Greetings from Palestine,
I have read the article “Tourism reaps benefits from Palestinian-Israeli cooperation” by Rachelle Kliger, published on eTurboNews on December 4th, and decided to write this response, hoping that you will publish it soon as a letter to the editor and make it available for the readers of eTurboNews.
In fact, when reading the above-mentioned article on tourism in Israel and Palestine, the reader doesn’t get any sense of the reality and gets the feeling that there is real cooperation in tourism matters between both sides, for the benefit of everybody. For me, as someone who has been involved in tourism for the last 10 years, I hold that there is a real monopoly imposed by Israel on the tourism industry, to guarantee that the benefits of tourism will stay in Israel. As a matter of fact, if one analyses the recent history of Israeli policies on tourism to the Holy Land, it becomes clear that Israel has always been promoting a one-sided tourism, and this despite the fact that the Palestinian areas have sites of major biblical and historical importance. The reason why Bethlehem and Jericho are part of Israeli tourist programmes is that they are main promotional tools that are used by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism – but Palestine is not only Bethlehem and Jericho! Most of the Christian pilgrims would not accept visiting the Holy Land without going to Bethlehem (the birthplace of Jesus) and Jericho (the oldest city in the world). When Mr. Yanosh Damon says that “[most of the tourists prefer to stay in Jerusalem instead of in Bethlehem and we are directing our marketing effort for incoming tourists to spend nights in Jericho and Bethlehem”, I find it very hard to believe him. Why??
The Israeli policy over the past 40 years has always focused on favouring tourist programmes and the development of tourism infrastructure in Israel only. In these 40 years, the orientation of travel agencies and the whole tourism business has not changed a lot. Most tourists/pilgrims do the same tours (“On the footsteps of Jesus”) while mainly using the Israeli infrastructure. Bethlehem was and is until now a short destination with maximum 3 hours visiting time. Tourists who come through Israeli travel agencies and stay overnight in Bethlehem only do so when hotels in Israel are overbooked, and not because of Israeli marketing efforts to promote Bethlehem. This also becomes apparent when considering how Israel stereotypes and brands the Palestinian areas as unsafe places!
In addition, Israeli restrictions and the harassment of tourists at the airport is a major proof that Israel is not interested in people visiting our areas. At the airport, the tourists are being interrogated on arrival whether they plan to visit and stay in Palestinian areas, and on departure they are asked about whether they have been to Palestinian areas during their stay in Israel. Take the example of how many groups have been denied entry to the country by Israel and were sent back to their home countries because they had planned to stay in Palestinian areas or to meet with Palestinians! All of this shows that the Israeli policies are trying to keep us isolated, both with regard to potential contact with tourists and to getting benefits from the tourism industry.
In the article, it is also mentioned that both Israeli and Palestinian hoteliers have the same problems and are equally affected by them – this is not an accurate statement! First of all, Israeli hotels were compensated by the state of Israel for their losses due to the violent events that started in the year 2000, while Palestinian hotels and the ones located in Jerusalem did not benefit from this compensation. Secondly, the Israeli army targeted many Palestinian hotels in different ways; in Bethlehem, the Paradise Hotel was occupied by the military and burnt, the Bethlehem Inn was occupied, devastated and plundered by the army, Inter-Continental Bethlehem was shot at and damaged, and the City Inn Hotel in Ramallah was targeted as well. All these events illustrate very clearly the Israeli policies on this subject!
But let us get back to the article published in eTurboNews. The language used in the article does not allow the reader to get an idea of the realities on the ground. The reader receives the impression that there are two states existing in harmony next to each other; two states who decided together to make border crossings more tourist friendly to improve their image for marketing purposes. In fact, what is mentioned in the article as a border crossing should be described as an Israeli military checkpoint, which disconnects the Palestinian towns from each other and controls the Palestinian residential areas. Language is important because it can clarify the political framework of a place and enhance the understanding of the situation by the reader.
In the end, we are all looking for peace, but a peace which is based on justice. We need peace not only to keep the tourism industry stable, but also to let the Palestinians live in dignity, freedom and sovereignty.
All the best,
Alternative Tourism Group