Counter Tourism: Responding to Pro-Palestinian Protest and Solidarity Tours
by Ardie Geldman (November 2013)
Visits to Efrat
Since the early 1990s I have spoken with nearly 4,000, mostly non-Jewish, visitors to Efrat, a modern-Orthodox/religious-Zionist community of some 10,000 residents situated about halfway between Jerusalem and Hebron. I began this unplanned speaking career in my volunteer capacity as an elected member of the Efrat Town Council. Other than country of origin (mostly the U.S.), the size of the group and its general affiliation, such as a church, college or university, I usually know nothing about these visitors prior to their arrival. The groups with whom I meet generally vary in size from ten to thirty people. Overall they range in age from senior high school and university students to senior adults, though more typically they are young adults in their thirties through middle-age. They appear to be people from virtually every walk of life. Among the more interesting and challenging groups with whom I have met were a delegation of North American Indians and a group of black South African elected officials and church leaders.
Irrespective of their backgrounds, all visitors are clearly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause prior to arriving in Efrat. This is understandable as their tour itinerary is designed by one of the many pro-Palestinian NGOs. These visitors oppose the state of Israel’s administration of Judea and Samaria since 1967, her annexation of the Eastern and Northern sections of Jerusalem and the construction of homes and apartments for Jews in these neighborhoods,1 and her closure of the border between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. They are certain that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is illegal under international law. Peace in the region, they assert, is only achievable if Israel either (1) evacuates all “illegal settlements,” including Eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, returns to the lines drawn up in the 1949 Armistice Agreements, abides the creation of a neighboring Palestinian state that includes the entire West Bank and the return of all Arabs to their pre-1948 homes and land they claim inside Israel, or alternatively (2) willingly ceases to exist as a sovereign, self-defined Jewish state, merges with the Arab population of the West Bank and becomes “one state” for all Jewish and non-Jewish citizens.
Despite these visitors' opposition to the existence of the community in which I live and have raised my family for the last quarter of a century, they do not exhibit hostility. In fact, with few exceptions, the opposite is the case; as a rule, most visitors display civility and politeness and many are even friendly. But their pleasantness conceals the very unsympathetic objective of their visit to our town.
As often is the case, when introducing a group, its spokesperson will note that its members have come to “Israel and Palestine to get a better understanding of the conflict” and “to the settlement2 of Efrat in order to hear both sides.” This stock statement is fairly disingenuous. The true purpose of most groups’ visit to Efrat may be discerned through a review of their itineraries. While no two itineraries are identical they all point to the same purpose. The typical itinerary is fashioned around a week to two-week visit spent mostly with Palestinians and with representatives of left-wing Israeli NGOs. Among these NGOs are Peace Now, Women in Black, Gush Shalom, the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Breaking the Silence, The Alternative Information Center and B'Tselem (The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories). In an insincere display of political evenhandedness these tours include a brief stopover in a "settlement". A one to one and a half hour visit to Efrat or some other Jewish community over the Green Line is the only time allotted these visitors for a direct encounter with a non-leftist Israeli narrative.
These visits to Israel and the Palestinian Authority are examples of “protest tourism,” a worldwide development that brings foreign visitors to (usually Third World) areas so that they may bear witness to the injustices being inflicted upon a particular population, to express solidarity with that population, possibly partake in some protest effort on its behalf, and perhaps briefly volunteer in some local human welfare or educational project. Participants in these tours are typically, but not limited to, church members, college students and assorted "social justice" activists. While most of the group’s itinerary is dedicated to being among the local population, in this case Palestinians, the brief visit to Efrat or some other Jewish “settlement” is a requisite component of these tours. Why is that? First, even a short stopover inside a Jewish community seems to most participants a sufficient enough effort at hearing the "settlers' side." Second, it extends an opportunity to visitors that may wish to express their opinions directly to someone from the "settlers'" camp. Third, it allows participants to observe first-hand the physical comforts of "settlement" life and compare them with the much poorer, even squalid, living conditions they are directed to in Palestinian refugee camps and villages. Not to be overlooked is the dramatic tingle experienced by many of these visitors upon entering an “illegal settlement,” even when they soon discover it to look a lot like some middle-class American suburb and not the armed encampment they expected to see.
Most of these visitors are polite and many are even are openly friendly. Some go so far as to express their concern for Israel’s welfare. Nonetheless, Bar Ilan University Political Studies Professor Gerald Steinberg and the president of NGO Monitor in Jerusalem considers these groups part of “a radical advocacy network with NGOs that promote the Palestinian rejectionist narrative and anti-Israel demonization through the “Durban Strategy.”3 Some of these visitors may be part of what Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, recognizes as the growing “threat from theologians and activists in prominent Protestant churches (and even some Evangelical Christians) throughout the world… (that) is seeking to destroy Israel from above.”4
"Don’t Bother Me with Facts, My Mind's Made Up"
Typical of such groups was one that included 20 American and five Canadian tourists. Their visit to Efrat, part of a nine-day tour, lasted 45 minutes. This group’s itinerary, created by the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies in Beit Sahour, consisted mainly of meetings with Palestinian and left-wing Israeli speakers. A few Christian religious sites were also included. In an effort to demonstrate the program’s "balance," the group’s spokesperson proudly pointed out that its members were also speaking with other Israelis, including a member of B’Tselem. At Yad V’shem, he proudly noted, oblivious to the irony, the group’s guide would be a representative of Peace Now.5
I asked this group, given the cost in both money and time, why they chose to come on this trip. One woman stated that she came to hear “the other side” since “in America, all you hear is the Israeli side.” A co-traveler agreed, adding that since all they hear at home from the mainstream American media is a pro-Israel line, they are willing to dedicate nine days to hearing the pro-Palestinian position. This is a common claim of such visitors. In their view the Western media regularly champion Israel over the Palestinians, a charge with distinctive anti-Semitic echoes. In an effort to disabuse the group of this view I offered some cases in point that contradict it. These included, for example, the controversial May 2008 edition of The Atlantic whose cover story cynically asks “Is Israel Finished?”; the January 19, 2009 edition of TIME whose cover story was grimly entitled "Why Israel Can't Win”; consistently critical editorials by the New York Times and assorted op-ed pieces penned by its star columnists Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd, the latter who snidely referred to “the supremely aggravating Bibi Netanyahu”; some other highly critical op-ed pieces and columnists that have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, among others; as well as the well documented biases of CNN and the BBC, especially during Israel's two Gaza Strip incursions, Operation Cast Lead in 2009 and Pillar of Defense in 2012.6 These examples are ignored by the visitors; yet none to date has offered one example of the biased pro-Israel reporting to which they refer.
Apart from what they are told over the course of the tour and taken to see during their site visits in the Palestinian Authority and Eastern Jerusalem, many of the visitors appear to know little about Palestinian society. The reality of life under the Palestinian Authority remains hidden from these visitors behind a cultural and linguistic veil. There is a tendency to romanticize the Palestinians, viewing them as “noble natives" and seeing Israel as the “rapacious interloper.” This is consistent with the view that Jewish communities like Efrat are “colonies” created by the state of Israel. Judging from the questions that recur from group to group it is also obvious that many visitors have little, if any, knowledge of Jewish history, the history of this region and particularly not the historical, political or legal significance of the “Green Line” that divides pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority. Many visitors erroneously verbalize their belief that Palestinians are citizens of Israel who suffer from discrimination at hands of Jewish Israelis. Such basic ignorance has resulted more than once in the fallacious comparison being made between the experiences of Palestinians since 1967 and African Americans prior to the enactment of federal Civil Rights laws in the United States.
Hotels and Home Hospitality
Most of these tourists prefer to patronize Arab-owned hotels in Eastern Jerusalem or the Bethlehem area. By doing so they hope to boost the Palestinian economy while simultaneously minimizing their contribution to the economy of Israel. It also minimizes their personal interaction with Israelis. Among the amenities available in these hotels are copies of "This Week in Palestine," a commercial publication supported by advertising whose graphic format is copied from other "This Week in XXX" publications available in hotel lobbies in cities throughout the world. However, it is with its format that any resemblance between "This Week in Palestine" and "This Week in Los Angeles" or "This Week in London" comes to an end. Rather than limit its articles to tourist attractions and upcoming events, this small magazine is an Orwellian-like spread of flagrantly politicized articles that speak of Palestinian suffering and Israeli oppression in virtually every arena of Palestinian society, including science, culture, sports, business, and even gender relations.
The following quote is from This Week in Palestine Editor-in-Chief Tony A. Khoury's "Message from the Editor":
August promises to be a hot month, in more aspects than one. Aside from the obvious reason, things will be heating up around Fatah's sixth conference which will be held on 4 August 2009 in Bethlehem. To start with, it remains to be seen if all the Palestinian delegates from the diaspora will be allowed by the Israeli authorities to reach this enclave that is encircled by the suffocating Wall, checkpoints, barriers, etc. Temperatures are expected to be rising at the conference itself. This in itself is a healthy sign of democracy at work. It becomes destructive when it causes a rift among Palestinians, weakening their stance in front of their opponent. Here's hoping we will emerge more united and stronger from this milestone event.7
The contents of the 100-page booklet feature articles such as "Palestine's Ongoing Nakba: The Land and Property of Displaced Palestinians," "I Will Stop Feeling the Glory," a personal, pathos-filled account of Israel's security checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, "The Impact of the Crisis in Palestine on Masculinity and Gender Relations," and "The Palestine Youth Orchestra's" performance of "Ashiqa," a "life experience turned into music and song, narrating the suffering of a people who love life despite long years of oppression." Not surprisingly, although the accompanying map does include parts of the state of Israel, not one of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are appear.8
Incongruously, alongside descriptions of Palestinian misery, this magazine is also home to an impressive number of striking full-page colored advertisements placed by Palestinian commercial enterprises that project the very opposite image of Palestinian society. Among these private Palestinian businesses are: The First National Bank of Palestine (“The most extensive outreach with the largest banking network of 37 branches, over 50 ATMs and 2,000 Points of Sale across Palestine”); Wassel International Express Services (a Palestinian FedEx); Arwa bottled water and dispensers; the Palestinian franchise for Philips Electronics; the Christmas Hotel (“Open grill every Thursday, Oriental Night every Friday, Jazz Night every Saturday”); the Orjuwan Lounge (“high cuisine in Ramallah”); the Palestine Poultry Co.; the Palestine Development and Investment, Ltd.; the Ambassador Hotel, featuring a first class restaurant, patisserie, fitness center and free wireless connection; the Intercontinental Jericho; the Gemzo Suites, "Clearly the Best," in Al-Bireh, and more.
