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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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