Gaza, Judea and Samaria: Prison or Paradise?

How tourists’ accounts curiously collide with the Arab “Palestinian misery” narrative.


“Peaceful sleep.”

"Laid-back luxury.”

“The pool is so inviting.”

These are hardly the terms one would typically use to describe prisons, concentration camps or places of oppression. And yet this is how some Palestinian-Arab-controlled locales are described – though not by Israelis, and certainly not by anti-Israel propagandists.

Rather, these are excerpts of reviews from people who have been to Gaza -- and back -- posted on the Web site “Trip Advisor,” which relies on candid descriptions from tourists for its popularity. The agenda is not political.

In fact, the web is full of reviews, photos and pages that contradict the popular myths that all Palestinian-Arabs are suffering and that Israel is to blame. That is the singular narrative from the Arabs, their propaganda apparatus and the media. Depicting normalcy or even extravagance is not a part of it.

Rarely if ever is the public told or shown that the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority’s cities in Judea and Samaria (commonly known today as “the West Bank”) have resort hotels, five-star restaurants, exclusive villas and other luxury residences. It might jeopardize the demonization-of-Israel industry.

But the tourism and real estate industries want to promote their businesses. Their goal is to attract, not repel. So we see photos of hotels with beautiful pool areas and fountains, not claims of Israeli water theft. We see photos of mansions that rival the best of Beverly Hills or the French Riviera, rather than charges of repression. We read from Arabs, Europeans, Americans and others about how relaxing Gaza is, and not accusations about how the Israelis have created prison conditions there.

It is all part and parcel of the war against the Jewish people (see an example here). And whether it is the Muslim fundamentalists of Hamas in Gaza or the equally anti-peace Palestinian Authority and PLO in Judea and Samaria, they all tell the same fables featuring the worst accusations to weaken support for Israel.

For decades, Israel’s enemies have used imagery and terms that tug at the heartstrings of decent people to turn them against Israel. Through this inversion they have convinced people that the real victims (the Israelis) are barbaric while the perpetrators are portrayed as the maltreated. Based on this propaganda, one envisions a mass of tents as far as the eye can see, amid a dreary dilapidated landscape, replete with filth, trash and debris scattered throughout.

The fiction seems believable, and who has time or motivation to comb the Internet for the truth? Nor can people readily comprehend why anyone would want to depict themselves falsely as victims. In short: lying succeeds.

Media figures who are in both areas in large numbers and surely witness the contradictions between the Arab lies and the facts in front of their eyes choose to perpetuate the falsehoods or decline to expose them. The Israeli government never seems to counter the allegations against it. Israel’s advocates need to be more active in countering the anti-Israel narratives with more offensive punch. Ironically, these anti-Israel narratives are discredited by tourists who have been to these areas and by the hoteliers, restaurateurs and real estate developers; all of them unwittingly offer a window into reality.

So while American novelist Alice Walker, who sailed aboard one of the Gaza-bound “aid” flotilla ships (in reality a cheap ploy to besmirch Israel), claims that “the way the Palestinians are treated is so reminiscent of the way black people were treated in the South when I was growing up. And it’s an intolerable situation,” she would not want anyone to know about the Al Deira, the Commodore, Al Mashtal or Gaza’s other resorts -- a far cry from Selma circa 1965.

The Arcmed Al Mashtal Hotel in Gaza City.

A buffet at the Al-Mathaf Recreational and Cultural House in Gaza City.

Tourist “Riley_Hord43” of Montreal posted on Trip Advisor about the Commodore:

The rooms provide a nice view of the sea. One feels comfortable staying in clean and spacious rooms. I really got peaceful sleep at nights snuggling under the clean sheets of the cozy bed. … One would not complain about this place after enjoying its five star service.

A 2010 Newsweek article about the Gaza Strip featured this claim from Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad: “It’s still like a big prison, mostly closed on all sides.” If Israel has such a choke hold on the territory, how did Jerusalem resident “Allegra” manage to make her way to Gaza’s Al Deira Hotel and then write:

The outdoor restaurant, located right over the beach, serves very nice food and is a haunt for foreign correspondents, international aid workers and rich, secular Gazans at night. Smoking sheesha on that terrace is an absolute must, and so is eating the shrimps in a clay pot dish. Lovely staff, lovely atmosphere and laid-back luxury which might come as a surprise.

Gaza’s Al Deira Hotel

What rarely is reported are the thousands of trucks full of medicines, clothing, supplies and other goods Israel allows to be unloaded into the Gaza Strip along with diesel fuel and cooking gas it sends into Gaza. Then there are tons of goods Israel allows to come out of Gaza to be exported. Israel keeps a close accounting of what goes in or comes out of Gaza and publishes it on the Web to refute the accusations.

For the week ending Nov. 3, with one of the border crossings closed for two days due to a Muslim holiday, 919 truckloads (26,142 tons) of Gaza-bound goods were unloaded at the crossings while 22 truckloads of goods were exported from the Gaza Strip according to COGAT – Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories.

