide medical relief for a number of symptoms and sicknesses. An inquisitive look along the trail is sufficient to discover a number of these species. Some of them find their home at the edges of terraces, like shubruq and tayyoun, while others live in solitude between the cracks of the rocks, like ourus anneh, and jaadeh. These are just samples of what nature is providing for humanity. The rest is waiting to be explored and enjoyed along the trails that crisscross Palestine. Join us along one of our trails to celebrate good health and Palestine’s natural resources.
Shubruq (ononis spinosa): This plant is a small shrub rising 20 cm above the ground. It has a woody stem, rosy flowers, and oval-shaped fruit. It is often used to heal ulcerations in the mouth and teeth. It can be boiled, soaked, or extracted for both internal and external use.
Tayyoun (inula viscosa): This plant is a shrub that grows to 50 to 100 cm. It has yellow flowers and its leaves look like spears. It is known to help break up kidney stones, heal liver pains, and cure urinary infections, and is prescribed to help control weight and prevent obesity.
Qurus anneh (eryngium): When green, this small plant can be finely minced and eaten as a salad with a bit of olive oil and lemon added to it. When dried, it becomes a thorny blue-coloured plant. Throughout the ages, this plant has been used for many medical treatments, such as stomachaches, liver problems, and cramps.
Ja’deh (teucrium polium): It is about 35 cm tall and pale green in colour with soft white fur balls. This plant is generally associated with curing ulcers and other stomach and abdominal pains.
Kharroub (ceratonia si liqua): This tree has existed in the Mediterranean area for at least 4,000 years. It is known to cope well with dry, cold weather and strong winds. It is usually satisfied with an average of 30 cm of rainwater every year. The fruits of this tree are used to help relieve stomach acidity, diabetes, and diarrhoea.
Mr. Raed Saadeh is the co-founder and chairman of the Rozana Associationfor Architectural Heritage Conservation and Rural Tourism Development based in Birzeit. Mr. Saadeh is also the owner and general manager of the Jerusalem Hotel, a boutique hotel in Jerusalem, the current president of the Arab (Palestinian) Hotel Association (AHA), and the co-founder of the Network for Experiential Palestinian Tourism Organisations (NEPTO). Raed originally trained as a mechanical engineer with a BSc Summa Cum Laude from Syracuse University, N.Y. and a MSc. at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland. Original published in " this week in palatine " Issue No . 185, September 2013 .(more…)