Whereas one may question the appropriateness from a commercial point of view of including obvious political polemic in a tourist magazine, one also wonders if readers are not puzzled by the conflicting messages that leap from its pages; are Palestinians suffering or are they surrounded by comfort and capital?
When not rooming in an Eastern Jerusalem or Palestinian hotel, overseas groups enjoy home hospitality with Palestinian families, usually Christians, Bethlehem, Beit Ja’ala and Beit Sahour. Their typical three to four day (though sometimes longer) home stay is an opportunity for host families to fill their heads with horrific stories of “the occupation.” Palestinian home hospitality is seen by the organizers of these groups as an invaluable political tool. At the same time visitors are being treated to Palestinian warmth and friendship, they are exposed to a litany of complaints by their hosts that are all attributable to the “occupation” and Israel’s oppressive behavior. These typically include an insufficient water supply due to Israeli control of the region’s underground aquifers; “the wall” and military checkpoints that prevent Palestinian families from visiting relatives and friends; land that had belonged to the host family “from time immemorial" that was stolen by Jewish settlers or the IDF; homes demolished by Israeli bulldozers; the violence of settlers; Palestinians arrested without cause, and even occurrences of Palestinians being randomly shot and killed by Israeli soldiers as if for sport. Each one of these allegations has, at one time or another, been raised during discussions as facts by visitors. When I have challenged visitors on these topics they acknowledge that these allegations remain unsubstantiated by their Palestinian hosts.
But the veracity of these stories seems less important to visitors. The anecdotes they are told are recounted by Palestinians in the intimacy of their homes often in the presence of grandparents, cousins, children and grandchildren. Visitors temporarily live under the same roof with these people, sleep in their beds, and use their bathrooms. Tales of Israeli mistreatment are conflated with the breaking of bread at a home-cooked Middle-Eastern feast (for which each Palestinian family is generously remunerated). The effects of this experience are clearly felt in the following online excerpt from an American student delegation’s “Cross Cultural” program entitled “Reports from Palestine.” These students were hosted in Palestinian homes for three-and-a-half weeks:
Our time in Beit Sahour will be spent touring Palestine, studying Arabic, listening to lectures from professors at Bethlehem University College, and interacting with our host families. Lucas and I are staying with Adeeb, our host-father, host-mother Hyfah, and brothers Elias and Hosam. The hospitality that we have experienced in just the past few days has been incredible. Everyday after classes we are excitedly greeted by Adeeb who asks us all about our day as we enjoy a feast prepared by Hyfah, usually consisting of pita, rice, tea, homemade lemonade, and some sort of chicken dish. Needless to say, we are by no means going to bed hungry at night!9
Home hospitality engenders an immediate empathy for and feeling of loyalty towards one’s host family, as is evident in this student’s report. This effect is even more evident in this testimony by a Mennonite visitor:
In our two weeks in Palestine/Israel, we really came to appreciate the Palestinian people. First impressions are lasting. Several members of our group went for a walk on the first night of our stay in Bethlehem. As they were passing by the homes, complete strangers invited them in for tea. They accepted the invitation and had a wonderful time of fellowship.10
Efforts made over the years to convince groups to experience comparable home hospitality in Efrat or Gush Etzion among "settlers" have mostly been in vain. There are a few exceptions. A group of students from the University of Wisconsin affiliated with The Crossing, a Christian community in Madison, slept over one night in Efrat in 2008, but only after first spending a number of days living with Palestinians. In February 2013, Eastern Mennonite University pioneered a 4-day immersion program in Efrat for 30 students, including Shabbat. This experience is scheduled to be repeated in February 2014. The students’ stay in Efrat followed directly upon 3-weeks of home hospitality with Palestinian families in Beit Sahour. A group of 20 students enrolled in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities Middle East Studies Program based at the Catholic Tantur Ecumenical Center that borders Jerusalem and Bethlehem has also experienced home hospitality between Palestinians and families in Efrat during their semester-long program. Written evaluations by the students attest to their overwhelming satisfaction with this program. Nevertheless, such experiences, remain rare.
Examples of protest tour itineraries of both Christian and secular human rights organizations may be found on the Internet. These include Interfaith Peace-Builders,11 Christian Peacemaker Team,12 Alternative Tourism Group,13 Holy Land Trust,14 and the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies.15 Paramount to these itineraries is the image of Palestinian suffering.
Thus, a critical stop, one to which at least three hours of time is dedicated, is a pre-arranged tour of the Dheisheh and/or Aida refugee camps, both adjacent to Bethlehem. Dheisheh, established in 1949, and Aida in 1950, are two out of 19 recognized West Bank refugee camps established by and operated under the auspices of UNWRA, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for the Palestinian Refugees. Professor Emanuel Marx of Tel-Aviv University and Dr. Nitza Nachmias, a Senior Research Fellow at the Jewish-Arab Center, University of Haifa and a visiting professor at the Department of Political Science, Towson University, Baltimore, Maryland, have studied the history of the Palestinian refugee camps and UNRWA’s complicity in the creation and maintenance of Palestinian statelessness. More recently, independent researcher David Bedein has produced a film, available on the Internet, which reveals UNWRA-funded summer camps as a primary source of incitement against Jews and the state of Israel.16
When a stopover in Efrat follows a visit to Dheisheh or Aida, the questions the visitors ask convey the mistaken assumption that the state of Israel created these camps. It is further believed by many of the visitors that Israeli authorities forcibly interred the original Palestinian residents in 1948 and that Israel remains responsible for the camps' continued existence and their current squalid conditions.
Skepticism within the group is apparent when I attempt to disabuse its members of these “facts.” Why else, ask visitors, would the Palestinians be living in refugee camps today, if not for Israel? The historically accurate reason, say Marx and Nachmias, is that “[UNWRA] has been resisting any contraction of its operations, never took any steps to fold up, and to date, service responsibilities were never transferred to the legitimate Palestinian Authority. UNRWA continues to act as a ‘non-territorial government’ competing with the elected Palestinian Authority for funds and responsibilities. Other problems involve a hastily drawn mandate resulting in lack of proper accountability and management procedures, and lack of clarity concerning UNRWA’s involvement in the human rights of the refugees.”
Visitors typically fail to respond upon learning that in the 1970s Israel took the initiative to relieve the overcrowded living conditions of Palestinians in camps by building apartment blocks for residents of Sheik Radwan in the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, these units were never occupied due to physical threats against camp residents by the PLO. There was also political opposition to the project voiced by the Arab lobby at the United Nations. This unheralded chapter in Israeli-Palestinian relations is documented in UN General Assembly Resolution 31/15 of November 23, 1976 and UN General Assembly Resolution 34/52 of November 23, 1979, both of which condemned Israel for improving the lives of Palestinians.
Visitors also evince no reaction when it is pointed out that the western edge of the Dheisheh refugee camp lies directly across the road from Ducha, a section of the Palestinian town of Beit Ja’alah. Ducha is noted for its large and ornate homes, not a few with expensive cars parked in their driveways. Years ago, some residents of Dheisheh began building homes in Ducha while retaining their homes in Dheisheh. The camp home, typically a small slum, but often graced with a satellite disk, is the only home belonging to refugees that foreign visitors are taken to see; they remain unaware of Ducha. The same pressures and intimidation applied in Sheik Radwan prevents Dheisheh families from giving up their refugee camp residency. As a result, even wealthy Ducha families still receive UNWRA financial support and services as long as they officially retain residency in the Dheisheh camp.
Virtually every group that comes briefly to Efrat also spends about half a day first visiting Hebron. Hebron vies with Eastern Jerusalem as the most volatile locus in the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Within Hebron’s refurbished Jewish quarter live some of the most nationalistic of Israel’s Jewish citizenry. It is a good day for a Palestinian tour leader when a few of the more brazen young Jewish residents of Hebron succeed in harassing some local Palestinians in full view of foreign visitors. Such an incident was witnessed by a Dutch delegation. The distress and vexation those visitors developed in Hebron were openly expressed during their visit later to Efrat.*
In Hebron, visiting international church and human rights groups regularly interact with local Palestinians and confer with representatives of the Temporary International Presence in the City of Hebron (TIPH).17 Although TIPH was created to serve as a neutral third party witness to the inter-communal friction in Hebron, it is no secret that the organization sides fully with the city’s Palestinian residents. The Jewish community of Hebron is ably represented by spokesperson David Wilder, an articulate and well-informed veteran American immigrant. Yet, there is rarely an effort made by visiting internationals to meet with him, nor any other Hebron Jews, all of whom are looked upon by these tourists as being the archetype of unlawful and violent settlers. Generally, the only Jews in Hebron with who these groups meet are representatives of Breaking the Silence, a well-funded, extreme leftist organization comprised of IDF veterans.18
If not previously existent, following their visit to Hebron, the visitors’ contempt for settlers is all but assured. It is in Hebron that visitors are told the Palestinian version of the story of Dr. Baruch Goldstein who murdered 29 Arab Muslims in the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the holiday of Purim in 1994. Visitors then come to Efrat brandishing the Goldstein story against all settlers and the "occupation"… precisely as intended by those who designed their itinerary. It is obvious that most groups who are taken to Hebron under Palestinian auspices remain unapprised of the provocations and murderous attacks by the city’s Arabs against its Jewish inhabitants during the past three-quarters of a century. These attacks began in earnest with the infamous Hebron massacre of August 23 and 24, 1929 that took the lives of 67 Jewish residents and left dozens more injured and without property or possessions. This unprovoked butchery, I point out to visitors, occurred many years prior to the creation of the state of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces and "the occupation." Violent assaults against Jews in Hebron resumed in the years following the return of Jews to the city in 1968. Among these are the shooting murders of Tzvi Glatt, Gershon Klein, Eli HaZe’ev, Ya'akov Zimmerman, Hanan Krauthammer, and Shmuel Mermelstein in May 1980 and the stabbing of Aharon Gross in July 1983, all young worshippers who were returning from prayer services at the Cave of the Patriarchs; sixty-four year old Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan in 1998, stabbed by a terrorist in his home; and ten-month old Shalhevet Pass, murdered in 2001 by a sniper while sitting in a stroller behind her home. During the intermediate days of the 2013 Sukkot holiday an Arab sniper shot and killed IDF Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi while he was on duty guarding the crowd of Jewish pilgrims near the Tomb of the Patriarchs.19
The following is an example of a biased and inaccurate description of contemporary Hebron found on the Internet blog of a Palestinian-American that was presented as recommended reading to an international visitor to Efrat in preparation for his trip to the region:
The city of Hebron today is divided into two sectors, after an agreement on the withdrawal of the Israeli army on January 1997. Sector H1 (80% of the municipality of Hebron) is under Palestinian autonomy; sector H2 (20%) is under Israeli control. In the sector H2, which includes most of the Old City (and Al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) there lives 40,000 Palestinians and 500 Israeli settlers/colonizers, most of them are American Jews from Brooklyn, but also from France. Because of the presence of these 500 settlers, Israel has placed 4,000 soldiers to protect them, along with various checkpoints and movement restrictions throughout H2. This settlement of foreign Jews in Hebron, and the displacement of native Palestinians from the Old City dates back to the beginning of Zionism at the turn of the 20th century…20
When such a gross misrepresentation of history and facts serves as one’s introduction to historic Hebron, a view later underscored during a Palestinian-led, tour of the city, the dramatic story of Jewish Hebron heard later in Efrat makes little if any impression upon the listeners. In Efrat groups hear that (1) until the 1929 massacre there was a thriving Hebron Jewish community going back almost continuously to the time of Israel's Second Temple; (2) the Jewish quarter of Hebron is built on land purchased by Jews in 1540; (3) the current Jewish population of Hebron comes closer to 1,000 than 500 and is living exclusively on historically Jewish property; (4) Hebron’s Jewish community consists primarily of Israeli-born residents and not immigrants; (5) the number of Israeli soldiers charged with protecting the Jewish community is a few hundred and not 4,000; and (6) the IDF’s presence in and around Hebron helps protect the entire state of Israel by foiling the next terrorist activity before it can be carried out. Such discordant information reflecting the Jewish view of Hebron generally elicits only blank stares and silence from visitors.
