Some may consider it an unlikely alliance, but to Elisa L. Moed, an Israeli Jew, and Christina Samara, a Palestinian Christian, it couldn’t be more natural.
“We are a lot more alike than we are different,” said Moed, smiling to Samara, who was nodding and smiling in agreement. Moed and Samara believe their partnership, Breaking Bread Journeys, is the first Israeli-Palestinian tour operator.
They met in 2010 as invited participants in the Holy Land Marketing Cooperation panel created and directed by the Office of the Quartet Representative Tony Blair, an organization formed to try to find ways to resolve “the Israeli-Palestinian question.”
Both Moed and Samara had extensive experience in operating tours in the region. Moed is a 25-year veteran of the tourism industry and the CEO of her own company Travelujah, a Christian social travel network specializing in conducting tours of the Holy Land.
Samara is the past president of the Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association and heads Samara Tourist and Travel Agency, a family business that has been in the tourism business for 50 years.
“The Office of the Quartet Representative Tony Blair is shepherding development of the Palestinian territories,” said Moed. “It identified sectors with potential for economic development. One is tourism. The area is rich in potential, but it hasn’t developed its potential for a host of reasons. To shepherd the process the association put together a committee to determine how it can help make changes on the ground.”
Some of the areas that were most in need of development and sustainable tourism get the least attention from tourists. “Historically, 10 cents of every tourism dollar goes into the Palestinian territories,” said Moed. “Our aim is to raise that to 27 cents and 44 cents in East Jerusalem.”
While working together on the committee, Moed and Samara hit it off and discovered an affinity.
“We started up a good friendship,” said Samara. “We realized we had a shared vision.”
PHOTO: Elisa L. Moed (left) and Christina Samara (right) found that they could take matters into their own hands to try to help with the problems of the Middle East through people-to-people interaction. (photo by David Cogswell)
On the committee level, however, things seemed to reach a dead end.
“A lot of the discussions were about how to work together as an association to promote the destination as one destination, to try to find projects they could do together,” said Samara. “But the political climate four years ago wasn’t the best, so on an association level they couldn’t come to an agreement even though everyone agreed tourism was the best way.”
Moed and Samara, however, were getting along well and their friendship was developing.
“The committee meetings stopped happening,” said Samara. “But we continued talking and found we have very similar ideas, a joint vision for the future and many ideas of how we could sell something new to clients. That’s how we started. We discussed a lot. We came up with this idea and said, ‘Why don’t we do it on a personal level, a one-to-one, woman-to-woman. Let’s go ahead and do this.”
After three years of working together they decided to launch a new tour company. They named it Breaking Bread Journeys. It would be something “new and fresh,” said Moed. “It would give tourists what they want. Safety is at the forefront. More and more people want to walk away having engaged with people in the ground.”
Breaking Bread Journeys offers tours in five basic theme areas: Food and Culture; Herod the Great; Footsteps of Jesus; Sustainability and Through Two Eyes. Each area has a sample itinerary as a starting point for building a custom tour to fit the wishes of the traveling group.
Every day, no matter what else is on the itinerary, participants will engage in one “Breaking Bread experience” with people from a different background. “It could be Jews, it could be Muslims, it could be Christians, it could be Moroccan Jews,” said Moed.
The company works hand-in-hand with various nonprofit organizations that work in the region and is getting marketing support from USAID. Its tour offerings are displayed on a colorful, animated website.
“They all include the intimate aspect of breaking bread with people,” said Moed. “Sitting in their homes, you’re learning about their culture, the histories of their families.”
“It’s good for the tourists,” said Samara. “It’s what they want. People feel more secure knowing they are traveling with an Israeli and a Palestinian together,” said Samara.
“There’s no hand-off,” said Moed. “It’s seamless.”