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Natural beauty knows no borders, and now tourists to Israel and Jordan don’t have to be wary of trekking across boundaries to enjoy the scenery.
EcoPeace Middle East (formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East) – an organization of Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists – brought together tour operators and guides from the three populations to create guided treks that each traverse Israeli, Palestinian Authority and Jordanian territory.
The unprecedented tourism collaboration, seed funded by the United States Agency for Development (USAID)*, aims to promote cooperative efforts “to protect our shared environmental heritage” while giving business opportunities to tourism professionals in all three areas, according to the organization.
Mira Edelstein, Jordan River Projects Coordinator for EcoPeace Middle East, tells ISRAEL21c that the cross-border tourism project is a unique example of regional cooperation.
“We involved 150 individual tour operators and guides on 15 tours throughout this year, and then we asked them to sit together and build itineraries for sellable tours, incorporating ‘green’ vendors wherever possible,” she says.
“We are proud to reveal the best sides of the Middle East — the sides of landscapes, travel and friendship.”
The result of those efforts is two hiking trails, a biking trail and a walking tour. Aside from Jerusalem, the guided tours mostly cover parks and small villages where participants can meet local residents. Guides from each sector will lead the parts of the trips in their own territories.
On September 3, representatives of 25 European tourism agencies joined Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara, a Druze Israeli, for the official launch of the cross-border initiative in Tzur Hadassah, 12 miles west of Jerusalem.
“I believe that tourism is one of the keys to good neighborly relations,” Kara said at the ceremony. “Therefore, the Regional Cooperation Ministry and I have begun to examine the idea of giving tourists from Arab states the possibility of passing freely to Israel through Jordan, using Jordanian transfer documents.”
EcoPeace Israel director Gidon Bromberg said he expects the tours to attract travelers from around the world. “We at EcoPeace believe that true peace comes through regional cooperation,” he said. “We are proud to reveal the best sides of the Middle East — the sides of landscapes, travel and friendship.”
EcoPeace leaves the running of the tours to the operators, but will follow up from its offices in Tel Aviv, Amman and Bethlehem to gauge how they’re going.
The cost of the tours depends on the number of people participating.
The eight-day Cross-Border Jordan Valley Hiking Itinerary begins with a Palestinian Arab guide in the Auja Valley and proceeds to Wadi Qelt, Jericho, Fasail and Wadi Al-Jaheer. An Israel guide will take over as the group continues to Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov, Nahal Tzivon, Nahal Dishon and the Druze village of Peki’in. A Jordanian guide will lead the final leg to the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh Ecopark, climbing and rappelling on the Dalieh cliff, hiking to the Ziglab Dam and trekking in Khirbet Zilmeh and Tibnehs.
The eight-day Eco-Hike of the Holy Land (firstname.lastname@example.org) begins at Kibbutz Tzuba and goes to Sataf, Wadi Sorek and Ein Karem before ascending the hills of Jerusalem to see the capital city’s Christian sites. The hikers will go to Wadi Qelt, the Auja Eco Center and the towns of Sanur and Sebastia before crossing into Jordan to visit the Ajloun Castle, Orjan, Petra and Amman.
The 10-day Pedaling Co-Existence tour begins in Nazareth and includes Mount Tabor, the Jezreel Valley, Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the Jordan River, Kibbutz Ma’agan, Beit She’an and the Gan Hashlosha (Sakhne) spring. In Jordan, the cyclists will pedal through the Jordan Rift Valley, the ancient Roman city of Pella, Madaba, Mount Nebo, the Dead Sea and Petra. Crossing back over the Allenby Bridge, they will then join a Palestinian guide to tour the Auja Eco Center, Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Battir; and then an Israeli guide will lead them through the Judean Hills and Beit Guvrin National Park before ending in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The 10-day Nature and Culture Itinerary includes Old Jaffa, Bethlehem, the Judean Hills, Battir, Machrur, Beit Guvrin, the Elah Valley, Mount of Olives, Wadi Qelt, Ein Prat Nature Reserve, Jericho, Auja Eco Center, Sakhne, the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers, the SHE EcoPark in Jordan, the Soap House in Orjan, Madaba, Wadi Mujib, the Dead Sea, Petra and Amman.
*United States Agency for (International) Development (USAID) is the primary agency responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. This project falls under the “global issues” agenda for USAID. The main goal for global issues is to foster cooperation amongst different nations.