Israel's Four Major Sins
By the time these groups reach Efrat they have generally adopted the following four prejudgments: (1) Israel steals Palestinian water, (2) Israel illegally demolishes Palestinian homes, (3) Israel maintains checkpoints primarily to harass Palestinians and without valid security justification, and (4) Israel has erected an “apartheid” wall and established "apartheid" roads with the primary intention of "ghettoizing" and thereby more easily exercising control over the Palestinian population.
Water – Overseas visitors are taught by Palestinians or their affiliate NGOs that Israel directs most of the water pumped from the West Bank’s underground aquifers to the settlements, thereby creating a severe water deficit in Palestinian areas. That this is true so, visitors point out, is obvious by virtue of the stark difference they see between the green lawns of Efrat and the drab concrete of the Palestinian areas they visit.
For example, here is one water-related narrative found on the web site of Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ, a church group that visits Efrat, posted in 2007 by a visitor who lived among Palestinians for ten years:
Three good quality, underground water aquifers lie under the occupied West Bank and, in some areas, cross over the green line into the state of Israel. Israel leaves Palestinians with less than 20% of their own water resources, while siphoning off at least 80% of this water through water wells and diagonal drilling. While some Israeli constructed wells are located inside Israel, many are located within illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. After stealing the water, Mekorot, the Israeli water company, then sells it back to the Palestinians at much higher prices, then it is sold to Israeli citizens. Furthermore, Israeli settlers receive water with even additional subsidies.21
What irrefutable source underlies these libelous statements? The source of this information, acknowledges this writer, is B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.22 NGO Monitor notes that: “Analysts have shown that B’Tselem’s methodology is problematic, often inconsistent, and reflects the organization’s political agenda. (B’Tselem) relies on statistics and reports of other NGOs, despite the political agendas and credibility problems of these other groups.” The credibility of other NGOs consistently critical of Israel’s presence in the West Bank are similarly suspect on the question of water.
Political lecturer and author Professor Martin Sherman, formerly with Tel Aviv University and Israel’s Herzliya Conference, takes such NGOs to task. He is particularly wary of Amnesty International who has, among other accusations, charged that “Israel’s avaricious water policy has gravely compromised Palestinian Arabs' human rights.”24
Other non-politicized analyses also challenge the allegations of these controversial NGOs.25,26 Some of these take note of the fact that the combination of an antiquated and inefficient water infrastructure, the disproportionate use of water by Palestinian industries, the simple fact that some Palestinians do not pay their water bills, and the lack of any type of water conservation program within the Palestinian Authority all contribute to the scarcity of water in certain Palestinian areas. However, these facts do nothing to disabuse foreign visitors of the conviction that the state of Israel unjustly appropriates water sources that rightly belong to the Palestinians. It seems as if an infinite number independent reports acquitting Israel of this charge would carry no weight against this accusation that has been a consistent theme of Palestinians and leftist Israeli NGOs; no alternative explanation dependent on mere facts and figures can overcome the emotion that accompanies the belief that water is maliciously being diverted away from an entire population…especially in the Middle-East. Denying people water would be one of the cruelest and inhumane acts Israel, or any nation, could commit. Doing so would only serve the interests of Israel’s detractors... “Why would Israel purposefully adopt such a self-defeating policy,” I ask visitors? I am answered only with stares.
Home Demolitions – The demolition or sealing of homes lived in by Palestinian terrorists by Israeli security authorities has been another longstanding and major point of contention between visiting activists and state of Israel. But this practice has also been a controversial internal Israeli policy and today is rarely applied. In the past, Israel’s Supreme Court, on a case-by-case basis, would consider requests by the Israel Ministry of Defense to demolish the residence, or a part of the residence, inhabited or recently inhabited, by a known terrorist, even subsequent to his demise. However, this practice, referred to as Regulation 119 of the Defense (Emergency) Regulations – 1945, was temporary suspended in 2005. It was reinstated by Israel’s Supreme Court in a decision rendered on January 5, 2009 following the murder by a resident of Eastern Jerusalem of eight students at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood on the evening of March 6, 2008. This attack, ruled the Court, was an extreme incident and as such justified exceptional consideration. The permanent sealing of two of the four floors of the Jebl Mukaber home in which the dead terrorist’s family lived was carried out on January 19, 2009.
A subsequent approval for a home demolition was rendered on March 18, 2009, when the Israel Supreme Court permitted the destruction of the house of a suicide terrorist who, in July 2008, after commandeering a bulldozer, killed three and injured scores of random Israeli passersby on a main street in Jerusalem. The terrorist’s home, in Eastern Jerusalem’s Sur Bahir neighborhood, was demolished on April 7, 2009. Finally, on February 15, 2012, the Israel Supreme Court rendered a ruling denying the petition challenging the decision of the IDF to demolish the house of Kassem Mugrabi, an Eastern Jerusalem Palestinian who committed a terror attack by running over a group of soldiers and civilians with his car in September 2008. The terrorist was shot dead at the scene by witnesses. However, home demolition as a means of deterrence against terrorism has fallen out of use by the IDF. This is the result of both international and domestic pressure, as well as insufficient evidence as to the efficacy of this policy.
Still practiced by Israel, however, is the demolition of illegally erected homes and apartment buildings, i.e., homes built without the requisite permits. Many Palestinians refuse to apply for building permits on the grounds that since the international community does not recognize Israel’s rule over the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem, they are not subject to Israel’s legal system. Ipso facto, Palestinians may therefore never be considered in violation of Israeli law. “For us, the occupiers cannot tell us what is legal and illegal,” Eastern Jerusalem resident Jawad Siyam told The New York Times.27 At the same time, Palestinians contend that the Israeli judicial system, to the extent they are compelled to interact with it, is biased against them. For example, Palestinians report to overseas activists that they are forced to wait an unreasonable amount of time to receive a building permit, if they receive one at all. Palestinians are convinced that Jewish applicants residing beyond the Green Line do not suffer similar delay. In addition, Palestinians charge Israeli authorities with being quick to order and expedite the demolition of their unlicensed structures, whereas Jewish families who have built a home or an addition without the requisite permits often succeed in having the demolition order revoked.
The following unfounded account of discrimination by Israel government authorities against Palestinians seeking building permits was authored by a visiting Canadian Mennonite minister and appeared in his church magazine in both print and on-line formats:
Another permit application that is difficult for Palestinians to get is for building or renovating a home. Some have tried getting building permits for five years and have still been refused. The hassles they must go through are unbelievable. They must pay thousands of dollars every time they initiate a permit application process.
One family that is seeking to build an addition to their home will have paid $80,000 by the time they get their permit, and they are being required to give up some of their property on top of that! Then they still have to pay the cost of the renovation.
Up to 80 percent of the Palestinian homes have demolition orders on them because they were built without a permit. They must live with the haunting awareness of a circle of soldiers around their house and bulldozers may greet them on any given morning, ordering them to vacate within hours because their home will be bulldozed.
Jewish people who move to the settlements that are being built on Palestinian land are paid to move there and get brand, new beautiful homes with sidewalks and lawns.28
Overseas visitors are commonly exposed to exaggerated reports such as this and tend to unquestioningly accept their authenticity. Home demolitions, like water, is a topic that arouses great passion. It is impossible not to empathize with a family agonizing before its newly demolished home, irrespective of the building’s legality. Some protest tours sometimes include a visit such a site even if the demolition is not recent. The devastating image burnt into the visitors' minds are photographed and later uploaded to Internet sites and shared with thousands. Whether or not a demolition is justifiable on legal grounds is immaterial to visiting activists. To them it remains self-evident that the demolition of any Palestinian home by Israeli bulldozers constitutes a grievous violation of human rights.
Are Arab residents of Jerusalem deliberately discriminated against on the issue of building rights by Israeli officials as they and their activist supporters allege? The following three researchers deny this.
Basing his work on official documents and maps, Professor Justus Reid Weiner, a Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, makes the case that since reunification in 1967 Arab population growth in Jerusalem has actually outpaced Jewish population growth. In 1967, Jerusalem was more than 73 percent Jewish and today that majority is down to 69 percent. In his book, “Illegal Construction in Jerusalem” (2003), Weiner presents extensive data demonstrating that:
- Both Arabs and Jews typically wait 4-6 weeks for permit approval, enjoy a similar rate of application approvals, and pay an identical fee ($3,600) for water and sewage hook-ups on the same size living unit.
- The same procedures for administrative demolition orders apply to both Jews and Arabs in all parts of the city, as a final backstop to remove structures built illegally on roadbeds or land designated for schools, clinics, and the like
- The Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector, seeing this as part of their "demographic war" against Israel29
The second researcher, Eric Rozenman, in a CAMERA report, forcefully refutes a report by USA Today correspondent Matthew Guttman that claims that Israel maintains a discriminatory housing demolition policy against Arab residents of Eastern Jerusalem.30 “By focusing on 88 homes in one Arab neighborhood,” says Rozenman, “USA Today avoids the fact that the same procedures apply to demolition of illegal Jewish structures and that in recent years the vast majority of demolitions in Jerusalem have been of Jewish buildings.”
