Putting Bueina-Nujidat on the Map

By reviving traditional crafts, women in this small Arab village in the north hope to attract tourists from all over Israel

Amina Suleiman-Akasha uprooted leek from her vegetable garden, washed it quickly and served it. The flavor of the leek was sweetish and distinct, as though it bore the unique fingerprint of Umm Ajaj, as she is called in her village, Bueina-Nujidat, on the edge of the Beit Netofa Valley. The elderly woman smiled in satisfaction: After all, she knew she had a winning card.

Soon day trippers who come to the area will be able to enjoy the fruit of the land of Umm and Abu Ajaj. This hidden village will open its doors to the Israeli public thanks to the efforts of a group of 25 full time housewives, over the age of 50, who have rarely left their homes. Some know only a few words of Hebrew.

"Most of the women have no means of livelihood and no education because during our childhood there was no school system here," explains Hindiya Suleiman, one of the participants."We grandmothers decided to do something and began with parlor meetings."

Return to your heritage

The women enlisted the help of local council head Salah Suleiman who brought various Tourism Ministry representatives and dignitaries to the Arab village. Suleiman says it was Ella Jungman, an architect who accompanies tourist projects, "who opened our eyes, and told us to...return to your heritage, to what the women did in the past."

After consulting with the Israel Small and Medium Enterprises Authority, the women began to revive old crafts that had almost been forgotten. First they made straw trays. Afterwards they found a decorated headband about a hundred years old that was traditionally worn by the bride at her wedding party, and they began to embroider similar headbands. Another woman found a makeup bag that was used by peasant brides and began to create a similar bag, as well as a similar version for perfume. The repertoire expanded and today includes amulets, pendants, a special fabric cover for a water pitcher, and more.

"Bueina-Nujidat is not on the map for the Israeli public," says Suleiman. "It's a transparent village Now that's likely to change."

The new initiative, which is called "Pearl of the Valley," is located in one of the last remaining houses in the core of the historic village.

At first Suleiman balked at the suggestion of using that house. "It's a disgrace to bring visitors to an old house - we need a new villa," she said But a member of the Council for Landmarks Preservation, in charge of preserving the building legacy in the Arab sector, was invited to the village and enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

Slowly, but surely

Women are already working in the house, which has undergone restoration and renovation. One room, with a collapsed ceiling, is still awaiting renovation. Once the work is completed the women's project can be expanded.

"Slowly, but surely, small groups are beginning to come to this village, which nobody used to visit," says Jungman, who is helping the group of women and planning the development of tourism in the village. "Suddenly people who are looking for meaningful day trips have discovered this place, and there are wonderful encounters here with the women."

The initiative has begun to give rise to dreams about additional tourist projects in the village, which hugs the northern slope of Mount Turan and offers a beautiful view of the Beit Netofa Valley below.

Suleiman is planning to open a bed and breakfast establishment. Umm and Abu Ajaj are developing the shed where the visitors will be able to eat (by reservation ). Their daughter, Kamela, a special education caregiver, has become a guide for the expected tourists. "When I was younger I would fight with Dad about the fact that he didn't want to live in the villa that they built and insisted on staying in the shed. Who believed then that the place would become a traditional tourism initiative? Today I'm proud of my parents."