Before signing up to go a tour of Bethlehem and Hebron in the Palestinian territories given by Green Olive Tours, I had concerns about how they would portray the Israeli -Palestinian conflict. Now after seeing it for myself how they slant their tours, I can see those concerns were warranted.
As the tour began I approached the meeting point to be greeted by a very amenable Israeli man who offered me an information packet and sent us on our bus to Bethlehem and Hebron for the next eight hours. We arrived in Hebron after picking up our tour guide Samir who was a most welcoming Palestinian Christian, and stopped at a glass factory. There I met a couple of young Palestinian boys who were anxious for me to purchase a Palestine bracelet that their families sold to make money. The streets were empty because of Ramadan and our small group of seven people (I and six Europeans) was noticeable. Along the way our tour guide talked to us about the atrocities committed against him and his fellow Palestinians by the IDF and Israelis. As someone who spends a substantial amount of time investigating the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I was intrigued by some of the things he said. He informed me (incorrectly, please do not think for a moment this is factual) that Israel has never followed a UN Resolution.
The most fascinating portion of the day was lunch which I had at a Palestinian man’s house who was married with a two year old son. This was a home as clean and upscale as every home I had ever visited in Jerusalem. He had lots of couches, clean tile floors, and paintings hung all over and photos of his family. His sisters all attended university, he owns the shop below his home and his wife owns a beauty store. They were typical definition of middle class family. Our tour group sat to eat and he sat with us but did not eat due to Ramadan. We spoke for a long time and I asked him why, if he did not support his government calling for the destruction of Israel, did he and his friends not call for an election or go out on the streets to protest the injustice? He responded by telling me I asked him hard questions.
I also asked him what his personal solution would be for the conflict. His response that he wants to see a ” one state” solution for the area that is now the West Bank Gaza and Israel (ie that is a code word for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state). He was not advocating a two state solution. He remarked that he didn’t understand why people had state boundaries or why the world required passports. The rest of the tour group was engaged in the meal and only half listened to our conversation. I asked him about his private religious practices. He told me that before he married his wife, he told her that if she did not cover herself the way the Quran instructed, they could not marry because “she knew what her God told her to do.”
We then arrived in Bethlehem, and Samir showed us the Deheishe refugee camp run by UNRWA. The Palestinians living there are in cramped quarters, with dirt, and graffiti everywhere (much of the graffiti promotes maximalist claims and all of it was put there by the residents). Samir briefly explained about their displacement following 1948, but at no time did he discuss whether it is really reasonable for the Palestinians to demand that the refugees and their descendants (now four generations of them) all be entitled to return to villages within 1948 Israel that no longer exist, rather than being resettled with dignity now by putting up permanent more comfortable housing in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority. The conditions in the refugee camp I saw are genuine third world but it does not have to be this way. With all the aid money the PA gets, the refugees could easily have been resettled in the West Bank, as part of a framework for a genuine two state solution. Instead, as I saw in Deheishe, the descendants of refugees are left to languish there as a means of continuing to fuel the conflict, rather than create a model for a genuine two state solution by encouraging the refugees and their descendants to want to rebuild their lives in an area which could be a future Palestinian state (as opposed to trying to return to Israel en masse so they can effectively wipe out the Jewish state). It is a jarring experience to see the refugee camps, but it is not sufficient to simply blame Israel for this squalor of the Palestinian refugees in these camps.
On our tour, I saw the separation barrier between Israel and the PA that everyone raises serious questions over, and on it was painted scores and scores of graffiti claiming “Free Palestine” and “We stand with the Palestinian people.”
That tour was first time I had come face to face with Palestinians that I had been reading about for so long. As a Jewish woman who loves Israel and actively supports the state, the tour gave me a real glimpse of how the other side thinks.
Additionally, the tour that day captured why Israel is often demonized in the media. In the short day, the seven Europeans who had never been to Israel before saw the result of the neglect by the Arab world of an entire population of Arab refugees. The participants on the tour saw crumbling cement houses and children playing in dirt with two by four wood blocks and guns. What are they supposed to think if they see Deheishe and then compare it to other locations in Israel or elsewhere in the world?
The tour advertised the supposed real view of the West Bank. Samir said he didn’t hate Israelis, but he hated the Israeli government. He didn’t mention whether the PA and the governments of the Arab states were responsible for any of the problem, and to that extent the tour was very imbalanced. Green Olive Tours, I want to believe, has well-meaning intentions for peace and cooperation between the people of the region. But, in order to truly foster these principles it would need to stop demonizing Israel and providing a tour that only promotes the claims of one side of this complicated equation.
Response to Tatiana Becker from Green Olive Tours
Tatiana Becker approached her July 21st article with a particular agenda in mind, telling us in the first paragraph that she ‘had concerns about how they would portray the Israeli -Palestinian conflict’. The ‘they’ of course is Green Olive Tours, an Israeli/Palestinian company that conducts tours in Israel and Palestine. Ms. Becker came looking for the ‘slant’, as she calls it, and of course she found it. One has to wonder what ‘slant’ she found on the mostly Zionist tours that other Israeli companies offer.
The ‘slant’ of the article of course was to point to irrelevancies such as the fact that some Palestinians are middle class by US standards. The point of the tour was not to illuminate any economic disparities between Israelis and Palestinians but the political realities such as the Israeli settler neighbors of the Muslim family Ms. Beker visited, who carry full Israeli passports solely because they are Jewish, yet the Palestinian family is denied citizenship solely because they are Muslim.
