Written by Bisan Mitri (OPGAI)
A civil society workshop addresses the role of tourism in the occupied Palestinian territory discussing how alternative and socially responsible tourism can be implemented.
All facets of Palestinian life under occupation are exploited. The tourism sector is no exception.
International law recognizes the illegality of prolonged belligerent occupation. Morally, it should be resisted. Like the right of return, the right to self-determination and the right to housing, the right to resistance– interpreted through the right to freedom of opinion and expression – is also guaranteed as a human right. The United Nation’s General Assembly ResolutionA/RES/3246 (XXIX) of 29 November 1974, “[r]eaffirms the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation.” The Palestinian aspiration of independence and freedom will not be achieved without struggle. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), a rapidly growing one, both on local and international levels, with its various campaigns and initiatives offers available, non-violent means to end Israeli occupation by mobilizing the international community to hold Israel accountable to international law.
In parallel with the Fourth National BDS Conference, which was held on 8 June 2013 at Bethlehem University, the Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI) organized a workshop titled Responsible Tourism in Palestine in the Context of the BDS Movement. The workshop was held in cooperation with OPGAI’s member organizations, and in coordination with the Palestinian Christian Initiative: Kairos Palestine. The activity was carried out by organizations that work in the field of responsible tourism, be it political, cultural or religious tourism. The workshop was attended by 25 professionals working in tourism-related as well as religious, cultural and human rights organizations located throughout the occupied West Bank including Jerusalem.
The workshop aimed to present and discuss alternative and responsible tourism in Palestine in light of the Israeli occupation and its policies of exploiting the cultural heritage and history of Palestine. Furthermore, the workshop sought to shed light on the practices of the Israeli tourism sector that promotes tourism at the expense of Palestinian culture and economy.
The main objective of the workshop was to discuss the possibilities of implementing BDS practices in tourism. The workshop produced recommendations to pave the way for strategizing and launching awareness raising campaigns. All the participants confirmed the importance of the tourism sector in Palestine at various levels be they political, economic, cultural or social, and how the Israeli occupation is undermining Palestinian development by distorting the facts and manipulating the tourists that come to the region.
Israel’s occupation of the occupied Palestinian territory constitutes control over movement of persons, goods and even money internally and along the de-facto borders of the occupied Palestinian territory. Consequently, every tourist who enters the occupied Palestinian territory must acquire a permit from Israel submitting themselves to Israeli visa regulations. All entry points into the occupied Palestinian territory are controlled by Israel.
The occupation is not limited to military elements, but uses elements including tourism as a political tool to strengthen its position as occupying power and domination over Palestinian land and people. Furthermore, Israel uses tourism as an instrument for disseminating propaganda to millions of tourists including many politicians, leaders and journalists who are offered free of charge first class tours to Israel. These trips are accompanied by well-trained Israeli tourist guides whose role is to communicate the government narrative, which includes silence on crucial contexts such as the occupation and atrocities committed by the occupying forces. The most obvious propaganda practice of government-affiliated guides is to ensure no contact between visitors and the local Palestinian community. Participants of the Bethlehem University workshop stressed the need for collaboration in order to confront tourism that revises biblical stories to confirm Israeli political projects.
Another example is the official website of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism’s reply in the Frequently Asked Questions page. Answering “are tourists allowed to enter areas outside of the Israeli responsibility (Palestinian areas)?,”1 the Ministry states, “it’s wise to check on the political situation before entering the Palestinian Authority.” Additionally, it recommends contacting the Israeli Defense Forces Public Relations office, at least in part, to depict the occupation forces as a protector rather than an aggressor.
The occupied Palestinian territory, including a large sum of touristic sites such as the Dead Sea, came under Israeli military control in 1967. Israel illegally annexed Jerusalem, the most tourist-dense area in the region. Participants of the Bethlehem University workshop discussed whether a boycott of Israel and its institutions, which control and manage tourist sites in the oPt is most beneficial. Perhaps launching awareness-raising campaigns amongst tourists is more tactical, they asked.
The call for boycott accords to international law and calls for, among two other principles, the ending colonization of the oPt that exploits Palestinian touristic, religious, historical and natural sites. Participants of the workshop agreed that the tourism sector is subject to the legal, political, economic and cultural grounds that the BDS movement is based on and, thus, the goal of the boycott also applies to some aspects of the tourism sector. The South African anti-apartheid campaign called on the world to boycott tourism in South Africa until the regime fell, but the Palestinians at the workshop refrained from doing so and framed their project as one of responsible and solidarity tourism.
The outcome of the Bethlehem University workshop contained recommendations to broaden the circle and discuss the practicality of implementing boycott within the tourism sector. The participants of the Responsible Tourism in Palestine in the Context of the BDS Movement Workshop thus formulated the following recommendations for further discussion:
- The application of BDS practices in the tourism sector aims to defend the political, economic and cultural rights of the Palestinian people;
- Train tour guides in the politics, culture and history of Palestine. Highlight the situation of guides who are deprived of work permits by the Israeli occupation for discussing politics and/or using the Palestinian narrative in their tours;
- Prepare a manual to be distributed to tourists and pilgrims on What must be avoided and must be supported when visiting religious and tourist sites in Palestine, including usage of services and tourism-products;
- Form a strong lobbying initiative in order to unite the efforts of institutions working in the tourism sector;
- Communicate with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism regarding its role in the tourism sector and cooperate with other relevant representatives in the sector;
- Determine and list the tourist sites where boycott is applicable in accordance with the BDS movement and raise awareness regarding the rationale for a possible boycott;
- The call for a boycott on the tourism sector must be accompanied by organized work and continued efforts to find and raise the efficiency of Palestinian alternatives to the dominant tourism services and industry;
- Upgrade local market goods;
- In addition to the relatively well-developed religious tourism in the oPt, encourage development of non-religious Palestinian tourism. Collaborate between all sub sectors (cultural, economic and educational) involved in the tourism sector;
- Coordinate with efforts of Palestinians working in the tourism sector of Palestine occupied in 1948 (Israel-proper);
- Promote and give primacy to alternative tourism that highlights Palestinian history and heritage of Jerusalem as well as the political situation;
- Boycott cultural productions (such as musicians) that cooperate with the Municipality of Jerusalem;
- Boycott Israeli services and tourism industries to which Palestinian alternatives exist;
- Conduct and publish research and analysis explaining the politicized use of Israeli tourism.
The Bethlehem University workshop defined the problematic areas of applying BDS within the tourism sector, but it also delivered recommendations to help people working in this field generate a political, legal and moral framework for resisting colonialism while continuing their work. It is vitally important to form a committee involving representatives of the Boycott National Committee and representatives of the tourism sector from governmental, non-governmental and private levels, to follow up on these recommendations as part of the struggle to realize the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.
 Emphasis added.