And finally, Max Davis’s article “Illegal Construction: a Legal Deconstruction” published in the Harvard Israel Review asserts how “beyond defiling personal land ownership rights, (Arab) illegal construction in Jerusalem neighborhoods has marred city planning of such infrastructure as roadbeds, waterlines, and electricity.”31
Yet, these findings appear flaccid against the pathos of a freshly bulldozed home, the sight of a family’s furniture and personal belongings scattered in the street, and of course, the anguish of seeing children now dispossessed. The indignation of overseas visitors who have been taken to witness the aftermath of the demolition of a Palestinian home can never be mollified by hard data and legal arguments. What they return home with is the memory of others’ suffering because, they are taught, of Israel.
Checkpoints – Another major grievance of overseas visitors is what they view as Israel's policy of collective punishment. They most often associate this charge with the scattered military checkpoints that were set up to monitor the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank. Beginning in 1987, with the outbreak of the First Intifada, the IDF increased the number of simple checkpoints in an effort to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israel. In response to the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993 and especially after the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, the IDF established a network of more sophisticated checkpoints throughout Judea and Samaria. Their purpose is to impede the transportation of weapons, explosive materials and devices, and terrorists from one point in the West Bank to another.
As it is not common practice among terrorists to identify themselves by badge or otherwise during the execution of a mission, virtually all Palestinians are equally subject to a search at IDF checkpoints, including women, children and the elderly. This strict policy was vindicated when Palestinian terror cells were caught by Israel employing women and even ambulances to convey explosive materials and weapons. However, these shocking revelations do not stop visiting activists from claiming that the checkpoints remain a form of “collective punishment.”
Groups with whom I speak connect the violence perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists and the indignity Palestinians experience at IDF checkpoints. “Wouldn’t you be just as angry,” I have been asked, “if each day you were forced to wait hours in line at checkpoints and were subjected to abuse by Israeli soldiers?” My stated empathy for hapless Palestinians who must pass through these checkpoints and my suggestion that checkpoints be manned only by more mature IDF soldiers who have received training in crowd control win no points with these groups; nor does my argument that, although imperfect and problematic, these checkpoints are necessary as they help foil terrorists’ efforts aimed at innocent civilians, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
How have foreign visitors responded upon learning of the four residents of Efrat who were murdered during the Second Intifada in drive-by terrorist shootings along Route 60 not ten minutes from where our discussion is taking place? Group after group has responded with a perfunctory censure of Palestinian terrorism that is both brief and sounds token. Many visitors respond with an uncomfortable silence. The condemnation expressed is sometimes couched in language that almost excuses terrorism. One young European woman expressed the clichéd but nevertheless moronic rationale “Maybe what you call terror, they call resistance.” It is hard to think that such statements emerge from individuals who have come to the region purportedly to promote the cause of peace. Some visitors have hinted at their approval of terrorist tactics with the question “Well, what would you do if you were in their situation?”
As a resident of Efrat since 1985, I, unlike these visitors, can recount our lives in this area prior to the First Intifada that broke out in September 1987. I relate to them how in those years there were virtually no IDF checkpoints on our roads, and how my wife and I would stop in Bethlehem on the way home from Jerusalem, young children in tow, to purchase fruit and vegetables from Arab stores at the roadside stands that lined Route 60 near Rachel’s Tomb; the quality of the produce was good and the prices were often cheaper than in our local supermarket or in Jerusalem. The appearance of checkpoints and the increased IDF presence on our roads was Israel’s response to the growing phenomenon of Palestinian terror. Terror begat the checkpoints, I remind groups; not the other way around.
A popular item on the itinerary of many protest tours of the area is photographing Palestinians standing in line at the Bethlehem - Jerusalem checkpoint. This form of protest is often arranged through the Israel NGO Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch.32 Witnessing the early morning, slow and teeming procession of people through a long and narrow, wire-enclosed checkpoint evokes the observers’ sympathies. The frustration inherent in this scene, and the accompanying stories of humiliation and physical mistreatment by soldiers, easily outweighs the argument that these checkpoints protect lives. The daily disruption of Palestinian lives caused by the checkpoints is apparently to some visitors a greater violation of human rights than the taking of lives by terrorists that checkpoints deter. Some visitors seem to have trouble understanding the relationship between terrorism and checkpoints. In their view checkpoints are just one more means employed by Israel to embitter the lives of Palestinians… and therefore a plausible excuse for terrorism.
The Security Barrier – In the eyes of many visitors the most insidious symbol of Israel’s administration of the West Bank is “The Wall,” officially Israel’s Anti-Terrorist Fence. Irrespective of the controversy that surrounds it, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, “The fence substantially improves the ability of the IDF to prevent infiltration of terrorists and criminal elements into Israel.”33 But virtually all visitors to Efrat express their displeasure over “The Wall.”
Some 95% of the planned but still incomplete 440-mile-long security barrier consists of a highly sophisticated, multi-layered electronic fence. Only 5-6% of its length is slated to be cast and reinforced concrete. Furthermore, along its route at key points are gates to accommodate the crossing of Arab pedestrians, vehicles and herds. These facts belie the malevolent depiction of the barrier promoted by its detractors who insist on referring to it solely as a “wall.” Pro-Palestinian groups have succeeded in forging the association between Israel's security barrier and both South Africa’s former apartheid system and the infamous Berlin Wall. This tactic has proven to be effective in drawing worldwide attention and turning this issue into a true cause célèbre. Dignitaries, politicians, artists and musicians from numerous countries have been photographed standing before it either to decorate it with political graffiti or to leave their signature. It was the construction of the barrier that first engendered the use by critics of the term “apartheid,” unquestionably this era’s most powerful expression of social disapprobation, in an endeavor to strongly condemn all aspects of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and contribute to her delegitimization.
My view of this barrier is quite different than that of these visitors. The heightened security for which it is responsible has changed all lives for the better. For local Israelis, its physical presence is felt only where, for a short distance, the barrier actually assumes the form of a wall. This is where Route 60 skirts the Arab town of Beit Ja’ala, south of Jerusalem and runs adjacent to Bethlehem. It is here, at the height of the Second Intifada, that automatic weapons were fired from rooftops in Beit Ja'ala onto the road. Today this extended wall strategically blocks the line-of-fire from the town onto this section of the highway. Apart from a single grey lookout tower positioned to oversee the southern end of Beit Ja’ala and the valley beneath it, there is nothing that suggests the wall's security purpose. There is no unsightly barbed wire; rather, its brick facade is stylized and decorated with shrubbery and young trees. At this point along its route the wall might be confused for a standard highway acoustical barrier. A different section of this wall situated closer to the eight-lane (four in each direction), permanent checkpoint is admittedly more ominous. It is much higher, rising some 25 feet, and its grey exterior is makes it appear much more foreboding. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for potential suicide bombers to physically negotiate any section of this barrier, or for snipers to again menace the thousands of daily local commuters, Jews, Arabs, or even overseas tourists, that travel this highway.
Along Route 60 near Beit Ja’ala the security barrier does not divide private Arab property. No one is physically separated from their workplace or field. In fact, a large vehicular and pedestrian tunnel, a complicated and costly engineering undertaking, was created beneath Route 60 to allow residents of Beit Ja’ala direct access to the neighboring village of Hussan. Foreign visitors are not impressed by this costly accommodation to the needs of local residents. In their eyes, this wall is an expression of human separation and repression. Even though it is a proven deterrent to terrorism, this barrier remains a sore in the eyes of every group I meet. As with the checkpoints, this barrier seems a greater evil in the eyes of many visitors than the murder of innocents at the hands of terrorists that is prevents.
The visitors with whom I speak in Efrat fall into three broad categories.34 The first, some ten percent of all groups, seems to be comprised of veteran partisans of the Palestinian narrative.. Some of these individuals are already activists in their home communities, on campuses or via the Internet. Most have been to “Palestine” before, sometimes to lead groups such as those that visit Efrat, and in fact, have been to Efrat previously. Some have lived among Palestinians as representatives of their church, a pro-Palestinian NGO, or independently, for anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. Some speak, or are learning to speak, Arabic. From time to time a visitor who falls into this category, more often a young woman, arrives in Efrat prominently wearing a black and white Arab keffiyeh around the neck scarf-style; this is fashion as political protest. In an effort to identify with the subject of their protest these Western devotees may come across as being “more Palestinian” than Palestinians. This type of visitor tends to be the most vocal. Sometimes, though, like the classic shill, she will initially sit quietly among the other visitors, only to reveal herself later by launching a political diatribe. Using various rhetorical provocations, including bombastic allegations, unsupported accusations, dubious facts, unsubstantiated generalizations, and anecdotes whose authenticity is suspect, these ideological militants seem intent on driving their political message directly into the “belly of the beast” on its home turf by speaking out on behalf of Palestinians inside a settlement. But when confronted with the uncomfortable legacy of Palestinian terrorism, these visitors typically and quickly redirect the discussion to such popular, in their circles, topics as the July 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem by the pre-state Irgun organization of "the Jewish terrorist leader" Menachem Begin, the still unresolved circumstances surrounding the shooting of some 100 residents of the Arab village of Deir Yassin in April 1948 by Irgun and Lehi forces, the 400 Arab villages that were demolished by Israel during the “Nakba” (Destruction) of 1948, or more recently to the IDF’s actions in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.35 This type of visitor typically advocates “the right of return” for Palestinians in the event of a two-state solution, but prefers a one-state solution (with a Palestinian majority).
A second type of visitor, also roughly ten percent of all those who come to Efrat, demonstrates minimum knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This person may have joined the tour at the invitation of a friend, or simply responded to an opportunity to visit the Holy Land, with little initial interest in the itinerary's political content and objectives. Nevertheless, having come on the tour, this visitor’s initial personal exposure to the region is by way of the Palestinian narrative. This experience may motivate him to become a pro-Palestinian activist at a later point in time. This is certainly a desired goal of the tour’s sponsors. But even if this never happens it is likely that this person will never have another kind word to say about the state of Israel.
The remaining and most significant category is comprised of some seventy-five to eighty percent of visitors. Many, even most, of those in this middle category typically arrive with some degree of anti-Israel bias. This is not surprising considering the group with whom they are traveling. But their darker views of Israel only emerge by the end of the tour.
