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Ma'ariv: "Outpost Vacations"

Aug 4, 2009

by Roi Sharon -- Clear air, a desert view, a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi and an ecological environment. This is not a moshav in the Arava, not even an hotel on the Dead Sea--but rather an outpost beyond the Green Line, in eastern Binyamin. After the settlements realized that they could also make money from tourism, recently even the illegal outposts have begun to offer B&Bs. In the outpost of Mitzpe Hagit in the Judean Desert, and also a few kilometers north of there in the Keda outpost, two guest cabins were put up that overlook the Jordan Valley.

The Mitzpe Hagit outpost, which is near the settlement of Kfar Adumim, today numbers eight families. Shlomo Sa'an, a local resident, bought the home of a family that left the outpost half a year ago, and decided to try and make a living from tourism. He built two vacation units by himself, commissioned a pool contractor and renovated the compound.

An electric gate divides the outpost from the Sa'an tourism compound. Behind is a lawn, a semi-Olympic sized pool overlooking Wadi Kelt, and colorful hammocks. "Everything is ecological here," he says proudly. "I transfer the water from the Jacuzzi and the pool to a recycling pool and heat it with a solar device; the eggs for breakfast come from the nearby farm. Everything is hand-built. This is a 20 year old dream come true."

Sa'an built two guest units that overlook the Dead Sea, one from stone and the other from wood. Each of them is accessorized in the best B&B tradition, and only the low price makes it any different from any other B&B: NIS 400 for couple in the middle of the week, and NIS 500 on the weekend. Sa'an says he has full occupancy. "50% are religious and 50% are secular, some are settlers, some from all over Israel. I've had people from Ramat Hasharon, Tel Aviv, this week I had from Eilat, tomorrow I'm getting a lawyer from Jerusalem. If I were allowed to build, I would add more vacation units, but I work closely with the regional council."

Another outpost that has become a tourist attraction for the religious is Keda, in the Shilo area. Moishi and Maanit Rabinowitz built two blue-painted B&Bs two months ago. They are the first family in the outpost, which was built in 2003 and numbers 30 families today, and Moishi worked on the B&Bs himself. The couple rent out the units at prices ranging from NIS 350-500 per night. "Mainly yeshiva students on vacation come with their wives," says Maanit. "The B&B is meant for the religious and is accessorized accordingly."

Rabinowitz reveals that stop-work orders were issued for the B&B buildings by the Civil Administration, but that they haven't heard from them since.

Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer commented yesterday on the new livelihood of the outpost residents: "The settlers have learned how to turn the outposts into an economically profitable business. I very much hope that they at least remember to pay income tax until the outpost is evacuated."