Arab Israeli woman draws surfers to her fishing village


Jisr al-Zarqa (اسرائيل) (AFP)

Standing barefoot on an Israeli beach, Hamama Jarban blew her whistle and watched her students race towards the water clutching their colourful surfboards.

Each weekend she welcomes enthusiastic would-be surfers to the shore, teaching them how to lie and then stand on their boards.

"I am a child of the sea, my father used to throw us in the water when we were little and tell us to swim," she said.

Wearing a black wetsuit and cap, the 41-year-old's surfing venture brings much needed income to Jisr al-Zarqa, the only remaining Arab village on Israel's Mediterraean coast and one of the poorest in the north.

Her father, together with her grandfather, also taught her how to fish, but Jisr al-Zarqa is nowadays subject to environmental restrictions on fishing.

Arabs constitute around 20 percent of Israel's nine million-strong population and say they are discriminated against by the Jewish state.

Jarban won qualifications as a surfing and swimming instructor, as well as a lifeguard, from Israel's leading sports training facility, the Wingate Institute.

Along with her brother Mohammed, she started teaching surfing six years ago to children and young adults from the village and elsewhere in northern Israel.

While most of the surfers are Israeli Arabs, Jarban said she once taught two Jewish girls on holiday from Jerusalem.

On one Saturday morning, some of the young recruits wore blue tops with the club's "Surfing 4 Peace" logo across the back.

Thirteen-year-old Sari Ammash said he still finds it hard to balance on the surfboard, but has gained better control since starting lessons last year.

The beach sits in an idyllic spot, close to a forest and a river that the surfers must cross before starting their lesson.

Ream, a 21-year-old architecture student, travels more than 30 kilometres (20 miles) for the lessons.

"I love sport, I used to play basketball, and now I enjoy training with Hamama," she said.

- Worlds apart -

Jarban also works as a lifeguard in summer and volunteers with the maritime rescue unit in Caesarea, a nearby upmarket coastal resort.

The contrast with her village -- with its overcrowded housing and narrow streets -- could not be starker.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a home in Caesarea.

To physically separate the two places, in 2002 a five-metre-high dirt wall was erected, which Caesarea residents said was intended to shield them from the noise of the Muslim call to prayer, as well as village parties.

The barrier runs for 1.5 kilometres (about a mile) and has been planted with flowers and trees by the resort town's residents.

In Jisr al-Zarqa, tin shacks line the shore, while fishing boats bob at anchor, left idle by a dispute over fishing rights.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority gave the area environmental protection in 2010, restricting fishing and coastal construction.

Villagers say they were promised development and infrastructure in return, but this never came.

A spokeswoman from the parks authority said they have worked with the village council to invest funds and build a promenade, while stopping construction work on the protected land.

"People should dismantle any building that is not legal, we have inspectors to watch," she told AFP.

Jarban has herself become embroiled in a dispute after building a wooden hut to store surfboards.

In a letter from the authority seen by AFP, she was ordered last month to demolish it or face legal action.

"We have suffered heavy losses," Jarban said of her village.