Winning over this middle group is a key goal of the tour, a goal considered to be at least as important as the camaraderie the visitors come to show Palestinians. After having seen the “occupation” up close they are asked to “bear witness” and to “go back and tell what you’ve seen.” In many cases this request is unnecessary. By the time their tour nears its end these visitors hardly require instigation; their self-motivation is at a peak and they are most ready and willing to take on this task. Many of these visitors are already active in one or more human rights organizations and social justice causes, church sponsored or otherwise. Assorted social justice activities loom large among Mennonites, Quakers (Friends), and the United Church of Christ who also advocate on behalf of Palestinian nationalism. But also higher church denominations, particularly the Presbyterian, but also Methodist and Lutheran churches, have become partisans of the Palestinian cause and regularly organize visits to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. There is no doubt that the activities of the international BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement that is directed against the economy of the state of Israel, or similar political groups, are supported by people whose partisan view of the conflict was adopted while participating in one of these tours.
An actual example of this phenomenon is a middle-aged man who visited Efrat this past January with an American church group numbering some 30 members. Following the group discussion this man approached me as his colleagues were returning to their bus. He wished to speak to me privately, he said. Prior to this trip, he confessed, he was, in his words, “Ninety-five per cent for Israel, and five per cent for 'them.' Now I’m about fifty – fifty. It’s the things that I’ve seen with my own eyes.” As he said this, he literally pointed to his eyes. And this group was only halfway through its tour.
International visitors accept the contention that the “settlement” of Efrat is built on "illegally occupied Palestinian territory" and that the synagogue in which we meet sits on "stolen land." Over the years I have witnessed a few visitors refuse to alight from their bus in protest. Naturally, these critics cannot substantiate this allegation; it is a political perception, something they read or were told, that has become, for these people, reality. My explanation to them that the town of Efrat is spread out over an area that was never privately owned Palestinian land, but rather a barren and rocky collection of unclaimed hills inhospitable to agriculture, is dubiously received. One visitor's completely ahistorical account of recent Middle-East events has the West Bank legally belonging to Jordan from 1948, who later officially transferred it to the Palestinians, ergo, Efrat legally belongs to Palestine.
Not surprisingly, no group with whom I meet accepts the Jewish claim of Divine Right to the Land of Israel. When I cite God’s covenant with the People of Israel, repeated to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, an eternal covenant entrusting the Land of Israel to the People of Israel, even Christian respondents often attempt to evade this point. Instead, they switch the conversation to the rights of “the people (Arabs) who have been living on this land for thousands (sic) of years."
At times, although not often, the age-old Christian animus against Judaism and Jews surfaces. During a particular visit a woman belonging to the United Church of Christ was forthright in her dismissal of God’s covenant with Israel. She opined that the Jewish people lost the Land because “they refused to accept His son.” The UCC is a partner of the Sabeel Ecumenical Palestinian Liberation Theology Center. The Center is a Jerusalem-based institution, established in 1989 by Rev. Dr. Naim Atik, a Palestinian Episcopal priest. Rev. Atik is associated with a political-religious ideology called “Liberation Theology,” which preaches that “power is a liability” and “the weak are inherently just.” Atik also promotes “Replacement” or “Secessionist” theology whereby the Christian Church replaces Israel as God’s Chosen People.36 In his many talks before thousands of overseas visitors he likens Israel to the oppressive Romans and the Palestinians to the figure of Christ, with references to classical Christian anti-Semitic tropes. According to Palestinian Liberation Theology, while the modern Jewish state of Israel may exist de facto, its existence has no basis in the Christian Bible. This, according to Atik, logically opens the argument for a one state future. The Sabeel Center also has ties to the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) whose web site acknowledges having “assisted the Center through financial support and volunteer mission personnel.”
In contrast to most American visitors who tour the area under church-sponsored auspices, many Europeans, particularly those under the age of forty, look upon themselves as being post-Christian. Rarely does a European group representing a church arrive in Efrat. I will ask European visitors for a show of hands from Christians in the group; hardly one is raised. These non-believers consider it absurd in the 21st century for people to assert nationalist claims on the basis of an ancient religious narrative. Among secular French, Belgium, Norwegian, Spanish and British groups, Prime Minister’s David Ben Gurion’s famous statement that the Hebrew Bible is the Jewish People’s historic deed to the Land of Israel elicits only smirks.
Inter-organizational Efforts at Delegitimization
The assorted Church groups and human rights organizations that tour Israel and the Palestinian Authority do so independently. However, attempts are underway to forge connections between them. A primary example of this effort are the March 2010 and March 2012 conferences organized under the auspices of the Bethlehem Bible College entitled “Christ at the Checkpoint.”37 These two ostensibly theological confabs convened some over 200 mainly Evangelical Christians, respectively, including clergy, educators and lay leaders, from a host of U.S. and European churches and teaching institutions. The official mission of this now bi-annual event (a third is scheduled for March 2014) is “to challenge Evangelicals to take responsibility to help resolve the conflicts in Israel-Palestine by engaging with the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.”38
However, the conference’s unpublicized goal is to forge new political inroads among Evangelical Christians and their churches, turning them away from their traditional support of Israel and transferring their allegiance to the Palestinian cause. Conference attendees spent six intensive days listening to presentations by Christian theologians, some of whom have been cited by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles for their anti-Israel and anti-Jewish teachings. In 2010, despite the conference’s unambiguous opposition to the “illegal Jewish settlements” approximately one-hundred conference attendees paid a brief visit to the “settlement” of Efrat. To the chagrin of some of the more hostile conference participants, 39 during the visit to Efrat some of the visitors expressed empathy and identification with the renewal of Jewish life in Judea and Samaria. Still, at the close of that conference an action-oriented statement was approved and signed by the organizers committing them and all other signatories to:
“…reconnect with the local Palestinian church and to listen and learn from all those who follow Jesus in the Holy Land and to share their stories with our own faith communities.”
“…work together to advocate changes in public policy and so achieve a just and lasting resolution of the conflict.”
These seemingly innocuous pledges conceal a political agenda whose goal is to extirpate the presence of Israel from all of Judea and Samaria, as well as Eastern Jerusalem. Some of the speakers also spoke in support of a “one-state solution,” code for the dissolution of the state of Israel.
Another example of the growing network and cooperation among unrelated pro-Palestinian groups is reflected in the work of Interfaith Peace-Builders. The IFPB website offers profiles of, in its words, “a few of the many activists who have utilized an IFPB delegation to its fullest potential.”40 It describes pro-Palestinian activities undertaken by participants from different backgrounds upon returning to their communities from a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. They are presented as model programs to be shared by pro-Palestinian activists throughout the world.
Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic?
Visitors avoid language that may be construed as anti-Semitic. From time to time, however, the comments of some activists suggest that their problems with Israel are, in the end, related to their feelings about Jews. The comments above by the woman from the United Church of Christ bear no connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Another example are the remarks of one Belgian man who stated that he rejects the Jews’ biblical right to the Land of Israel based as it is on the “racist claim of the Jews as God’s Chosen People.” A Scandinavian woman belonging to a multi-national delegation dismissed my suggestion that an equitable solution for Palestinians who might be able to prove having lost a home in 1948 be in the form of financial compensation. Gesticulating, with her voice raised, she declared, “Do you think everything is about money, money, money?!” Another visitor from Belgium, in a matter-of-fact tone, stated that the reason the United Nations voted for partitioning mandated Palestine in 1947, resulting in the creation of a Jewish state is, "according to popular rumor, because Jews paid them (sic) off."
Some years ago, a practicing Christian from the U.S., who, as it turns out, did not see eye-to-eye with his more politically liberal traveling companions, share his personal Israel – Palestine travelogue with me following his return home. According to his notes:
One day early in our tour, we visited a resident of an Israeli village called Efrat. During our tour, we would meet several people in several villages along the way, but this was the only person we would meet with an opposing view to that of our other interviews. The leader of our tour group, H, advised us that this visit was on our itinerary, but it would be brief, for this guy had a difficult time with the truth, that we actually couldn't believe much of what he said. She just wanted for us to hear how stupid the opposing arguments sounded.
I listened intently to this Mr. Ardie Geldman. He neither criticized nor debased the Palestinians in any way. I noticed the others were barely paying attention. They never asked him any questions, even tho' he said a couple of things that were contrary to their agenda. I didn't see them take notes like they did in other interviews. I could tell they were anxious to get out of there. I asked him a couple of questions, I tried to draw him into debate, but the leader of our group cut the interview short, and we were off to other interviews that were more agreeable to her ears. I was disappointed, I wanted to hear more, but H said that was enough. She later said Mr. Geldman was an illegal resident, living in an 'illegal settlement' on land the Israelis had stolen from the Palestinians. I asked her how she knew that. She asked me if I was familiar with all the resolutions Israel was in violation of. I told her, ”I read the material you sent to me, I also read other material, too, and that I could refer her to a few [resolutions] the Palestinians were in violation, too.
After we were in the car, they discussed how the Israelis lie and steal. They debased and slandered the Israelis. I almost lost my composure, again, but I remained calm. It wasn't until after I met D at the Knights' Hotel did I come apart. His conversation was so full of attacks on Israel, he sounded racist. After that confrontation, I told my buddies I was finished. I'd travel with them and be cordial during the day to complete the tour, but that I couldn't join in the prayer circles at night or listen to their slanderous discussions any longer, for I wasn't praying for the same things they were." I much preferred being apart from these guys.
This visitor also forwarded me samples of subsequent email correspondence between himself and members of his travel group that revealed additional anti-Israel comments tinged with anti-Semitic nuances.
Jewish and Muslim Participants
I was admittedly taken aback many years ago when an overseas visitor, part of a European delegation, stood and introduced her question to me with the words “I am Jewish, and….” Since then I have become inured to discovering Jews among these groups. When this occurs, the Jewish visitors are usually accompanying a secular human rights groups; however, over the years a few have come to Efrat as members of a church-sponsored delegation. Recently, among a group of Americans teens from a Quaker high school were one Muslim and two Jewish pupils. Being Jewish within such groups undoubtedly carries with it a special cachet. Regardless of how little Jewish knowledge one possesses or how marginally affiliated one may be with the organized Jewish community, the token Jewish member of the group is regarded by his non-Jewish fellow travelers as an authoritative Jewish voice on matters pertaining to Judaism and Israel. From this perspective what greater testimony to the rightness of their reproach of Israel is there than having their criticism reaffirmed by a Jew?
Although I no longer find the presence of Jews among these groups shocking, one event that occurred in the mid-1990s continues to haunt me. A darkly-complected young woman who stated that she had emigrated some years earlier from Iran to the U.S. rose before her non-Jewish peers and proclaimed her shame at being Jewish, a feeling she blamed on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Following the silence in the room, I offered my sympathy to this person and proceeded to receive the next question.
