Secrets Housed on AirBnB by Sarah Stern, USA, Israel

Our wheels kicked up dust as we slid into the driveway of our new Air BnB. I peered out the rental car window and thought to myself that this would be another nice find.

My parents were on vacation in Israel, and I had finally made time to get away from Jerusalem to see them. From her MacBook in Washington, D.C., my mother had found different property along the coast for us. My rule for her was the closer you are to the beach, the better you’ll feel. Once you leave Jerusalem, you don’t have the conflict right in your face.

Or so I thought.

As I ascended the steps, bags in hand, I took in the stone house. It promised to have an impressive rooftop view down hillsides to the Mediterranean Sea. I heaved my bags on the doorstep and here we were – Ein Hod. Looking up, I noticed Arabic writing above the doorframe. Below, was playful Hebrew font, and English. “Hefer,” the blue door read.

Before I even stepped inside, I had noticed the house’s secret. We had chosen to stay here because I had read about Ein Hod in a college course. It used to be a Palestinian village, but after the creation of the State of Israel, and displacement of the majority of the Palestinian community, it became Jewish. Led by founding Dada movement artist Marcel Janco, a vibrant artists’ colony housed itself in the shells of Palestinian property, and used it as their canvas.

The house’s new owner was there to greet us. As he swung open the door, I took in the dizzying array of eccentric decorations. Paintings stacked on paintings all the way to the high ceilings included million-dollar original Dada pieces. The new owner pointed those out to us without worry. I worried for him that he had put this place on Air BnB.

As it turned out, the new owner was the son-in-law of the late Haim Hefer, a songwriter whose music became the soundtrack to the founding of the State of Israel. I discovered later how famous this man was as I dug through his books and letters. One was framed and signed “Bill Clinton” and hung next to the kitchen.

We lived in a museum for four days. And, though I knew a bit about the history of the place, I hadn’t guessed how I would feel before I sat in that tiled living room. It was the most beautiful work of art I’ve ever lived in. Still, it felt ugly with its Arabic inscription watching us from the doorway.

It was easy to explore Ein Hod without stumbling across any clear reminder of its past inhabitants. Pleased to escape the dietary laws of Jerusalem, my boyfriend eagerly ordered a pork chop on our first night. The restaurant was housed in a wide room with a high ceiling. The building had no distinct markings, like a domed ceiling or a minaret, but I found out later, that it used to be a mosque.

I contemplated whether or not to tell him where he had been drinking beer.

On our last day in Ein Hod, we ventured to Ein Houd al-Jedidah, the Palestinian village up the hill from Jewish Ein Hod where many Palestinian residents fled to during the fighting in 1948. A restaurant there called HaBayit b’Ein Houd came highly recommended. I was told you had to make a reservation in advance.

As my family wound our way up the Carmel hills towards the village, I was surprised that so many Israelis would make the trek up unkempt roads for this experience. But there they were, in short, tight clothing, all streaming from their cars parked precariously on the hill, straight towards HaBayit.

It seemed like the village was known exclusively for this restaurant. The patrons swarmed in, eating plate after plate of parsley-heavy salads and sauce-covered meats, served in a fixed menu, so no need to decide what to order. It was a factory there – buzzing with people and complaints and demands. The experience felt aggressive. But the meal was delicious.

We returned to our Air BnB apartment to pack up our bags. I had enjoyed my vacation, tasted good food, and stuck my feet in the sand. But I also felt a sense of mourning.

I had learned that the cultural consumption of the village of Ein Houd began in 1948, but continues to this day. When Israeli Ein Hod was founded, Palestinians themselves weren’t wanted, but new residents repurposed their stone homes, and their mosque. Today, the patrons of the restaurant in Eid Houd al-Jedidah came to the village for a quality, cheap meal, but don’t wonder why the Israeli government paved the roads differently there, as opposed to just down the hill.

And I had also done my share – happily housed in my AirBnB, I benefited from a history of displacement and neglect that allowed for my artfully decorated vacation in Ein Hod.

I guessed there were similar stories about other listings on AirBnB. In America. In North Africa. After all, inequality and disparity are the cost of beauty world-wide. I wasn’t sure my knowledge of history and context assuaged my guilt of participation, but the cost of knowing felt much more worthwhile than happy ignorance.

I figured that there are other ways to right the inequality between Jews and Palestinians than the choice of an AirBnB reservation. I’ll start with telling my Israeli boyfriend where he drank his beer.


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