‘Justice Tourism’s’ Dangerous Agenda

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It should be no surprise, then, that the Rishmawis have, for most of the years of its existence, played a large part in the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a student program now operating in several University of California schools that offers alternative tourism programing. Through the program, American students are taken on trips to Israel and adjacent areas where they are given tours by and commune with some mainstream individuals, but also a hugely disproportionate number of leading anti-Israel activists. The number of unseemly associations of the OTI is almost too extensive to list (click here for a draft of just the 2011 itinerary). They include: the Rishmawis; economic warfare (BDS) godfather Mazin Qumsiyeh; Sam Bahour; the terrorism-defending Muslim Public Affairs Council; B’Tselem; Al Haq; BDS supporter Zoughbi Zoughbi; ultra-wealthy Palestinian Munib R. Masri, who was a part of Yasser Arafat’s inner circle; and even a leader of the terrorist organization Hamas, Aziz Duwaik (students were also told to cover up this particular meeting). In at least one incident during an OTI trip, it was reported that one of the Rishmawis advocated violence and relayed a lie about Israelis shooting unprovoked at Palestinian civilians. This was reportedly demonstrated false onsite by one of the students. The technical auspices of the Olive Tree Initiative are unclear, as it is closely intertwined with UC Irvine, while also being claimed as a “project” by a Swedish-based NGO called the Centre for New Diplomacy (CfND). One of the board members for the CfND is a Swedish member of parliament who participated in the anti-Israel flotilla of 2010, which was designed to delegitimize Israel’s blockade of the terrorist safe heaven of Gaza.

Following the “olive” motif, there is another alternative travel company called “Green Olive Tours,” which used to go by the name “Tours in English.” As it happens, Green Olive Tours cooperates with the Siraj Center, which employs one of the Rishmawis, as well as the Alternative Tourism Group and the radical, ISM-linked Birthright Unplugged, the antithesis to the traditional Birthright travel program. Green Olive Tours was founded and is administered by activist Fred Schlomka, who formerly directed the highly controversial Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAH). The ICAH worked alongside the ISM in the groups’ mutual crusade against IDF housing demolition, claiming that houses are primarily destroyed for illegitimate purposes unrelated to defense. In fact, Schlomka worked for the committee at the time of infamous activist Rachel Corrie’s death, committed accidentally as Corrie was trying to prevent a bulldozer from destroying a “home” that concealed a weapons smuggling tunnel. The ICAHD promotes the idea that the Israeli government destroys these structures maliciously and arbitrarily because they are “built without a permit.” They also portray Israel as an “apartheid” state, or on the verge of becoming one. Like Green Olive Tours, ICAHD also conducts its own tours.

The prospect of Schlomka or the ICAHD overseeing tours is deeply troubling. NGO Monitor has criticized Schlomka and the ICAHD for supporting a one-state solution without Israel and appearing with Naim Ateek who heads Sabeel (which also offers tours) and “uses anti-Semitic themes, such as referring to ‘the Israeli government crucifixion system’.” Schlomka himself has said, “The world helped create this problem, the United Nations helped create this problem through helping establish the state of Israel” and “Anyone who still thinks that there will be a Palestinian state with contiguous territory free of Jews is indulging in some wishful thinking.” 

Extremist rhetoric to be sure, but do not be lulled into the misconception that “alternative tourism” is sequestered to the anti-Israel fringe. Far from it. Simply explore the site Visit Palestine or their available literature and see how popular and mainstream-oriented the travel site seems. Indeed, the outfit seems to be primarily devoted to non-political, benign tourism and one can see how many ordinary travelers would be drawn to the site for vacation purposes. But scratching the surface, we see that not only does Visit Palestine exploit the “solidarity/alternative tourism” market, but the organization was in fact formed by extreme anti-Israel activists. Visit Palestine is the project of Alternative Business Solutions, the parent of ABS Tourism, whose primary associates include Yusef Daher, a Christian BDS advocate (an extremist movement proposing boycott, divestment and sanctions on racist, human rights-abusing Israel) and was also the former director of the Arab Hotel Association (a member of PIRT); and Rami Kassis, who worked as executive director of the ATG until at least 2010 and purports to be one of the founders of PIRT. Kassis’s interviews show that his interest in tourism is predominately political, and he spouts conspiracy theories about the Israeli government strangling the tourism sector in Palestine, and purposefully impoverishing Palestinians, as if the Israelis, not continuing Palestinian warfare, violence and instability, are responsible for Palestinian inability to break into the mainstream tourism market.

Enmeshed in a highly interconnected web of deception, the organizations outlined above are only the tip of the alternative tourism industry’s iceberg. For those activists engaged in it, and indeed, probably ever more dependent on it for their livelihoods, the objective is much more than “awareness building,” as their radical connections show, but the indoctrination of converts to the cause to dismantle the Jewish State.  Millions of unwitting travelers, particularly religious pilgrims, are anxious to visit the Holy Land each year, and we must only expect that the movement’s ranks will continue to swell, while the industry grows in financing and influence.

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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

    Yes Rachel Corrie wanted to die as a martyr, so don't blame Israel for killing her.
    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

    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

    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

    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.