In democracies such as the USA, there is no religious litmus test for citizenship, and certainly not for people born in the country. This was illustrated on the tour, yet Ms. Becker chose to exclude the information, preferring to focus on such things as the desire for her host to marry a modest wife. She omitted to mention that the religious Jewish settlers in the same neighbourhood had similar requirements for prospective brides. Ms. Becker also witnessed the presence of hundreds of Jews living in Hebron H2 under Israeli rule, together with tens of thousands of Muslims who are denied equal citizenship and equal rights, and are under military rule only because they are not Jewish.
The article talks about the ‘maximalist claims’ of Palestinians, but not the maximalist claims of Israelis, which were amply illustrated on the tour. Ms. Becker learned that since the Oslo Agreement was signed, successive Israeli governments have sent increasing numbers of Jews to live in the West Bank, more than doubling the Jewish population to well over half a million in the territories conquered in 1967. However she chose to exclude this information in the article.
Some of our guides support a two-state scenario, and others call for a one-state or federal system. Green Olive Tours takes no position on this issue, other than to call for the end to the Occupation, and a political framework that gives freedom and equal rights for all. This could happen regardless of the number of states on the ground. After all, the USA has 50 states while guaranteeing the rights of all.
Ms. Becker writes that “Green Olive Tours, I want to believe, has well-meaning intentions for peace and cooperation between the people of the region.” She may want to believe it, and we may be well-meaning, but even a cursory look at our website, would tell a different story.
The mission of Green Olive Tours is to provide visitors with a meaningful critique of the country through a prism of human rights and liberal democratic values. If we were in the USA we would also promote freedom, political and legal equality between all sectors of the population, and that’s what we do in Israel/Palestine. We advocate for justice first, and from there to reach peace. Real peace comes from true restorative justice, and we are waiting for that to happen in Israel/Palestine.
Ms. Becker blithely dismisses refugee claims to return home, disregarding (like Israel) numerous United Nations Resolutions beginning with Resolution 194, issued on December 11th, 1948 which stipulates that, quote: “.. the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible”.
Since Israel became the sovereign authority in the areas where the refugee homes were located, the state has destroyed over 400 villages to ensure there was nothing to come home to. Under international law, successive Israeli governments remain responsible for the relocation and compensation of the refugees, according to Resolution 194. For Ms. Becker to belittle the local Palestinian guide’s lack of specific understanding of UN resolutions is quite disingenuous given her self stated superior knowledge.
The hidden agenda in Ms. Becker’s writing reflects the desire for some kind of exclusive society in Israel, where political and legal rights are conferred on particular sectors of the population depending on their religion. That’s not the American way and it should not be the Israeli way either.
Fred Schlomka is the CEO of the Green Olive Collective, an Israeli/Palestinian partnership. Green Olive Tours is a project of the Collective.
REBUTTAL BY TATIANA BECKER
There are a number of statements that Fred Shlomka has made above that need to be held up to closer scrutiny.
1. FRED’S QUESTIONABLE STATEMENT:
“Green Olive Tours takes no position on this issue, other than to call for the end to the Occupation, and a political framework that gives freedom and equal rights for all….with a meaningful critique of the country through a prism of human rights and liberal democratic values”
With respect, Fred conveniently forgets to define the “Occupation”- and it’s no secret that many (if not most)Palestinians refer to the occupation as having begun in 1948, with the birth of the State of Israel (They are claiming Jaffa and Haifa -ie the elimination of a Jewish state in the Middle East)
Fred ignores the reality of the PA being a totalitarian entity that denies freedom and equal rights for all. Since Fred alludes to American democratic values and tries to compare the PLO goals to the values of the United States of America, perhaps he should study the PLO covenant in depth.
Further, does Fred think that a Hamas run state in the area (which is likely who would take over if Israel suddenly withdrew to the 67 lines) is going to respect liberal democratic values?
Remember that before 1967, when Israel captured the territories only because Jordan refused to stay out of the war, there weren’t any Jews who were able to live in Hebron or other areas of the West Bank, were there? So this area has never been like America, has it?
1. Re Fred’s statement:”Palestinian family denied citizenship because they are Muslim”.
The reason why a Palestinian family in Judea and Samaria does not have citizenship is because the Israeli government has not annexed the area.The suggestion from Fred’s statement is that Israel does not allow a Muslim family to become citizens because of the Islamic religion. However, Israel provides full citizenship to 1.2 million Muslims who are Israeli citizens. Fred deals with impressionable and uninformed tourists who may not know that there are 1.2 million Muslim Israeli citizens? Does Fred point this out? No, I think Fred wants to leave a misinformed impression that Israel conducts a policy that does not allow Moslems in its midst, which is not accurate at all.
2. Re Fred’s statement: “Arabs live in Hebron under military rule only because they are not Jewish.”
In accordance with the Jan 1997 Hebron accord, Arabs Live in 97% of Hebron under Palestinian Authority rule, while the Israeli security system protects the Jews who are confined by that accord to living in 3% of Hebron. The Israeli security forces also protect the access roads to and from Hebron. Incursions of Israeli security forces into the Arab area of Hebron will only occur if there is an Arab security violation.
3. Re Fred’s statement: “Under international law, successive Israeli governments remain responsible for the relocation and compensation of the refugees, according to Resolution 194.”
No international law like that exists. Fred forgets that #194 was a UN general assembly resolution, which does not legally bind anyone.