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November 06, 2013

Countering the Lies of Protest Tourism

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Protest tourists in the West Bank. (Dexter Van Zile)

Ardie Geldman, a resident of Efrat, has written a piece for The New English Review that details the manner in which Palestinian activists have helped turn the West Bank into a theme park where privileged tourists from the United States and Europe adopt the persona of human rights heroes assailing Israel’s misdeeds. Like most theme parks, there is a huge amount of trickery and showmanship going on.

When protest tourists visit with Palestinians, they are offered a distorted narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict that omits any mention of Arab responsibility for the refugee problem. Geldman, who talks to these groups after they've been exposed to Palestinian propaganda, details the ignorance protest tourists exhibit about refugee camps when they finally get around to hearing a different point of view:

When a stopover in Efrat follows a visit to Dheisheh or Aida, the questions the visitors ask convey the mistaken assumption that the state of Israel created these camps. It is further believed by many of the visitors that Israeli authorities forcibly interred the original Palestinian residents in 1948 and that Israel remains responsible for the camps' continued existence and their current squalid conditions.

Skepticism within the group is apparent when I attempt to disabuse its members of these “facts.” Why else, ask visitors, would the Palestinians be living in refugee camps today, if not for Israel? The historically accurate reason, say Marx and Nachmias, is that “[UNWRA] has been resisting any contraction of its operations, never took any steps to fold up, and to date, service responsibilities were never transferred to the legitimate Palestinian Authority. UNRWA continues to act as a ‘non-territorial government’ competing with the elected Palestinian Authority for funds and responsibilities. Other problems involve a hastily drawn mandate resulting in lack of proper accountability and management procedures, and lack of clarity concerning UNRWA’s involvement in the human rights of the refugees.”

Visitors typically fail to respond upon learning that in the 1970s Israel took the initiative to relieve the overcrowded living conditions of Palestinians in camps by building apartment blocks for residents of Sheik Radwan in the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, these units were never occupied due to physical threats against camp residents by the PLO. There was also political opposition to the project voiced by the Arab lobby at the United Nations. This unheralded chapter in Israeli-Palestinian relations is documented in UN General Assembly Resolution 31/15 of November 23, 1976 and UN General Assembly Resolution 34/52 of November 23, 1979, both of which condemned Israel for improving the lives of Palestinians.

Visitors also evince no reaction when it is pointed out that the western edge of the Dheisheh refugee camp lies directly across the road from Ducha, a section of the Palestinian town of Beit Ja’alah. Ducha is noted for its large and ornate homes, not a few with expensive cars parked in their driveways. Years ago, some residents of Dheisheh began building homes in Ducha while retaining their homes in Dheisheh. The camp home, typically a small slum, but often graced with a satellite disk, is the only home belonging to refugees that foreign visitors are taken to see; they remain unaware of Ducha. The same pressures and intimidation applied in Sheik Radwan prevents Dheisheh families from giving up their refugee camp residency. As a result, even wealthy Ducha families still receive UNWRA financial support and services as long as they officially retain residency in the Dheisheh camp.

Read the whole thing.


Also, Geldman has another article published in the Jerusalem Post that deals with the same subject.

Posted by dvz at November 6, 2013 11:16 AM

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