Was this woman’s confession an example of Jewish self-hatred? Possibly. Do most of the Jewish participants I have encountered in these groups suffer from self-hatred? While there is no basis upon which to render judgment, I sense that they do not. The few Jewish participants I encounter are convinced that their commitment to “ending the occupation” reflects a cardinal, even the highest, Jewish value, namely tikkun olam, “repair of the world,” or social justice.
Among such Jews is Mark Braverman, 41 grandson of a fifth generation Palestinian Jew born in Jerusalem, who attended an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation in July 2006 and co-lead a second delegation in July 2007. These experiences, he explains, transformed him personally and catalyzed his activism.
Since his 2007 delegation, Braverman has been active with Friends of the Tent of Nations North America (FOTONNA), the organization he co-founded with IFPB delegates Bill Plitt, Bill Mims and John Van Wagoner (among others).
Since the founding of FOTONNA in 2007, the group has organized speaking tours bringing Palestinian farmer and Tent of Nations head Daoud Nassar to Washington DC, Connecticut, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
In addition to his work with FOTONNA, Braverman also serves as the Executive Director of the Holy Land Education and Peacebuilding Project, he sits on the Board of Directors of the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions – USA, and is a member of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Policy. He maintains his own website, 42 travels often to present on Israel/Palestine, and has published several articles in news outlets and journals. Braverman is the author of Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land.43
The fact that Braverman is a Jew with family roots in Israel only strengthens his credibility amongst critics of Israel, even if his extreme position is the exception. He is ideologically akin to those few Jewish members of these groups who have stated that perhaps it would be better for Jews and for the world if Israel did not exist.
Similar to that smattering of Jews who accompany the groups that come to Efrat, there is also a small, but seemingly growing number of overseas-based Muslim visitors. These participants from North America and Europe generally accompany secular human rights, or even more often, university student delegations; they do not join church-based groups (though some Christian Arabs have).
Just as a Jewish participant assumes important symbolic status among these non-Jewish groups, so the Muslim member lends authenticity to allegations against Israel. When the discussion turns to the construction of settlements, Muslim visitors have claimed that his or her grandfather was a Palestinian farmer prior to 1948 whose land was taken without compensation to make way for the creation of the state of Israel, or after 1967 stolen by settlers to build their settlement. In response I argue that to be convincing any accusation of this severity requires documented evidence, such as a bona fide deed to the land; an unsubstantiated charge of land theft or the ubiquitous old, rusty key may be dramatic and engender great emotion but does not constitute legal proof of ownership. Never has a Muslim visitor offered evidence in support of any such claim made during a visit. However, evidence is immaterial to the other members of the group who by the look on their faces reveal their identification with their Muslim colleague's accusation.
How is it possible for intelligent adults to willfully submit to the transparently bias inherent in all pro-Palestinian protest tours? How is it that otherwise intelligent people raise no questions about the obviously partial content of the program each one has paid a significant amount of money in which to participate? Do human rights advocates so much wish to see the world conform to their personal definition of justice that they allow wishful thinking to cloud their judgment? Is this an example of willful blindness? What does it take for these visitors to challenge the veracity of the Palestinian narrative?
Alas, it appears that many visitors, are in fact, quite willing to accept uncorroborated allegations as truth, at least those allegations that emanate from Palestinian sources. The dynamics of this come to light in a written exchange between this author and a British representative of Christian Peacemaker’s Team (CPT) that was subsequently published in NGO Monitor:
Alwyn Knight of CPT writes to Ardie Geldman, following a visit by CPT to Geldman's Efrat home. Knight writes "on behalf of the group" and repeats claims made by "a spokesperson for the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions," that "sewerage works for Efrat, … are being built – we understand – on land confiscated from local Palestinian farmers." Geldman refutes this claim and many others: "the pipes you describe are not sewerage pipes. They are rainwater and irrigation water drainage pipes … The land in question was filled in by the army, and to prevent flooding these drainage pipes were installed. So, contrary to what you were told and what you did see with your own eyes, the land you visited is not owned by Palestinian farmers, the pipes you saw are not sewerage pipes, and the city of Efrat has nothing to do with this project.44
The specious allegation of land confiscation and intentional ground pollution went unchallenged by my correspondent and his visiting delegation, raising the likelihood that this misinformation was shared by members of his CPT delegation with others who passed it on yet again. Were my correspondent and his colleagues so self-righteous that they invited themselves to be misled? Did they at any point challenge what they were taken to see and what they were told by their Palestinian interlocutors? Or, were they satisfied to have their existing prejudices confirmed? Alwyn Knight never responded to the answers I submitted.
Exposing the Positive
The fact that over the last two decades thousands of foreign visitors have participated in tours of Israel and the Palestinian Authority under pro-Palestinian auspices has no doubt added to the ranks of activists who support Palestinian nationalism and emboldened the activism of existing supporters. To acknowledge this and but remain passive is tantamount to aiding this effort. What counter steps, therefore, constitute an effective response? What approach should be considered and how should it be implemented?
The principle underlying every pro-Palestinian itinerary is to present Palestinian society as gloomy and in a virtually hopeless state and to attribute this situation solely to Israel and “the occupation.” Missing or given less attention are the increasingly number of more affluent sectors of Palestinian society, such as those referred to above in "This Week in Palestine." According to recent reports coming out of Israel, as well as reports issued by Palestinian sources and overseas observers, sectors within Palestinian society are experiencing an unprecedented period of growth.45Beginning in 2009, according to Wikipedia, “an economic boom (among Palestinians) began with growth reaching 7 percent, higher than in Israel or the West.” Tourism to Bethlehem, which had doubled to 1 million in 2008, rose to nearly 1.5 million in 2009. New car imports have increased by 44 percent. New shopping malls have opened in Jenin, Nablus and even Gaza. Palestinian developers are now completing the first modern Palestinian city, Rawabi."46 Overall, during the last eight years the Palestinian economy had risen over 10 percent,47 though more recently it has dropped off in spite of Israeli incentives to assist it growth.48
Consistent with the decided agenda of these visits, none of the groups coming to Efrat are offered exposure to the many new Palestinian enterprises that are responsible for Palestinian society’s economic development. For example, it is unlikely that any of the groups that briefly visit Efrat have been brought to spend their tourist dollars in the modern, new commercial areas of Ramallah and Jenin. Nor are these groups given an opportunity to hold discussions with successful Palestinian businesspeople. Among these are a growing number of young and successful hi-tech entrepreneurs whose efforts mirror some of the start-up achievements of Israelis. Small are the chances that these overseas visitors have been apprised of the numerous joint Israeli-Palestinian small business ventures, including the activities of the Israeli-Palestinian Business Council, an organization launched in May 2007 by a high-powered group of Palestinian and Israeli CEOs. Visitors are also decidedly not informed of cooperative efforts between various Israeli and Palestinian groups to protect shared environmental resources, such as the work of the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee. The volatility of Jewish-Arab relations in Hebron is the sole focus of overseas participants’ visits to that city. It is unlikely that protest tourists are informed by their Hebron guides of the joint Jewish-Arab initiative to clear the Tel Hebron archeological site of trash and of joint recycling efforts and their accompanying ecological and economic benefits.49
Since it is in the interest of the tours organizers to promote the calumny that Israel maintains an apartheid system throughout Judea and Samaria, a visit to the Ariel University Center in Samaria to meet some of its more than 300 Arab students, including non-citizen Palestinians, is never included in the itinerary of any of these groups; nor would a drive along the many highways of Judea and Samaria to demonstrate that these allegedly “apartheid” roads are, in fact, open to - and well-traveled daily by – Palestinians, often in late model and expensive vehicles.50 A walk along many of Jerusalem’s main commercial streets and through her shopping malls testifies to the openness of Israel’s capitol to East Jerusalem Arabs as well as West Bank Palestinians, a reality that starkly contradicts what these groups are told. Are overseas visitors made aware of the April 2010 interfaith marathon between Jews, Christians and Muslims, including Palestinians, whose route began in Bethlehem and ended in Jerusalem's Old City? As reported at the time on Israel's YNet:
Tourism Ministry Stas Misezhnikov noted, "Unlike political initiatives of a provocative nature …, these unique sporting events that were held at the same time in Jerusalem, contribute to co-existence. They are a fascinating meeting between Italian Catholics, Israelis, and Palestinians, that are meant to encourage pilgrimage to the Holy Land, peace and dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.51
No group of pro-Palestinian visitors to Efrat, to my knowledge, has ever been taken to visit the emergency rooms or wards of Israel’s hospitals where they would witness non-citizen Palestinians benefiting from Israel’s first class medical care, the cost of which, depending the circumstances, might be borne either by the hospital itself, the state of Israel, or private philanthropy. Here the visitor would also see Israeli - Arab as well as Palestinian patients receiving treatment from both Arab and Jewish doctors, nurses and technicians. Nor have these groups been informed of Israel’s highly celebrated "Save-a-Child's Heart" organization, based at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, whose mission to provide life-saving cardiac treatment and heart surgery to impoverished Third World children includes Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.52
Finally, any protest tour truly seeking to expose overseas visitors to the full reality of Israel-Palestinian relations might include a meeting with S’de Boaz* resident Nachum Pachenick and Shaul David Judelman a resident of the community of Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion. In 2009 Pachenick and Judelman co-founded the EretzShalom (Land of Peace) movement dedicated to promoting dialogue and joint activities between local settlers and Palestinians. Judelman advocates for the right of Palestinian residents of the nearby village of Khirbat Zekaria to attain building permits from Israel’s Civil Administration.
But even when exposed to authentic examples of Israeli-Palestinian co-existence and cooperation, activists who are resolutely partisan are unlikely to be affected by conflicting facts. These “cognitive dissidents” remain viscerally committed to their cause in spite of evidence to the contrary. During discussions they appear psychologically incapable of processing information that presents Israel in a more positive light. They tend to avoid dialogue with others who might seriously challenge their beliefs. Thus, the plethora of meetings with Palestinians and Israeli leftists that fill their itineraries in contrast to the dearth of meetings with residents of Judea and Samaria or leaders of Israel’s political right. Visitors of this type constitute, as noted above, a minority, perhaps 10 percent of participants on protest tours. But because of their political activism their influence exceeds their small numbers.
Hearts and Minds
With each additional visit of foreign tourists to the Palestinian Authority, Israel is losing hearts and minds in the same way the hearts and minds of so many Americans and other Westerners were lost during the Vietnam War era. Daily images of that war on American television and the constant “body bag” reports of the number of American soldiers killed eventually succeeded in turning the feelings of middle-America against the war. Rationalizing the war as necessary to prevent the spread of Communism did not measure up against the overwhelming images of dead and maimed young soldiers.
