Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The only Hostel in Hebron

By Maria Correia - July 16, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Tourism] [Hebron]

In 2016, Ghassan Jabari, a Hebron native, opened up the first hostel in Hebron. He named the hostel H2, in reference to the old city of Hebron that was annexed in 1997, dividing the city into old and new, H1 and H2. The hostel is located in H1, but is a mere few meters away from the dividing line, through which Palestinians and tourists alike need to pass a checkpoint to enter the old city.  

He explains that he named the hotel H2 for people to ask about the story behind it, so he could highlight the division within the city. Most Hebronites now live in the New City.
Jabari talked about Hebron’s history, and explained how the old city used to be the centre of all Palestinian life in Hebron, with vibrant markets and blooming tourism. Since the division, the Old City has become a ghost town, and is under Israeli control and military authority.
After a delicious mansaf meal, Jabari talked about his aims with opening a hostel. “For me, it’s not about business. It’s about getting tourists to come here to learn about Hebron and the Palestinian life here. Elsewhere in Palestine you don’t see settlements inside the city.”
Hebron is special due to the settlements built in the heart of the old city. The shops and homes that used to be lived in and run by Palestinians, are now occupied by settlers or empty.
Jabari offers tours for tourists around both the old and new cities. He also gives them background information of the political situation that has lead to the divide of the city.
“People often can’t believe how different life here is compared to what they’ve heard.”
Misconceptions about Hebron
Jabari is sad that Hebron has gained a reputation of being very unsafe for tourists.
In the H2 Ghostown: “Everything is controlled, our movement is controlled. Not only outside hebron, but within.”
“Hebron is a safe place. A lot of people hear that it’s unsafe or dangerous and don’t visit because of that. And that’s why I started this hostel; to show people it’s safe and for tourists to come hear our stories.”
The misconceptions of Hebron often revolve around safety. It is not uncommon for people to think of Hebron as a violent and restless location, due to a high military presence. Jabari seemed very tired of this single narrative.
”Other people in Palestine tell tourists to not go to Hebron. It’s wrong. We need to support each other [as Palestinians]. When you hear this from both Israelis and the media that this is a dangerous place, and on top of that Palestinians, people will start believing it.”
Jabari said when guests visit the hostel and the city, they end up staying for longer, once they realize that what they have heard about the place is untrue and exaggerated.
According to him, tourists sometimes come for only a few hours, to see the old city and the ghost town but nothing else. He emphasized how important it is for tourists to come see more than that, to see the whole situation. Hebron is extremely significant and great way to learn about Palestinian history.
Most of the guests at his hostel are travellers from Europe and the States. At the beginning of him opening business was quiet, with only a few visitors at a time. Now, more people are coming and old guests keep coming back.
He said most of his advertising is thanks to recommendations from other travelling guests, who spread the word about the H2 hostel to other travellers they meet on the way.
His hotel is also on booking.com and hostelworld, and he has social media accounts where he shares photos of shisha nights and communal dinners with the guests.
But he still hopes for Hebron to be even more on the map “We need more support. We need more people to visit Hebron. My dream when opening this place was to see a change happen in Palestine.”
He compared life in Palestine to a life in jail, and hopes to see more people come here to work to make peace more achievable.
Tourism and Community
Community engagement and support means a lot to Jabari. He talked about how his hostel is his project to bring tourism back to Hebron and counter the negative stereotypes that the world within and outside Palestine have of the city. He also helps local businesses by taking his guests shopping in Palestinian-owned stores and companies in both H1 and H2.
“Just having people staying here is already helping. People are buying things from local stores, and shopkeepers are able to see increasing tourism in Hebron.”
As Hebron used to be one of the busiest hubs for tourism in the past, the current contrast is particularly striking. Jabari is disappointed when tourists come to visit Palestine and they only go to Ramallah or Bethlehem but rarely visit Hebron.
Recently some guesthouses run by families have opened in the city, while H2 still remains the only hostel. Jabari dreams of more hostels opening up and for them to be booked to the rim.
To him it’s not about money, it’s about getting more people to Hebron to see the other side of the story. Jabari feels that the world sees only a very small part of what reality is on the ground.
Jabari wanted to underline that Palestinians are not terrorists, but people who want peace like everyone else: “We just want out rights and justice, we don’t have them now.”
Jabari’s family still lives in the old city, where he was born. He also has a shop where visitors can buy souvenirs. In order for him to get to work or to see his family, he needs to go through a checkpoint.  
He wants people to understand that while this is safe for tourists, it isn’t always for Palestinians. And that is why tourism in the city is so significant. So the stories that rarely leave the West Bank reach the world.
When asked what people on the outside can do to improve the situation, he said: “We need your support by sharing our stories. Speak in your cities about what you’ve seen. You are supporting us by being here and hopefully getting more people to come here as a result.”
Lead image: “My dream when opening this place was to see a change happen in Palestine” - Ghassan Jabari.

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