Three Israeli Villages Vying for Spot on UN Tourism List

A desert kibbutz, a Circassian village and a moshav in the Galilee have been submitted as Israel’s candidates for the World Tourism Organization’s list of Best Tourism Villages

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The desert kibbutz of Neot Smadar.
The desert kibbutz of Neot Smadar.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad

The Tourism Ministry has selected three villages as Israel’s contenders for the World Tourism Organization’s list of the world’s best tourism villages.

Kafr Kama, Neot Smadar and Tzippori were selected from a list of 17 villages that submitted their candidacies for the UN organization’s list for 2022. The website for the Best Tourism Villages initiative states a number of goals, including reducing inequality in income and development, fighting rural depopulation, improving connectivity, and preserving biodiversity and cultural heritage.

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Villages may apply if they have a low population density and no more than 15,000 inhabitants, “are located in a landscape with an important presence of traditional activities,” and whose residents share “community values and lifestyle.”

The next step is a selection process by an advisory board to the UN World Tourism Organization, set for July and August. The final list will be announced in October.

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said that “this is an international initiative that will place Israel and the village selected in the same category as famous tourist destinations around the world. It was therefore important to me that beautiful Israeli villages with much tourism potential, which we have in abundance, participate in this initiative of the UN World Tourism Organization. Thanks to this initiative, the village selected will become a site of pilgrimage for many tourists, bringing many funds into the economy and creating many jobs, mainly in outlying areas, providing new sources of livelihood.”

The arts center in Neot Smadar.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The Israeli selection committee included seven representatives from the ministry, who chose the three villages after viewing videos and other material submitted by the applicants. The committee recommended that the five runner-up contenders receive consulting services in the coming year before submitting material to the competition, in order to improve their chances next year.

The three villages that were selected are strikingly different: The three include a kibbutz, a Circassian village and a veteran moshav (a small, cooperative farming community). Each has a different character and a different potential for attracting tourists.

Neot Smadar, a kibbutz in the southern Arava Desert, has a population of 200. It was founded three decades ago by a group from Jerusalem led by Yosef Safra, a charismatic bohemian playwright. It defines itself as a “learning community aimed at cooperation between human beings and with their desert architecture, recycling and water restoration. The village is named after Smadar Safra, one of the founders, who was killed in a road accident in 1981.

The mosque in Kafr Kama.Credit: Moshe Gilad

One of the striking aspects of Neot Smadar is its traditional wind towers, effectively public air conditioners that don’t run on electricity. Also prominent are structures with a specific, local aesthetic, like the towering arts center.

Residents were accused in the past of shunning visitors, but recently they have been conducting numerous tours that include a visit to the arts building and the kibbutz’s winery. The Neot Smadar Inn at the is a vegetarian roadside restaurant and café, with a store selling products made in the kibbutz.

Kafr Kama, lying next to Kfar Tavor, is one of the two Circassian villages in Israel (the other being Rehaniya). The village has 3,500 inhabitants, Muslim Circassians with origins in the Caucasus Mountains. The village was established 150 years ago, and its most prominent structure is the large mosque with its octagonal minaret.

The older part of the village is built in the traditional Circassian style, with yards linked by gates as a means of protection against attacks. The Circassian heritage center in the village includes a small museum, allowing visitors to become acquainted with the unique lifestyle and local culture of the inhabitants.

Tzippori National Park.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The moshav of Tzippori in the Lower Galilee is an interesting choice for other reasons. It has 1,000 residents, some of them still working in agriculture, while many others no longer working on the moshav. There are rooms for rent, a horse farm, a rural spa area and a few businesses.

The interesting sites are at the margins of the village or close by. The main one is the Tzippori National Park, which contains an ancient water delivery system and some of the most beautiful old mosaics in the country. At the edge of the moshav is a tomb attributed to Rabbi Yehuda Nesiah, the grandson of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the chief redactor of the Mishna.

Other nearby attractions are a small river and the Alonim Forest. The Israel National Trail passes close to the moshav. The village also has a Christian children’s institution, next to which are the remains of the Church of St. Anna.

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