Considering that the Gazan Arabs are engaged in a war with Israel (more than 800 rockets and mortars fired thus far this year) and that Hamas -- which controls the territory -- calls for the murder of Jews in its covenant, it would be an understatement to suggest that the Israelis are overly generous.

In a place where clean water is supposedly unavailable, allegedly because Israel has forced Gazans to subsist on raw sewage water, we have this from “Fatafeat” of Leeds, England regarding Gaza’s Al Deira Hotel: “… the pool is so inviting and one of the main attractions of the hotel …”

Could it be that the hoteliers are to blame for any water crisis in Gaza?

A review by the British newspaper The Guardian about the Al Mashtal notes that it sits adjacent to where terrorists operate:

This looks and feels like an upmarket resort hotel in, perhaps, Sharm El-Sheikh. But this is Gaza City, and if you turn your eyes away from the setting sun you will see a Hamas military training camp next door which was recently bombed by the Israeli military.

If one day the hotel is obliterated by a slightly off-the-mark Israeli strike, this is the evidence why it occurred.

Thus, self-deluded Israeli “peace” organizations repeat the lies, depicting only scenes of rubble rather than glitz in an appeal brochure.

No wonder, then, that “Khader K” headlined his review of one Gaza hotel: “never imagined something like this in Gaza.” With the intensity of the propaganda war against Israel, how could he? Or anyone else for that matter? And yet, there he stood, and he wrote what he saw.

“Alaa B” of “Gaza, Palestine” wrote in July on Trip Advisor for this property: "Simply you can find all you what hope to get a perfect rest through perfect service , perfect look , perfect sleep ,perfect foods and so on and I hope you get a moments at this great place[sic]” – hardly what one associates with a “prison.”

Meanwhile, “EngAnasRajab” of Ramallah also writing in July on Trip Advisor about his stay in Gaza:

Excellent hotel overseeing the sea. Very comfortable, very good service, The rooms are simply lovely, well decorated and luxurious with all modern amenities. The services are extremely impressive- you get international standard services here.

But it is not just the tourist class who know that the real Gaza belies the invented Palestinian-Arab narrative.

In a July, 2011 “Marketplace” article headlined: “In Gaza, real estate is at a premium,” reporter Reese Erlich notes that “wealthy businessman” Suhail Halima “just paid $1 million for this lot in downtown Gaza City.” Poverty? Repression?

Erlich speaks with “real estate broker Essam Mortja” who “walks with confidence” on “a wide street packed with expensive homes and condos.”

Mortja tells Erlich: “This is the best place in the world. Real estate markets collapsed everywhere else. But here, it just goes up."

Erlich: "Mortja is so bullish, he's about to put his own house on the market. The three-bedroom/two-bath house will go for $900,000. What makes it worth that kind of money?"

Mortja: "You have a great view of the Mediterranean. The whole world wants to own property here. It's clean and safe. It's the best neighborhood in Gaza.”

Wanting to own property inside a “prison”? Not likely.

Other examples of “prison” life are readily available (at least until word of this article spreads) here. Or here. Or here. Or here.

Things are even better in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, which through journalistic and academic malfeasance has come to be known colloquially as “the West Bank” – a modern invention that helps to discredit Israel’s connection to these ancient Jewish territories. Anti-Israel propaganda to the contrary reigns however.

The large Palestinian-Arab population centers of Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus and Jericho amid the Jewish and Arab towns and villages are doing well – exactly what the Arabs do not want people to realize. Everyone from Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, to Palestinian-Arab mouthpiece Hanan Ashrawi, to the terrorists’ fawning media accomplices and other purveyors of anti-Semitism, splash around like cheap cologne cynical charges that Israel is stealing Palestinian-Arabs’ water, creating a hostile, repressive environment and committing persecution.

This September, Abbas told the United Nations General Assembly that “the occupying power” (his pet name for Israel) is:

preventing the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) from implementing vital infrastructure projects and providing services to its citizens, who are also being prevented from cultivating their land and deprived of water for irrigation. It is also obstructing the establishment of agricultural, industrial, tourism and housing projects by the private sector in vast areas of the Occupied Palestinian Authority, …  [according to a transcript from the Web site Information Clearing House].

The world might realize Abbas is lying when they see the villas in Ramallah and elsewhere amid the areas he controls. The Royal Villas in the Al-Tireh neighborhood of Ramallah are “a fabulous, modern and state of art residential community located on a wonderful view in the heart of the West Bank city of Ramallah,” according to the developer’s Web site. Most of the units are already sold. They will be located “in the calmness of a quiet district of the town.”

Each unit of the Royal Villas “will have a private garden, a parking lot and a number of open terraces with the possibility to add indoor swimming pool.”

