‘Justice Tourism’s’ Dangerous Agenda

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Many were disturbed at a recent video of young Jews — the hope of the next generation — “occupying” a Birthright event and spewing noxious anti-Israel rhetoric in and outside the gathering. But considering the competition Birthright is up against, it’s not difficult to see how such a scene was produced. The fact is, not only have anti-Israel activist made 21st century blood libels fashionable, but they have found a way to turn a profit from them in the process. More and more, sojourners to the Holy Land are falling into the orbit of the growing “alternative travel” or “justice tourism” industry, which specializes in politicized tourism to Israel and adjacent territories. As the name indicates, alternative travel is entirely focused on exposing tourists, not with mainstream, commonly accepted information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but with an “alternative” account predicated on needless Palestinian suffering at the hands of their brutal Israeli oppressors.

The alternative tourism industry in and around Israel is a multifarious, interconnected web, whose many avenues invariably lead back to terrorists and their supporters. One of the trailblazers of the alternative tourism industry in Israel is the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG), which is located in Beit Sahour, a hotbed of Palestinian activism, including during the murderous First and Second Intifadas. According to the ATG, the organization was formed as a “non-profit tourist agency” in 1995. Tours focus on a number of lies, including insinuations that “Palestine” was and is a “country”; that Israelis “steal” land and commit war crimes, and that Israel has erected a “segregation wall” for racist purposes. What the ATG refers to as the “segregation wall” is, of course, the defensive wall put into construction to stop terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians — which have been reduced by 90% since the construction of the wall began. Anti-Israel activists commonly demonize this barrier, despite its obvious necessity and effectiveness, deviously twisting the situation into a race issue, so that the killing spree may resume.

The ATG collaborates with a number of groups who are loosely joined in the Palestinian Initiative for Responsible Tourism (PIRT). PIRT, for which ATG is listed as a sponsor, is a consortium of local tourism entities joined together to help Palestinians benefit from the lucrative Holy Land travel industry. The purported objective of the initiative is to branch the tourism market into local Palestinian communities so that they may economically benefit from it, while at the same time cultivating an interest in Palestinian culture and building awareness among pilgrims of political problems in the area. Other groups in the initiative include the Arab Hotel Association, Bethlehem University, the Holy Land Incoming Tour Operator Association, the Holy Land Trust, the International Center of Bethlehem, the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center, the Joint Advocacy Initiative, the Network of Christian Organizations in Bethlehem and the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies.

Another initiative member is the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which has reported a huge increase in tourism to the Holy Land. This translates to an increase in capital to the Palestinian territories and into the hands of “justice tourism” activists, not to mention an increase in the sheer number of travelers exposed to their propaganda. Honing in on the allure of travel to the Holy Land, it’s no surprise ATG and other PIRT members consort with the more virulently anti-Israel (and borderline anti-Jewish) Christian organizations like the World Council of Churches and the Kairos Palestine movement, which are connected to an enormous pipeline of Christian pilgrims.

Another prominent organization in PIRT is the Holy Land Trust. Based in Bethlehem, the Holy Land Trust (HLT) is a virulently anti-Israel organization that supports Palestinian terrorism. The organization’s executive director, Sami Awad, believes that non-violent demonstrations are “not a substitute for armed struggle.” HLT has also worked with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which endorses and abets Palestinian terrorism. One of the board members of the HLT, Abu Aita, was a former member of a terrorist organization, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (serving from 2000-2003) and was incarcerated in an Israeli prison on accusations that he was involved with shooting Israeli soldiers. The HLT offers a number of traveling programs, some of which are marketed specifically to students and Christian pilgrims.

Of particular note, the HLT features a travel program centered around indigenous olive cultivation called the Olive Harvest and Cuisine Tour. This is significant for the following reason: There are two well-known Palestinian activists, both named George Rishmawi, who have worked in the Palestinian alternative travel industry for many years. Both men are co-founders of the ISM. In the mid-2000s, one of the Rishmawis was involved in a HLT program similar in theme to the Olive Harvest and Cuisine Tour called the Olive Harvest encounter. This encounter offered tours of the Holy Land, which showcased alleged Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Israelis. Currently, one of the Rishmawis is a coordinator for the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies, based, like the ATG, in Beit Sahour. As coordinator, Rishmawi plays a large role in the alternative tourism functions of the Siraj Center, whose trips particularly appeal to Christian travelers.

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  • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

    I feel bad for you. You are so brainwashed with religious nationalism that you can’t even express yourself in writing without packing it full of inflammatory rhetoric, special pleading, and by casting yourself the victim. This article is the epitome of wounded argumentation. You are also busting your rear to make fellow Jews look like nazis. That makes your argument blatantly unreliable.