“Sir, I respect what you have told us today. But, sir, I know what my eyes have seen, I know what my ears have heard, and I know what my heart feels. And, sir, I am leaving here with a broken heart.” (The words belong to a senior female British tourist in Efrat)
In the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, so many hearts and minds continue to be lost by Israel and won by the Palestinians on the basis of images. Many of these images are deceiving and accompanied by misinformation. However they may be deceptive, these emotionally charged images are regularly employed in efforts to delegitimize Israel.53 In some cases, the images depict matters to which Israel has no connection – random images of poor, bedraggled Palestinians; images that have been fabricated – i.e., the Mohammed Al Dura Affair and the so-called “Jenin Massacre”; or images that lend themselves to hyperbole – virtually any photograph of an Israeli checkpoint will prompt charges of racism and apartheid. The efficacy of false imagery is proportional to the unfamiliarity of its audience with the realities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict; the greater the viewers’ ignorance the easier it is to deceive them through the use of concocted imagery.
Towards the end of a discussion the following question is almost always presented by a member of the visiting group, "So, how do you see an end to the conflict?" “At the present time,” I answer, “I do not see an end to the conflict in the near future. Rather, I think more in terms of conflict management.” This frank response wins no points among most visitors whose worldview compels them to believe that a peaceful solution can and should be found to every conflict. They are searching for that light at the end of the tunnel, or in the interim at least some light within the tunnel.
Many visitors representing the middle category seem less interested in discussing the past and more interested in discussing an end to the conflict. They are curious to know my thoughts about this; do I prefer a two-state or a one-state solution? Many visitors see in a one-state solution a more equitable resolution of the conflict. Many are troubled by the concept that Israel is, in some way, a Jewish state. They remain dubious regarding its claim to be both Jewish and democratic. Their ideal is the creation of a new, secular, democratic Middle-Eastern state offering proportional representation to all its citizens to replace the state of Israel. They entertain this vision out of a desire to see peace and security for all peoples in the region – whatever that takes and the sooner the better. They do not stop to consider the doubtful viability of the single state they propose. From their perspective a combined Palestinian-Israel state represents the best solution for both Jews and Arabs.
Israel is fighting international delegitimization on multiple fronts. The NGOs mentioned above, those who successfully exploit the openness and freedom of Israeli society to promote a pro-Palestinian agenda, ironically offer Israel a useful model for combating delegitimization at the grass-roots level. Holy Land Trust, for example, is a Palestinian non-profit organization founded in 1998 in Bethlehem by Sami Awad. HLT's purported mission is to work “with the Palestinian community at grass-roots and leadership levels to develop non-violent approaches that aim to end the Israeli occupation and build a future on the principles of non-violence, equality, justice, and peaceful coexistence.” But in reality HLT creates and executes highly politically-oriented tours and educational programs with an unambiguous anti-Israel theme. Its worldwide market targets churches, community organizations, college and high school students, as well as individual tourists. HLT’s market is broad based and grass roots and it spreads a wide net.
Missing in Israel's public relations arsenal is a robust Counter Tourism program directed, like Holy Land Trust, primarily to non-elites. It would offer balance to the partisan experiences and imagery that constitute the essential elements of pro-Palestinian protest tours. The goal of Counter Tourism is to improve Israel’s international image and recapture people’s hearts and minds. Its programmatic objective is to provide personal encounters for (mostly non-Jewish) international visitors with (1) Israeli families, religious and secular, living in Judea and Samaria, and (2) joint Israeli - Palestinian projects in both the private and public sectors, including projects undertaken by Israel on behalf of Palestinians.
In Israel, politically right-oriented research centers, think tanks, could be tapped to contribute to the content of a Counter Tourism program. However, one-sided content would be eschewed; Counter Tourism should not become the politically right mirror image of the leftist protest tour. The program’s on-the-ground implementation would be offered to suitable Israeli incoming tourism agents.54 The marketing of Counter Tourism would be designed to attract primarily non-Jewish tourists with separate programming for church groups, an emphasis on social welfare intervention for human rights groups, and likewise relevant content for other special interest groups such as medical professionals, artists, jurists, media experts and the like. Overseas visitors would pay to participate in these tours, although a fixed per capita subsidy, presumably in the form of a rebate paid to the tourist agency would lower the cost and encourage greater participation. Funding for this subsidy would best come from a private source, such as a foundation. Support from the Israel Government for this program would jeopardize its credibility.
Counter Tourism participants will be encouraged to return home to report what they have seen. The late, popular American entertainer Bobby Darin is believed to have coined the peculiar phrase “People hear what they see.” Actually, this statement is profound. In forming impressions, sight is far more powerful than hearing. One visitor to Efrat, a Canadian photographer, who had become disaffected by the narrow message of his Mennonite church sponsored tour, insightfully commented that “there are many ways of seeing the same thing.” Pro-Palestinian tours regularly show visitors Israel’s “apartheid wall.” Counter Tourism will show visitors the same wall and fence system and explain its success in virtually eliminating the entrance of terrorists into Israel. Counter Tourism will present Israeli-Palestinian relations from Israel’s perspective. While these relations continue to include many points of friction, the program will also shed light on the innumerable day-to-day normal human interactions between Israelis and Palestinians. Counter Tourism will rely mainly upon authentic experiences and images, not on statistics, dry facts, frontal lectures and PowerPoint presentations.
The Image of Hope
Near the end of a recent discussion an American woman blurted out “You can’t end without giving us hope. Where is the hope?” One example of hope may be found in the little known activities of MASHAV, Israel’s National Agency for International Cooperation. MASHAV is a division of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is mandated to, among other things, “cooperate with the Palestinian Authority focused on human capacity building and institution building.” MASHAV's mandate includes the fields of commerce, agriculture, education, science, medicine, community development, women's’ rights, environmental protection, sports and culture.55
A summary of MASHAV activities and cooperation with the Palestinian Authority may be found at:
A field visit to any joint Israeli-Palestinian project engenders images many times more powerful than any lecture. Such visits are an opportunity for tourists to witness Palestinians and Israelis working together in an atmosphere that belies allegations of apartheid and racism. These programs, to be sure, do not guarantee a final and equitable settlement between the two peoples. Such an agreement, if it ever comes, is still likely a long way off. But in the interim these cooperative programs expose the human faces on both sides of the conflict. These activities represent win-win projects that Western visitors, in particular, will respond to with optimism and enthusiasm. Other examples of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation may be found at http://italkisrael.com/points-of-light/ 56
No less important than exposing foreign tourists to an array of joint Israel-Palestinian activities is inviting them into the lives, even for short time, of Israeli families, in particular families living in communities throughout Judea and Samaria. Foreign visitors who experience the home hospitality of Jewish families, even for as little as 2-3 consecutive days, but including a full Shabbat, emerge with a different attitude towards the conflict. Home visits allow tourists to see “settlers” as decent human beings, as family members, parents and children, doctors and teachers, not as detached political objects who serve as “obstacles to peace.” Some experience of this type in Efrat and other communities reveal that when tourists are brought into the family circle, even for a short time, political issues take a back seat to shared human interests and concerns. Home hospitality is not meant to obfuscate the political realities surrounding the conflict but rather is a means of demonstrating to those who have grown partial to the Palestinian narrative that “settlers are people too.”
On one hand, it is likely that individuals and organizations who are in principle opposed to Jewish community life in Judea and Samaria would have no interest in participating in a Counter Tourism program. On the other hand, recruiting for this program among friends of Israel, non-Jews and Jews, who do support the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, would be “inviting the choir” and a waste of resources.
The preferred target population of a Counter Tourism campaign is the large number of non-Jews, mainly in North America, who lean to the political left, feel strongly about human rights, are likely to already financially support and/or be active in one or more social justice organizations, but are not closely familiar with the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. The little they know about this subject they derive from the mainstream media; this would leave them with a critical, albeit not, condemning view of Israel. Such people may be found among various human rights groups, labor unions, feminist organizations, and in minority or ethnic circles. Priority should be given to the rank and file, but recruitment efforts should also extend to key U.S. congressmen and to European parliamentarians and their staff, selected opinion makers from the media, and delegations of university students. These are the same categories of people who participate in pro-Palestinian protest tours.
Liberal Jewish circles, including Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanistic Jewish congregations, and independent minyans, as well as various other local and national Jewish organizations, may serve as a bridge to non-Jews affiliated with organizations with whom these Jewish groups cooperate on a variety of domestic issues. For example, Robert Horenstein, Community Relations director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, in an op-ed article in The Jerusalem Report57 refers to his organization’s “grass-roots partnerships with Presbyterians on domestic social justice issues (that) afford us an opening through which to reach out to local clergy as well as the rank-and-file membership (on Israel).” Even non-affiliated Jews could recruit non-Jewish friends and colleagues to join them on these tours.
Overseas tour companies, possibly, though not necessarily under Jewish proprietorship, may also play a role in recruitment. For example, the Palestinian Authority is currently included as an add-on destination following a two-week Israel tour by a private, commercial Boston-based travel agency, Grand Circle Travel, and its overseas subsidiary company, Overseas Adventure Travel. The principals of this travel agency have created a private charitable fund called The Grand Circle Foundation. Its humanitarian mission is described at:
Presumably because of its owners’ interest in promoting selected causes, this company, in addition to offering a conventional tour of Israel led by Israeli Jewish tour guides, offers clients an extended itinerary covering the Palestinian areas and encounters with Palestinians who do not hesitate to present their view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
OAT tourists that arrive in Efrat, according to the company’s website, “visit a settlement of Jewish colons (sic - colonies), and learn about the life of Jewish settlers in the former Palestine.” The OAT extension tour covering Palestinian Authority areas is not an example of protest tourism. It seems that most who opt for it do so mainly out of curiosity, not to make a political statement. These OAT tourists most resemble the first category of visitors discussed above, individuals who initially know little about the conflict. However, following their extension tour of the Palestinian areas it would not be surprising if some of these tourists become new devotees of the Palestinian mission. Though not as blatantly politicized as itineraries developed by Palestinian NGOs, the Grand Circle/Overseas Adventure Tours add-on tour of the Holy Land, which is led exclusively by Palestinian tour guides, includes a visit to the Dheisheh refugee camp, a meeting with Arabs residents (only) in Hebron, and a stop along the walled segment of Israel’s security barrier. The guide’s “bus talk” reflects only the Palestinian perspective and often includes misleading and incorrect statements about Israel and the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Foreign travel agencies offering a Counter Tourism package whose itinerary includes cooperative Israeli-Palestinian projects would represent an unprecedented programming approach in organized commercial tours to Israel.58
For a number of years pro-Palestinian groups have been working steadily to capture the hearts and minds of North Americans, Europeans and other nationals through protest tours and related educational programs. In many cases they have succeeded. Through a carefully designed itinerary that exposes participants to selected information and encounters while denying them exposure to others, many come to identify with the “Palestinian narrative.” Each protest tour is a powerful educational vehicle whose central lesson is the occupation and victimization of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel. Upon their return home some of those who have participated in a protest tour in the Palestinian Authority and Israel will add to the growing body of pro-Palestinian support in their respective countries. A visit to a "settlement" like Efrat, or some other Jewish community in Judea or Samaria, during which protest tour participants are given a brief opportunity to exchange views or debate facts with a "settler" is presented as a reasonable counterpoint to a number of affective encounters among Palestinians. In truth, the “Israeli narrative” offered to them at that time has little, if any, impact upon their views. The conflicting facts they are presented only generate cognitive dissonance. As what they have seen is much more powerful than what they have heard, virtually all visitors remain steadfast in their sympathy for the Palestinians. As one American tourist, whose group had first been taken to visit the Dheisheh refugee camp, then to a small, poor Palestinian village, and finally to Efrat, declared “I hear what you are saying, but I must tell you that after what we’ve seen, Israel is losing the moral war.”
