Greta Richter & Breny Aceituno
The smell of seaside is what one first notices when visiting Genevieve's project in Jisr Al-Zarqa, a coastal town near Caesaera in Israel. I met Genevieve Begue as she was giving a tour to some Israeli tourists from Jerusalem who were partaking in a “conscious” travel - that is, traveling to places in order to encourage a deeper understanding of a place and its people. This type of philosophy is definitely something that is needed in Israel and Genevieve was the first Peace and Conflict Management (PCM) student to be attracted to the opportunity in Jisr. The truth is, when going to the town for the first time, it is difficult to not be drawn into its beauty. The town has such an easy-going beachy feel, despite it’s poverty-stricken population of 14,000.
Genevieve started officially working at the village in March of 2015 . However, before she even knew of Jisr, she was a student at the Peace and Conflict Management program in Haifa University. During her courses, while building her theoretical background and interacting with other students in the program, she became familiar with Jisr Al-Zarqa and it’s uniqueness. By uniqueness, I mean that Jisr al-Zarqa is the only Arab town on the coast, meaning it was not forcibly displaced in 1948. Unfortunately not many Israelis visit Jisr or even know of the coastal Arab town; and this due to the Israeli prejudice that correlates Arab towns with poverty and violence. Genevieve, in this sense, is an exception to the norm.
Genevieve started volunteering at Jisr in March of 2013, and helped organize the guest center with Neta, a young Jewish lawyer, and Ahamd, a town resident; however, Genevieve believes the term “leader” would apply well to Ahmed, for he initially had the idea to make the town a socially conscious tourist attraction. The guesthouse allows visitors to stay in the town overnight, and thus really immerse with the place and the people. Since becoming an official employee for the Jisr eco-tourist project, Genevieve has spent much of her time focusing on the town’s gallery where she gets crafty with the children of the town making necklaces and upcycling projects. Specifically, Genevieve focuses on teaching leadership as well as entrepreneurship to the children, through a process of upcycling. Genevieve says, “from the creation of a product to its marketing, we raise awareness on the massive amount of uncollected trash in the village, which is simply burned by the residents”. She also teaches English to the children who have been adapting really quickly to the new language- “Mahmood for example”, Genevieve says, “now leads tours for visitors and tourists”.
The ultimate aim that Genevieve believes she can achieve in Jirs is “truly to empower youths and women of the village, to encourage and support new initiatives to change the face of their village while building a better future for themselves, to get them out of the “victim” status in which they fell or were put and to help them build a vision for themselves.” Genevieve wants to demonstrate the potential of a shared society that there could exist in Israel between its Jewish and Arab-Palestinian citizens, while simultaneously helping the the Israelis overcome the stigma that they have assigned to Jisr.
When speaking to Genevieve of the Peace and Conflict Management Program, she says, “one class I took during the first semester inspired me and encouraged me to sign up for this long term commitment with Neta, which eventually culminated in my hiring in Jisr. The Leadership in Conflict course I followed with Ran Kuttner first taught me, then allowed me to recognize in Neta a mentor I wanted to follow”.