Teaching violence, breeding hate – Settlers create ‘hate tourism’
Edition 2: No. 31
“Gush Etzion has become a hot destination in recent months for tourists seeking an Israeli experience like no other: The opportunity to pretend-shoot a terror operative. Residents of the nearby settlements, who run the site, offer day-trippers a chance to hear stories from the battleground, watch a simulated assassination of terrorists by guards, and fire weapons at the range.”
Davidi Pearl, who heads the Gush Etzion Regional Council, notes that this kind of experience turns the district into a world-famous “tourist gem.” At the end of the thrill-filled day, the tourists get a diploma indicating they “completed a basic shooting course in Israel.”
Israeli tourism is a double edged sword. On one hand, it manufactures enemy images of the Palestinian. Trained guides are taught to scare the tourist about the dangerous Palestinian who is all set to shoot and kill. On the other hand,Israeltourism is there to rake in the billions of dollars on offer – at the expense of the Palestinian. The number of Palestinian heritage sites now appropriated byIsraelis yet another instrument of the occupation to take away the best for the occupier and leavePalestinedeprived even of its own natural historical culture and heritage.
A study by the Alternative Tourism Group in Beit Sahour says: “Israel claims to present a surplus of tourism products – historical and religious places, beach resorts, heritage locales, archaeological spaces, and nature spots. The industry relies on what has come to be known as a ‘pilgrim market’ to make its dramatic gains from the tourism industry. However, it is important, at the very outset, to underline that Israel has craftily appropriated a number of Palestinian sites and areas into its own market and parades these important locations as authentically Israeli. This has been possible because Israel, as the occupying power inPalestine, carries out the seizure of these sites through unlawful means.”
Palestine’s main attraction for a large proportion of visitors is the status of Palestinians the Holy Land. Traditionally, pilgrims have visited the country from all over the world. The conflict stemming from the occupation has caused a drastic reduction in pilgrimages. At least 15 military orders and regulations related to tourism have been issued since 1967 by the Israeli military authorities, who have assumed responsibility for tourism in the Occupied Territories. These orders raised the level of requirements for licensing and functioning of tourist institutions, without availing those institutions of the means necessary for the required improvements.
To the question: “Are tourists allowed to enter areas outside of the Israeli responsibility (Palestinian areas)?” the Israeli government is ambiguous but suggests that typically it is not safe.
The Alternative Tourism Group (ATG) argues that travel toPalestineis secure. Hospitality is an extremely important value inPalestine, as it is throughout the Mediterranean world. Palestinians welcome visitors with open arms. The greatest risk does not arise from potential Palestinian violence but dangerous situations that can arise due to the Israeli Occupation.
ATG insists that “Arab people in general and Palestinians in particular, have been demonized in the West for decades. They are often presented in the media as dangerous, conniving, and immoral. It is not uncommon for visitors toPalestineto experience a mix of emotions — bewilderment, confusion, delight, embarrassment, and anger — when they realize how false those demonized images really are.
Negative stereotypes of Palestinians have been purposely reinforced by the Israeli government, which discourages international visitors to have contact with Palestinians.Israelknows that exposure to the present and historical realities of the situation have a transformative effect on the majority of tourists toPalestine, who return to their home countries as opponents toIsrael’s oppressive policies against Palestinians.”
In the face of harsh propaganda, Palestinians encourage international visitors to suspend any preconceived notions they have about Palestinians until they have a chance to meet us face-to-face.
When “tourists venture to West Bank to ‘shoot terrorists”, under the tutelage of settlers, thenIsrael tourism has assumed its most ugly face. Tourism is designed to be a transformational experience- an encounter between peoples that results in enhancing human values and understanding between peoples. Israeli tourism has chosen profits over people, and hate over understanding.
The ynetnews (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4243882,00.html) about how illegal settlers in theWest Bank create tour packages for hate and violence must be roundly condemned and steps taken to ban it.
PU readers are urged to act by:
o Conveying disapproval of such touristic itineraries under the very nose of the Israeli authorities – you may write to Ministry of Tourism at: email@example.com
o Disseminate this information widely to tour operators and churches- any location from where tours to Israel originate and encourage them to take the tours where ‘human encounters’ for peace, justice and human understanding take place.
The Alternative Tourism Group (www.atg.ps) offers constructive alternatives through which one can “see what Palestine is like beyond the headlines”… to see and meet “with Palestinian families, witness the real effects of occupation, and learn about the history, religions, conflicts, cultures, and traditions of this region.”