A standard question of visiting groups has been: “If there were two states, Israel and Palestine, and Efrat found itself on the other side, would you be willing to live with your family in a Palestinian state?” Over the last few years, however, a new question has emerged, which asks "Do you support a one or a two state solution?" Promoting the “one-state solution” has been an evolutionary process and is gaining in popularity. The notion that Jews either do not require a sovereign state of their own, or have lost the right to one, is gaining currency in “pro-peace” circles. Some visitors state that they are “only against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land" and not opposed to the existence of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 cease fire lines. However, unrelenting condemnation of the "occupation" has induced other visitors to broaden their criticism to include other aspects of Israeli society, such as allegations concerning the social and economic discrimination faced by Israeli-Arab citizens. Some also cite Israel’s Law of Return as an example of state-sanctioned racism and are dubious about the possibility of Israel being a truly democratic Jewish state. They feel that the social prejudices towards Arabs within Israeli society is but a reflection of its attitude toward the Palestinians. A bi-national state, or a “state of all its citizens,” some international visitors contend, would necessarily end all forms of discrimination. In raising the topic of a “one-state solution” these individuals have no difficulty with a reconfigured Middle-East sans the state of Israel. That just might be the cost, some casually suggest, for true peace to take hold in this region.
The danger to Israel posed by these visits is that each participant has the potential, whether by way of one-on-one discussions, addresses given before small and large audiences, printed materials, and particularly through the use of social media, to effectively disseminate anti-Israeli sentiment to many thousands of people. Organizers of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activities stand to gain new activists and volunteers through these tours. The growing hostility towards Israel in many countries could eventually induce members of parliaments to vote for political, economic and cultural sanctions against her. This would be a slow process, but concern is not unwarranted. This was precisely the experience of South Africa. Beginning with the 1950s the citizens and governments of Western countries became increasingly critical and intolerant of South Africa’s policy of racial apartheid. This process culminated with the paralyzing international penalties imposed on the South African government and all the country’s industries in the 1980s. Such widespread and effective sanctions are dependent upon international grass-roots support. It is precisely this kind of grass-roots sentiment against the state of Israel that Counter Tourism seeks to challenge.
The pro-Palestinian groups that visit Efrat are but among many that move freely throughout Israel and the Palestinian Authority gathering information, taking photographs, and making film clips. Some of this material will later find its way to some forum to be used in arguing the international case against Israel. American alumni alone of all these groups by now number in the thousands. Some contribute to a growing voice whose message it is for the United States to cut back its historic support for Israel. Their activities include cultivating key elected officials and encouraging them to publicly challenge Israel’s security policies. One example of this are the 54 Democratic U.S. Congressmen who signed a letter to President Obama in January 2010 urging that he pressure Israel to open its border with Hamas-ruled Gaza. Some of the individuals who participate in these tours return to their communities and raise funds to support others who engage in anti-Israeli activities. Some are university student activists who organize and lead campus protests against Israel, such as Israel Apartheid Week. Some merely speak badly of Israel to their neighbors.
Israel has repeatedly stated that its goal is to live in peace with the Palestinians as with all countries in the region. However, until that elusive peace comes the most effective response that Israel and her supporters can mount against the phenomenon of protest tours is a Counter Tourism campaign to aid in the rehabilitation of Israel’s failing international image. Too many people in the world, important decision makers and common folk alike, have come to associate Israel with brute military might that is flagrantly used against Palestinians. It is in Israel’s interest that the world recognize that (1) the current overall unenviable state of Palestinian society is mainly the result of decades of corrupt and inferior leadership, (2) that today, in spite of that society’s failings a growing number of Palestinians enjoy material comforts at a level comparable to middle-class citizens in many other countries, and (3) that the state of Israel, along with numerous Israeli NGOs, even sans a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, supports numerous joint projects with Palestinians that are helping to boost the Palestinian economy and improve the quality of Palestinian daily life.
Counter Tourism itineraries will (1) directly expose overseas visitors to joint Israeli – Palestinian enterprises in a wide range of areas and (2) humanize the image of “settlers” who are denied a persona and are often discussed as anonymous political objects. Counter Tourism itineraries will also draw attention to the growth of the Palestinian economy and Israel’s contribution to this phenomenon. Because experiences and images speak louder than words visitors will visit joint Israeli-Palestinian projects and be introduced to their Israeli and Palestinian partners. Foreign visitors will react positively to this experience. They will embrace an Israel that they recognizing making an effort to reach beyond politics and extending a hand to those Palestinians willing to reciprocate. Experience with the multitude of visitors to Efrat indicates that most are seeking the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians. Counter Tourism will afford participants an opportunity to witness examples of authentic Israeli – Palestinian cooperation in the field but under Israeli auspices and from an Israeli perspective.
Counter Tourism does not seek to white-wash outstanding tensions in Israeli-Palestinian relations. At the same time neither does it represent any manner of political concession to Palestinian interests.
Even in the midst of current efforts at arriving at a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists are arriving weekly in Israel. They enter the country as ordinary tourists. They generally proceed directly from Ben-Gurion Airport to Eastern Jerusalem or Bethlehem. After settling into their hotel or hostel they will start their itinerary that will draw them into experiencing aspects of the “Israeli occupation”. On the basis of the frequency of groups coming to Efrat, between two and four per week, it appears that the number of such groups continues to grow.
While a Counter Tourism campaign as describe above cannot by itself significantly improve Israel’s international image, it can help decrease the number of people whose hearts and minds, one-by-one, are being lost by Israel and won over by the Palestinian side. The goal of Counter Tourism is to strengthen the state of Israel’s international image and esteem. Israel cannot afford to be complacent or self-righteous on this matter; she requires allies at all levels, not just elites, in her efforts against delegitimization. Many Western governments, their respective NGOs, their media and citizenry, would be more inclined to understand Israel’s positions and actions if, on one hand they were better apprised of the daily threats Israel faces, and two, they knew of her various collaborative efforts with Palestinians and her government’s many unilateral activities on their behalf. If implemented, a Counter Tourism program that emphasizes these “points of light” and the humanness of the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria will succeed in recruiting new and unanticipated allies in Israel’s current international struggle against delegitimization.
 These are areas that were not part of the state of Israel prior to the June 1967 Six-Day War, but have since been annexed.
 In my presence, the adjective "illegal" is dropped in reference to Efrat.
 Jerusalem Post, February 18, 2010.
 Having visited Yad V'shem, some visitors have, in the past, asked how it is possible for Israel to do to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews.
 For these and other examples of bias against Israel in the media see: Honest Reporting, www.honestreporting.com, and CAMERA, www.camera.org.
 This Week in Palestine, Issue No. 136, August 2009. www.thisweekinpalestine.com
 As an interesting aside, the same issue of this magazine includes an upbeat, but no less politicized, feature sports article on the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), a strictly Arab organization it claims was founded in 1928. Wikipedia appears to challenge this claim: "During the British Mandate of Palestine, organized football consisted of British and Jewish clubs… During the British Mandate period, the international team competed under the title of Palestine, despite operating as a virtually all-Jewish organization." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_in_Israel#British_Mandate. The contention that the genuine representative of "Palestinian" football during the British Mandate period was, in fact, a Jewish team, is strongly challenged at http://footballpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/12/mandate-team-1928-1948.html
* Discussing the harassment of Palestinians by the Jewish youth of Hebron brought an older, female member of this delegation to tears.
* Discussing the harassment of Palestinians by the Jewish youth of Hebron brought an older, female member of this delegation to tears.
 New York Times, February 26, 2010
 Based on the author's observations.
 In spite of the now discredited United Nations sponsored Goldstone Report, some visitors continue to cite Israel’s long-delayed military response to protracted Hama terrorism as an example of state sponsored war crimes.
 Atik, Naim Stifan, Faith and the Intifada: Palestinian Christian Voices: Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, 1992.
 Ibid. See also the comments on this phenomenon by Robert W. Nicholson: http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2013/10/evangelicals-and-israel/
 Mark Braverman was not part of a group that visited Efrat. This information is found on the Internet as cited.
 http://www.ifpb.org/education/activities/empowerment.html See also: http://www.amazon.com/Fatal-Embrace-Christians-Search-Peace/dp/0984076077/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382339995&sr=8-1&keywords=Mark+Braverman
 The full exchange of correspondence is found at http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article.php?viewall=yes&id=1761
* Not including the Gaza Strip.
 Jerusalem Post Magazine, April 23, 2010, p. 21.
 Highway 443, closed to Palestinian traffic after a number of fire bomb attacks and fatal shooting incidents during the Second Intifada, was ordered re-opened to Palestinians by Israel’s High Court on December 29, 2009.
 http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3881005,00.html This race was subsequently discontinued due to pressure by Palestinian “anti-normalization” groups.
* a small, residential outpost located in Gush Etzion
 Selected agencies would have to bid on each program as cost is necessarily a factor.
 http://www.iTalkIsrael.com .
 The Jerusalem Report, April 26, 2010, p. 47.
 This does not deny that similar visits already exist courtesy of MASHAV or The Peres Center for Peace. Those, however, are non-commercial and intermittent.
Ardie Geldman is a writer and public speaker who lives in Efrat, Israel. His articles on Jewish life and Israel and book reviews have appeared in the Encyclopedia Judaica, the Journal of Jewish Communal Studies, the Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel. He is currently working on "Counter Tourism," a program to respond to pro-Palestinian protest tourism. His website is www.iTalkIsrael.com.
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