  • http://garyfouse.blogspot.com gary fouse

    Flipside is aptly-named. The clue of the day is—follow the money and know who the organizerss are.

  • http://www.paulschnee.com Paul Schnee

    At best the supporters of the Olive Tree Initiative are "useful idiots" and at worst are willing collaborators with those whose undiminished goal after 63 years, mind you, is still the destruction of the Jewish nation state. This should be obvious and give cause for alarm even to the slowest of minds.

    One more thing that should be obvious is that in a war the status of aggressors and defenders and of winners and losers is not inter-changeable. The so-called Palestinians are no more a homogeneous people, indigenous to the region, than the equator is a country. There has never been an Israel/Palestinian conflict. All there has ever been is an Arab war against the Jews. Grasp that and you will have grasped the very heart of the matter and why the Olive Tree Initiative should be pole-axed.

  • Nael

    Funny that the author, who’s clearly far-right nationalist, calls the Palestinian activists “extremists”!

  • Sara

    I am new to this page so i don't know whether this writer is making jokes or this article is meant to deliver real information. Who on earth with a clear and awake conscious would condemn the non-violent actions these people are taking to win their freedom and end the injustice perpetrated upon them by the Israeli occupation?? And, since when is the West Bank referred to as "Israel and adjacent areas"?? Education before publication!

  • James

    So, Rachel Corrie belonged to the terrorist ISM group and she deserved the “accidental” run over by the bulldozer while the whole world pitied and sympathized with the solitary unarmed man standing before the mighty Chinese tanks during the Tiananmen Square massacre! Hypocrites!

  • Taylor

    Hmmm, and who said that you need a Ministry of Propaganda, run by someone like Joseph Goebbels to be able and brain-wash the heads of the masses when we clearly have sites much like this one to do this job?? It is much cheaper this way… congratulations, you belong to the voluntary propaganda machine that white-washes the oppressive, brutal deeds of Israel… or is it not voluntary?

  • Zev

    @James
    Yes Rachel Corrie wanted to die as a martyr, so don't blame Israel for killing her.
    @Sarah
    The whole land is Israel, the Arabs are invaders who should either go back to their Arabian desert or face the same fate as Rachel Corrie.

    Why, do you hate to hear the truth?? We know that you know that there is no future for Arabs in Israel.

  • Jude

    Justice tourism is dangerous? When did Justice become dangerous?? Only criminals fear justice Nichole! You make it sound like Israel is a criminal state! how coward have you become to fear Justice?

    • Hugo

      Israel has been for over 60 years a criminal state murdering innocent Palestinians who have always lived there. This is well documented.
      Israelis should go back to their homelands which, by the way, they have been doing en masse in the recent years.
      Palestine will get all its land back and Israel will, thank God, disappear.

  • Sara

    @Zev
    No future for Arabs in Israel thanks to the racist, apartheid state of Israel that refuses to adhere to International law while crying wolf everytime to the international community about terrorism. You should search within yourself for an answer whether you want to live in a world that is humane and run by law where fairness and justice prevails for ALL ALIKE, or you want to live in a world where the model country would be similar to the former apartheid South Africa. In case you don't know about South Africa, it is that country in the utmost south of the African Continent where people where discriminated against, segregated and killed because they did not belong to the non-indigenous ruling ethnic group. Israel is not different in this analogy.

  • Zev

    @Sara
    Is South Africa a better place now? At least during the so called apartheid, white people where safe, today nobody is safe. Or you also don't like to hear this truth?

    Jews and Arabs are not alike in Israel, because God promised Jews the land. Or you don't believe in God !!!!

    Leftist like you are the source of this conflict, otherwise Israel could have got rid of the terrorists long time ago once and for all. Shame on you and your International leftist lead UN

  • Sara

    @Zev
    Are you serious? Are you honestly justifying the horrific actions of apartheid South Africa? Even for a nationalist Zionist this goes too far! But this really shows how twisted the mentality of the supporters of Israel is. They are ready to defend mass killing, torture, rape, inhumane treatment of innocent people who happened to have the "wrong" skin-color in order not to be put in a situation where they will look eye-to-eye with the horror that Israel is committing. Justice is not a selective concept, it is universal. If you are ready to blindly defend Israel, you are ready to blindly defend any oppressive state or regime. So sad!

  • Michel

    Please learn the true history of the Holy Land-Palestine, before giving your distorted opinion. You need help and I advise you to seek for it because you are truly ignorant of facts.