‘Forbidden city’ now big tourist attraction


A group of 40 tourists filed into Khateb Sweets on a recent Sunday afternoon, bringing chatter — and their cash and credit cards — to what had been a quiet cafe in this equally sedate village on the Golan Heights.

They left after consuming pastries and hot tea spiced with ginger, anise and cinnamon, whereupon an Israeli Jewish couple came in, then an Israeli Arab family and three Canadians.

The steady foot all typifies the wave of tourists that since last autumn has hit this community of 2,900, nearly all Alawites, an Islamic sect.

Ghajar (pronounced RA-zhar) had for decades been unusually cut off from the rest of Israel. Residents could come and go, but outsiders could visit only through prior arrangement with the Israel Defence Forces, which considered the village within a closed military area where Lebanon and Israel’s Galilee and Golan Heights regions intersect.

The IDF’s lifting of the restriction without explanation last september led to an immediate rush of visitors eager to explore Ghajar.

How immediate? Ahmad Khateb, a pastry chef who owns the eponymous cafe, was working that day at his consultancy job at a hotel in the Galilee town of Sefat, when his employee called to report an unusual stream of tourists entering the shop.

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