Israelis Rediscover the Joys of Camping

The Sharabi, Cohen, and Almogi clans have finished eating their pancakes and begun straightening up their tents, which are pitched in one of the authorized campgrounds along Lake Kinneret. Nearby, at the camp site of a group of families from Moshav Eitan in the Lachish region, the parents have pampered their children with spinach patties, as requested. "It's an inexpensive and real vacation like old times," Limor Sharabi says on his way to swim.

Israelis seem to have "rediscovered" camping. Families, couples and groups of young people are increasingly forgoing vacations in Eilat or Turkey, grabbing a tent, charcoal grill and the kids, and heading for one of the campgrounds located throughout the country. The hobby is not yet as developed as in other Western countries, but it is certainly gaining momentum.

Avi Cohen of Moshav Eitan takes his family on an annual camping trip to the Kinneret. "We had a hotel stay already and the kids have had fun at all sorts of attractions, but a beach vacation is convenient and cheap," he says.

Sharabi, who lives in Tel Aviv, says her children enjoy sleeping in tents, and that camping beats hanging out at malls. Her 13-year-old son, Talor, agrees: "It's more fun here than staying home. My friends are bored, get together in the neighborhood and don't know what to do. I like vacationing in nature."

Some campers around Lake Kinneret were disappointed by the low water mark, which has already reached minus 213 meters. Campgrounds manager Ziv Harhol says the state of the Kinneret - and the nationwide ad campaign aimed at conserving water - is scaring vacationers away. "Last week's reports of sewage spillage in Tiberias also hurt us. The public doesn't understand that we are far away and that the water here stayed clean," he added.

Harhol has a lot of complaints about the planning authorities' failure to develop services at campgrounds. "If there were better sanitary conditions, camping tourism would increase. After all, we all spent time in army tents and would love to show off our knowledge to our families."

Many vacationers prefer to go to the Upper Galilee, where there are six camping sites. Yehuda Porat, who manages the campgrounds at Kibbutz Dafna near Kiryat Shmona, sees tremendous potential for growth in Israeli camping. "The rural B&Bs are benefiting at the moment because camping tourism has a bad image, of dirt and filthy restrooms," he said, "but when people come and see that the place is clean, they come back."

Most of Porat's campers are modern Orthodox. "These are people who love to travel around Israel, as an ideology, not to waste money abroad. Also because this is a cheap solution compared to the crazy prices at B&Bs."

Camping sites in Israel offer an array of amenities that make them a good choice for families. Besides showers, bathrooms, electricity and a beach with lifeguards, many places include areas for teenagers to party, lawns for children to play on, refrigeration and lighting.

Yariv Hameiri, CEO of the Dugal Beach resort near Lake Kinneret, sums up camping's attraction for Israelis: "We're not competing with the hotels and with Turkey. The price of a vacation here is even lower than the gasoline costs to Eilat. Mostly we get families that have already been to Eilat and Turkey."