Tourism in the West Bank

Old City of Khalil (Hebron)
Originally uploaded by marcynewman.

I’ve been working on getting new footage for the film I’m working on that shows different projects that Israelis do to oppose the occupation of Palestine. I took over 30 hours last summer and have a list of a few other types of organizations/people I want to interview before I begin the task of editing it. My hope is that this film can be on the Internet as a free, 30 minute, downloadable film for Palestinian or Arab college students to use when they need to combat the Zionist campus organizations. I have some amazing footage thus far and in the past week I’ve got many hours more.

I filmed Birthright Unplugged when they came to Deheishe with their tourist group to show them an example of a refugee camp. It was very interesting to see this organization at work, which takes its name from the Zionist organization, Birthright, which offers free trips to Israel for American Jews under the age of 26. Unlike Birthright, Birthright Unplugged doesn’t limit its trips to Jews or to people under the age of 26, however. The was range of people who were on the trip, some of whom had been to Israel but who had not really ever seen Palestine. They spent their day touring the camp, listening to Ziad give a history of the people in the camp as well as the camp itself, and then they spent the rest of the day watching Mai Masri’s fabulous film, Frontiers of Dreams and Fears, which is at least in part about Deheishe. The most fascinating moment, for me, came when one of the travelers asked Ziad about the Palestinian textbooks. Just another reminder of how pervasive these rumors about Palestinian textbooks are. For people who still believe the rumors from the Zionist settler who composed those fictious reports, you can read Professor Nathan Brown’s assessment of the curricula in Palestine which is far more accurate.

Yesterday, I went with a former Israeli soldier who served in Khalil (Hebron) on a tour of the Old City of Khalil which has been made into a ghost town because of the Israeli settlers (only a few hundred) who live there. Yehuda started an organization called Breaking the Silences which has made films, art/photographic exhibits, and little booklets with testimonies from soldiers who are horrified by what they did there. The trip is organized by a group called The Children of Abraham which takes various groups of travelers/tourists to places like Khalil to show them the reality of the occupation up close. Sometimes they take Israeli groups, but yesterday it was primarily diplomats from various European countries and some activist-type tourists.

I had seen the Old City of Khalil before, but only ever from the Palestinian side (with the exception of when I went to the synagogue side of the Ibrahim mosque). And seeing it through the eyes of a former solider there who knew how the occupation operated there was incredibly enlightening. The area is a complete ghost town. In fact, at times I felt like I was on a Universal Studios tour because it looked like a movie set when no one was filming and because we were on a bus, for part of the time, with a tour guide. We entered the area through Kiryat Arba, an illegal Israeli settlement above/next to the Old City of Khalil. I had never seen this settlement, where Baruch Goldstein is buried (the man who slaughtered Palestinians praying in the Ibrahim mosque during Ramadan in 1994). All of these illegal settlements in the Khalil area are filled with the most ideological and violent settlers (next to the Nablus area, that is). In fact, one of the reasons I felt okay about walking around that area is because we were with Yehuda, though that hasn’t stopped the settlers from throwing stones and eggs at his tour groups in the past. We had quite a presence of Israeli soldiers and police in cars and on foot with us at every step of the way. And, some of the illegal settlers followed us and filmed us as we walked around.

One of the things that was most shocking was the sign that is placed in this blog entry. It seems that the illegal Israeli settlers in Khalil see themselves as living in a new version of the Warsaw ghetto. The twisted logic of this is unfathomable. I just cannot comprehend how they can see a ghetto of their own making, which required the uprooting of thousands of recent Palestinian refugees because of their desire to occupy this city. The reason it is a ghost town is because all of the Palestinians who used to live there and own shops there were terrorized into leaving. Many of these illegal Israeli settlers also carry M16 guns across their backs, shoot at Palestinians, and burn their homes down in order to confiscate the area. The Jewish community to which this sign refers to did indeed live in Khalil in the 19th century, but even after the 1929 massacre the mayor invited the Jews living there to return and many of them did. These New York Jews who live there now have no familial relation to the Jews who lived there back then. And, unlike, the Jews who lived there in the 19th century, these Jews are violent neighbors. They even attack the Israeli soldiers stationed there.

The most disturbing area there is called Tel Rumeida. There are still Palestinians living there, but directly above their property is an Israeli settlement that touches their land and occupies land that is owned by Palestinians. We visited the home of one Palestinian living there and the families there endure the most brutal existence. When their children go to school they are pelted with stones and eggs and pushed to the ground. Many of these children have had legs broken on their way to school because of this. Their trees have been cut in two during the night while they sleep. There are no Palestinian cars allowed in this area and as a result no ambulances can come there, for instance. It is like 1948 all over again including new refugees created by this situation.

I think these tours are important and interesting and allow one to glean a sense of what Palestinian life is like under occupation. But after two days of filming such trips I’m left feeling the same way I do about the co-existence organizations like Seeds of Peace. I wonder what these tourists do with the information and experience. Do they write about it? Educate people in their countires? Work with their governments to intervene in the occupation? It’s not enough just to learn about what it is happening. Of course, I cannot imagine someone seeing reality and then just going home, eating dinner in front of the TV, going to work or school and doing nothing. But I suspect this is true more often than not.



One thought on “Tourism in the West Bank

  1. one do not know what to comment when the truth is shining and stunning! Stomackache.

    Good luck with the film.

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