Tony Blair's visit to Nazareth: June 20th

I’m now sitting at home after the successful visit of Mr. Tony Blair to the Fauzi Azar Inn and Jesus Trail. Thinking about today’s excitement, stress and relief, I can describe this long anticipated visit as a tornado storm that hit the Fauzi whose long-term results are yet to be seen.

We were preparing for this visit for the last week, making the inn as beautiful as it can be and writing a program where everyone will know what to expect. I was getting ready and preparing the message I wanted to deliver. As the date came closer, I got more and more anxious and must confess that I didn’t get much sleep the night before.

Working six years transforming the Fauzi Azar Inn from a small seed and PowerPoint presentation to what it has become has been challenging with its ups and downs. Having Tony Blair, the former Prime Minster on the UK, visiting my creation, the inn, offered a rewarding reassurance to the time, energy and resources I have invested in the process.

The visit itself was like a storm. It started after a thirty-minute delay with Suraida and I waiting at the street entrance to the Fauzi. We received signs from the security person standing 10 meters ahead of us as Mr. Blair and his entourage were getting closer and closer.

Finally we saw crowds of photographers leading the way and Mr. Blair himself in flesh and blood smiling and coming to approach us.

We became part of the eye of the storm, loosing track of place and time while surrounded by dozens of photographers, Blair’s staff and personnel, people from the Nazareth municipality including the Mayor and his deputies, police staff, high-level security, Fauzi Azar Inn guests, volunteers and staff and special friends we invited for the event.

From the second we shook hands with Mr. Blair we were on the mission of staying in the storm’s eye while many others trying to get the same spot for themselves. Mr. Blair was acting naturally keeping both Suraida and myself next to him and at the same time interacting with the crowd – waving, smiling, shaking hands and exchanging a few words with some of them. The eye of the storm was moving up the stairs where Mr. Blair cut left to shake people’s hands, and I was trying to follow the rhythm by introducing him to our volunteers and guests.

The storm’s eye entered the Fauzi hall where we placed a board with Jesus Trail map (very wise idea!) and the Jesus Trail Guide book.

Suraida was pitching the Fauzi Azar story brilliantly with the storm swirling around and above.

Then it was my turn.

I had so much to say but was told by the great Stefan Szepesi (Thanks you Stefan!) that there is only one minute left, I heard voices from all over advising me what to say: “To encourage people to visit Nazareth”; “Ask for money”; “Support the Jesus Trail” and more that I can’t recall.

I remember saying that: “I was born in Israel and that after backpacking around the world for a year I learned that tourism can be a great force that bridges between people from different cultures, religions and nationalities and in the same time contributes significantly to local communities. Also, I have witnessed how it can support local businesses, change an area’s image and empower and raise the self-esteem of the local people.”

“Here at the Fauzi Azar Inn and the Jesus trail we are using existing infrastructure and local resources to encourage interaction between people and to create a shared interest between the different communities of the Galilee – Jewish, Christian & Muslims.”

I gave Mr. Blair the Jesus Trail guidebook and kept fighting to stay in the storm’s eye. I showed him on the Jesus Trail map how Jesus Trail, the first trail in Israel that targets international tourism is creating a share interest between the diverse community in the Galilee.

Then someone shoved me the Fauzi Azar guestbook and I asked Mr. Blair if he would be willing to sign it. While knowing that we had used all the time that we had and that the storm must go elsewhere, I called all Fauzi Azar staff and volunteers for a photo up. We got great photos!

And then in two seconds the storm was over. It was very powerful and energetic.

Afterwards, Fauzi Azar Inn staff celebrated Norhan’s 20th birthday, and we began in making the inn ready for today’s arrivals. My wife went home to take the kids and I returned later on by public transportation.

And yes, I also shared my vision for tourism with Mr. Blair –

In my vision, I’m booking our guests in Nazareth at their next accommodation in guesthouses in not only in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Amman but also in Beirut and Damascus.