Visiting Palestine? Here’s What You Should Know
Palestine is the site of many significant holy and historical sites, prompting remarkable interest in tourism and pilgrimage for communities worldwide. However, many tourists go about their trip without consideration for ethical responsibilities, thereby inadvertently supporting and validating the Israeli occupation.
Often, mainstream media fails to address the true extent of oppression and subjugation that Palestinians are subjected to, replicating narratives of pinkwashing and greenwashing that suppress the Israeli occupation’s historical and ongoing trespasses. This travel tool aims to give travellers an insight into the situation and guide them to travel through Palestine and Israeli-controlled territories ethically and conscientiously.
Know Your History
In 1917, the Balfour Declaration was signed by British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, promising the land of Palestine as a “national home for the Jewish people” as Palestine was under British colonial mandate at the time. This created a large influx of Zionist immigrants to Palestine under the support and facilitation of the British. Throughout this process, Zionist militias, such as the Haganah, captured tens of Palestinian villages and cities, displacing many Palestinians from their homes. This displacement intensified in 1948, under what Palestinians call al-Nakba (the catastrophe), during which villages were destroyed, entire communities were displaced, and multiple massacres occurred. This ethnic cleansing continued in many Palestinian villages and cities, ultimately leading to the formation of the state of Israel, the displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians, and the death of over 13,000. This displacement continued, with Israel capturing the remaining Palestinian land of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war, again displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. By the end of 1967, 2.4 million Israelis had access to 18,000 sq. km of land, while 390,000 Palestinians were permitted only 700 sq. km.
What’s the deal on travel?
This land division led to the fragmentation of the Palestinian land and population, with a structure of checkpoints, settlements, and a discriminatory system of identification documents and permits that inhibit freedom of movement. The West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip are left under the administration of the Palestinian Authority, while the remaining majority of the land is entirely under the control of the state of Israel. Palestinians living in the West Bank cannot enter Israeli-administered territories unless they apply for and receive a permit from the Israeli authorities.They then have to present themselves at a series of checkpoints to which Israelis and tourists are not subject. The Qalandiya crossing from the West Bank into East Jerusalem is the largest checkpoint where over 26,000 Palestinians cross from Palestine into Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem daily.
To make this clearer through a personal lens, I was born and raised in Ramallah, but I am originally from the village of Abu Shusheh, 8km from the city of al-Ramleh. My grandparents were forcibly expelled from Abu Shusheh in 1948. Subsequently, the village was destroyed, depopulated and is now considered part of Israel. Abu Shusheh is empty now, but I am not allowed to freely visit the remains of my ancestral home. Due to my being from Ramallah and having a West Bank ID, I would need a permit to travel there.
Tourists with no connection to the land of Palestine can visit Abu Shusheh, Ramallah, and whichever city they want without worrying about IDs or checkpoints. A person claiming Jewish ancestry and who has never set foot in Palestine can not only visit Abu Shusheh but also receive full Israeli citizenship, which entitles them to more freedom of movement than I receive as someone born and raised on the land. This is due to Israel’s Law of Return that bestows full Israeli citizenship on Jewish people or those claiming Jewish ancestry. Though even this law is implemented discriminately with the Israeli Interior Ministry ruling that the Ugandan Abayudaya Jewish community was not eligible for immigration to Israel.
Moreover, Palestinians with West Bank IDs cannot fly out of the country from Tel Aviv airport and are obligated to travel from Jordan, a time-consuming journey through the Allenby Bridge, an Israeli-controlled border crossing. Tourists do not face these restrictions and can freely fly to and from Tel Aviv airport and also travel via the Allenby Bridge. However, it is important to note that tourists with Arab or Muslim names, or ones that have visited certain countries such as Iran or Lebanon, may face more hassle and interrogation when they arrive at the airport. Occasionally some travellers are refused entry into Palestine as a result. These are only some subjugative practices out of a host of Israeli discriminatory legislation, but important ones for tourists to keep in mind when travelling around Palestine.
Breaking Down BDS
One of the most effictive ways non-Palestinians and tourists can support Palestine and counter the discriminatory Israeli regime is by supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The BDS movement was launched by Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005, inspired by similar movements against South African Apartheid. BDS calls for the boycott of Israeli institutions and corporations, the divestment from Israeli institutions and companies by banks, pension funds, universities, and other institutions, and the economic sanctioning of Israel.
To travel ethically in Palestine, tourists must act according to BDS’ call for the boycotting of Israeli state institutions and corporations. This means that when travelling in ‘Israeli’ cities, tourists should aim to shop at Palestinian shops, stay at Palestinian-owned hotels, eat in Palestinian restaurants, and so on. There are multiple Palestinian NGOs and tour services providing tours all over Palestine, such as Alternative Tourism Group, Siraj Centre, al-Marsad, Grassroots al-Quds, and Diwan Voyage. Moreover, BDS has produced a list of tourist sites run by Israeli occupation authorities to boycott. The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism also lists Palestinian-ran hotels in Jerusalem.
A Reminder: Tourist Privilege and Freedoms
Overall, tourists travelling in Palestine need to be aware of their immense privilege in the ability to travel more freely in Palestine than Palestinians themselves. To travel ethically, tourists should support Palestinian businesses and institutions while avoiding complicity in false Israeli narratives.
Palestinian culture is systemically absorbed and falsely claimed by Israel, from the Palestinian traditional embroidered dress claimed as Israeli to Arab food such as hummus or falafel dubbed traditional Israeli food. Tourists should avoid affirming these fictitious cultural narratives by avoiding Israeli tours or businesses that misrepresent Palestinian history. Instead, they should focus on supporting Palestinian businesses and traditional crafts. Hebron/Al-Khalil has a well-established glass and ceramics industry, and East Jerusalem’s old city is host to plenty of Palestinian shops and restaurants.
Other false Israeli narratives for tourists to keep in mind are those of pinkwashing and greenwashing. Pinkwashing refers to the Israeli tactic of painting itself as a pro-LGBTQ+ nation and a Middle Eastern haven for the gay community, with Tel Aviv advertised as a top gay vacation destination. This portrayal obscures Israel’s numerous human rights violations and ignores issues such as Palestinian gay men being blackmailed into being Israeli informants. Tourists should avoid falling into this trap, and boycott events such as Tel Aviv Pride, in line with the BDS stance.
Similarly, greenwashing is the practice of pretending to be environmentally friendly to obscure unlawful or discriminatory practices. Israel does this in several ways, such as the rhetoric of “making the desert bloom.” These narratives paint Palestine as barren land, which Zionists populated and made green. This ignores the environmental damage Israel has inflicted, with over 100,000 olive trees destroyed by Israel or Israeli settlers over the past ten years or the flattening and uprooting of Palestinian wheat and barley fields to expel Palestinian farmers from their land. Tourists should avoid affirming these narratives by boycotting Israeli national parks. Alternatively, travellers should support Palestinian agricultural cooperatives such as Om Sleiman Farm and Palestinian farmers and food markets.