By Ranjan Solomon*
The first instinct of a thief or murderer is to deny the act. So it is with Israel. Israel never wants to be accused of or to be reminded of its unrelenting crimes. They had refused Human Rights Watch entry into Israel not because HRW is biased and in factual in its reporting. That decision has been withdrawn on bad press and a well constructed campaign.
Israel has gone politically blind and dim imagining that its murderous ways will last unimpeded. In just the last week, the world has seen two important gatherings. The first in Teheran, which brought more than 50 countries and many hundred delegates to discuss their own tacit and overt support to the “Third Intifada’ against Israel, was a huge success. Now the action shifts to Teheran where Palestinians from across the globe entered the Palestine Abroad conference hall in their thousands, each with their own story, their own reasons for their passion, but with one common goal- to reaffirm their love and hope for Palestine. In the same week, Brazil led from the front calling on all Non Aligned Nations to do their bit to combat the occupation and use their political clout to dismantle the occupation. What was an occasional protest from disparate groups, the protest is turning into a wave, and will hopefully turn into a storm that Israel will find hard to weather.
Winning over a mighty military force like Israel will not come with sticks, and knifes and rocks. Nor does peaceful resistance seem to be working. Nor is armed struggle viable or desirable. Israel could well end up simply ethnic cleansing the Palestinian population and not even factor in the final consequences. Political inanity is like that.
One important tactic will bear some fruit, although in incremental measures. First is for the international community to respond to the call, to “Come and See” the reality of Palestine-Israel. Rifat Kassis writing on the subject said: “We address churches, tourists, and pilgrims of all faiths and ethnicities in hopes they will see the injustice happening in Palestine and walk and work in solidarity with us along the path to justice… Kairos Palestine believes in facilitating the “sight” of the many people who visit our land, whether they are tourists or pilgrims” Kassis goes on: “tourism is a heavily political business anywhere you go, whether or not the politics are advertised. This is especially true when it comes to tourism in places of conflict, and it raises many crucial questions: How do you know you’re not contributing to a situation of injustice? What are your responsibilities?
The Holy Land attracts pilgrims from around the world who join tours that are strongly promoted by the Israeli government. But this type of tourism is of little benefit to Palestinians. For Israel, tourism is a tactic. The tactic seeks to demonize the Palestinians, vilifying their narrative and stripping them of their places, resources, and rights. During the past few decades, Israel has actively prevented Palestinians from taking the initiative in their own tourism industry. Since Israel controls all of Palestine’s borders and regulates all movement inside those borders, impeding Palestinian-led tourism is just another tactic employed by a comprehensive occupation.
The consequence of such tourism in Palestine is the promotion of a historical narrative that excludes Palestinians, causes economic damage, erodes solidarity, and cultivates prejudice. As the Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism (ECOT) writes, “Tourism promotes the wrong assumption that people have the ability to gain fulfillment through interaction with objects, like nature, beaches, or objectified humans, and that a subject gains subject-hood by relating with an object. In the absence of a subject-to-subject relationship, people are deprived of their human dignity. Interaction with objectified people or nature leads to the erosion of people-ness. All forms of objectification are anathema to God in whose image we are created.” To extend these thoughts to the Palestinian context, the dominant tourism industry in Palestine/Israel not only perpetuates injustice, but is actually built upon it.
Yet, it can, and must be recognized that, many pilgrims and solidarity tourists who, first came as ordinary tourists, are among the Palestinian’s greatest advocates. They not only return to tell the truth about Israel’s occupation. They bring back groups and begin advocacy at the level of their law makers.
Changing public perception is a huge challenge but, perhaps, the cutting edge option that will make a difference. The ‘Third Intifada’ must be fought on the streets of the world- not just in Palestine. Palestinians by themselves are not going to win over their dominant and pitiless occupier. But the occupier will need to be led to trip, tumble, and fall in other ways. The boycott and sanctions, and divestments- a message that can best be told by visitors who will find in quick time that there are no military answers, nor are their diplomatic options. Israel is winning the diplomatic space and buying off country after country in their favour. It preys on Europe with the anti-Semitic charge anytime they condemn Israel invoking guilt from the days of the Holocaust. That is now history and Israel is doing far worse to the Palestinians than the Nazis did to them. Israel’s barbarity is limitless, nuanced, and sophisticated. It is subtle but brutal.
It must feel the isolation, of being treated as ‘pariah’ and ‘war criminal’. It must feel like the pinch of being the country which violates every available protocol in international human rights. Just like a criminal is thrown into prison, Israel should be a prison—not forever- but until they come around to talk peace based on justice. Does the international community have the gumption?
*Ranjan Solomon is a commentator and analyst on the ‘Question of Palestine’.