Poolside at the Movenpick Hotel in Ramallah

One doesn’t expect Israel’s enemies to display these pictures, but the media should, especially when Palestinian-Arabs describe their areas as akin to repressive wastelands. But the media’s goal, it seems, is only to document a delay at a checkpoint or an Israeli response to an attack.

It would have to be an accident if word of resort hotels aplenty in these areas were to leak out. Here are some photos of them, and what tourists who have visited there have to say:

“alanweinkrantz”[sic] of San Antonio, Texas, posted on Trip Advisor about the Movenpick Hotel in Ramallah:

Everyone is very nice here and the rooms are VERY nice. It's a higher end Swiss chain, and you can tell it has European roots.

I rarely eat in hotel restaurants, but in this case, I can highly recommend the Allegro Italian Restaurant. They[sic] Chef is from Italy and has lived and worked all over the world. The restaurant has an amazing wine list and some really great cheeses that you can select from.

Reviewer “the-amazing-grace” from Israel noted:

The hotel is only 2 years old, and is clean, bright and welcoming. The bed is very comfortable, the bathroom well appointed, and everything about the room was warm and homely. We enjoyed a very nice breakfast as well as a few hours by the pool. The gym overlooks the pool which we thought was a great design feature.

The world would therefore scoff when Abbas speaks of “the occupation seizing the land and its water,” as he did at the United Nations in 2011, when pools and fountains -- fixtures of luxurious homes and hotels in the Palestinian-Authority-controlled territories -- can be readily seen.

Other guests from Nazareth, Hamburg, Germany, Ramallah, Dubai, United Arab Emirates and many other Americans, Europeans and Arabs have also been there and posted reviews.

“mushrooom288” from Sydney, Australia, wrote:

This hotel is absolutely stunning, and I just did not want to leave. Where do I begin? From the moment you enter the hotel, staff were serving champagne, wine and orange juice as you check in. Check in was efficient, staff were very friendly and helpful, great English. The lobby area in this hotel is stunning - one of the nicest I've seen anywhere in the world, nevermind that this is the West Bank. Amazing chandeliers, we had a function in their grandballroom, and its [sic] beautiful in there.

And yet Hanan Ashrawi, a longtime Palestinian-Arab propagandist and lawmaker, told Geraldo Rivera earlier this year:

When you have such a strong system of control where your resources are not at your disposal, particularly the water, the land is not at your disposal, there is no freedom of movement for people or goods. You have hundreds and hundreds of checkpoints that separates one Palestinian town from another. So, that limits your ability to function.


I certainly would like to see peace but peace with justice, with humanity, with morality not peace of power politics, of subjugation of the nation or stealing the land and resources, keeping us as though we are a sub human species.

Then there is American writer Stephen Lendman, who often attacks Israel viciously, ranting:

How do Palestinians manage every day? How do they deal with state-sponsored denial of their rights? How do they survive under suffocating conditions?

How gullible many seem to be when it comes to believing the worst about Jews and Israelis.

In another Palestinian-Authority-controlled city, Jericho, Trip Advisor reviewer “TravelQueen2002” of Los Angeles wrote about the Jericho Resort Village:

We spent the last night of our tour at the Jericho Resort and the staff held back nothing for our Goodbye dinner. We were placed on the outside patio, overlooking the pool with a spread designed for a king. Thanks again to the lovely staff at the Jericho Resort Village for making our last night so memorable!

The city of Jenin also boasts a resort complex that includes an amusement park. Based on its brochure, there is no sign of suffering. See here and here.

Such sights are unlikely to be seen in an American ghetto or Appalachia.

Sure there are areas of extreme poverty, but whatever poverty may exist in Gaza or Jenin or elsewhere is not caused by Israel. Nor is it the point here to suggest that Palestinian-Arabs are not allowed to have luxury homes, resorts or pleasures.

But the problem is, it is exclusively scenes of suffering or destruction both the media feature and the propagandists display. Malibu-like mansions, sumptuous smorgasbords or Las Vegas-like resort hotels would completely destroy a narrative used as a bludgeon against Israel.

Accusations that Israel is stealing water from the Palestinian-Arabs would simply not be readily accepted if more people saw photos of luxurious pools and fountains.

Likewise, the lies that Gaza is “a giant prison” would not hold water if people read the candid reviews on Trip Advisor offered by Palestinian-Arabs, Europeans and others who have managed to enter and leave the area freely.

The truth is, if Palestinian-Arabs are suffering it is due to a system of corruption from their leaders who receive billions in aid donations. Were Israel truly trying to persecute or oppress the Palestinian-Arabs, there would be no resorts, no five-star hotels and restaurants and no travel to or between these areas.

The image of Israel as oppressor, forcing Palestinian-Arabs to live in “squalor” serves as fodder to bludgeon Israel at the U.N., on campuses throughout the world and in the streets and media of European capitals.

Israelis certainly do not deserve the boycotts, calls for divestment, attacks at the U.N. and other international arenas and on campuses the world over.

Steve Feldman is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Greater Philadelphia District.

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