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27 Sep, 2011

World Tourism Day Essay: Visit Palestine, Support Peace

The outpouring of global support for an independent Palestinian state has opened a huge window of opportunity for the global travel & tourism industry to join the effort and help end one of the world’s longest and most controversial conflicts. One way would be to make every effort to visit Palestine and end the offensive, humiliating and illegal requirement of having to first apply for a visa at an Israeli embassy.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine means that millions of people in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, especially Christian pilgrims seeking to visit Bethlehem, and Muslims seeking to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam, have to seek a visa from a country they DO NOT WANT to visit in order to get to a country they DO WANT to visit.

By any norms of international relations, this should be totally unacceptable. Now, thanks to the wave of global support for an independent Palestine, the peoples of all countries backing the Palestinian bid are well placed to demand that their governments take the necessary diplomatic steps to remove this bizarre requirement. Once eliminated, the number of visitors to Palestine will break all records.

As an affiliate body of the United Nations, the World Tourism Organisation has a moral and professional responsibility to advance the cause. Today, World Tourism Day, coming right in the midst of an intense global debate on Palestine, is an excellent day to start.

There has been much excitement, and much talk, about the opportunities presented by the Arab spring. No doubt, Tunisia and Egypt are setting the standards, and will reap an immense tourism dividend. But their story is incomplete without taking account of the even more immense opportunities for liberating the people of Palestine. If Arab dictators and despots are to fall for the Arab spring to bear fruit, the Israeli occupation of Palestine must also end.

As clearly manifested in the numerous speeches by global leaders at the ongoing 66th UN General Assembly, global backing for Palestine is almost universal. The vast majority of the world considers the Israeli occupation to be illegal. Travel and tourism can play a vital role in providing the economic support for a viable Palestinian state, after the occupation ends.

This is a win-win situation of the first order. As Palestine has no natural resources or manufacturing or industrial base, tourism will mean an almost instantaneous source of valuable foreign exchange revenues. Many of those visitors will visit Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Israel, and vice versa. The entire region will benefit.  Today, the taxpayers of the European Union, the United States and other countries provide the occupied Palestine territories with millions of dollars in aid.  That will probably be no longer necessary. Moreover, trillions of dollars being wasted on defence and security expenditures could be re-channelled into something more productive, such as meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals by the deadline of 2015.

An independent state will help the Palestinian people get on with nation-building. The travel and tourism industry is already cognizant of the benefits. In the hopeful days of the past, when the various peace accords such as Camp David and Oslo were being negotiated, the joint presence of the Israeli, Egyptian, Palestinian, and Jordanian tourism ministers was a welcome sight at packed press conferences at international trade shows.

On this World Tourism Day, the UNWTO could commission a full-scale study of the tourism potential of an independent Palestine. It could call for more international tourism conferences to be held in Palestine. When those who apply for visas to get to those conferences experience the hassles at the Israeli embassies, airports and checkpoints, they themselves will push for a new visa system that will allow visitors to travel to and through Palestine without coming into any contact with the Israelis.

At the moment most visitors to Palestine are from countries which do not need visas for Israel.  This is nothing compared to the millions of other potential visitors from India, the ASEAN countries, in Africa and Latin America. A small minority in these countries, mainly Christian and Muslim pilgrims, still give it a try. When applying for a visa, however, they have to first prove that they are not a threat to Israel before they can be allowed to prove their friendship for Palestine.

Today, every world leader addressing the UN General Assembly to support the creation of a Palestinian state is sending a clear message to Israel. President Barack Obama said in his speech that he was frustrated with the lack of progress in the Arab-Israeli “peace process.”  The rest of the world is even more frustrated, especially with the United States. There is growing anger at the empty words leading to no tangible action. Global leaders are making clear that of all the various problems they face, that of Palestine has consumed enough time, money and resources over the years, and that it’s time to end it.

The Israelis have long claimed to be the only democracy in the Middle East. No longer. Many other democracies are emerging, and all want the Palestinian people to be free. The Palestinians stress that they see the UN as the last hope of pursuing their goal via proper legal, diplomatic and peaceful channels. The US has said it will veto the bid. That will be a slap in the face of the fundamental majority-wins rule of democracy. If their bid fails, the Palestinians have warned there could be violence against what will be seen in many parts of the world as US hypocrisy and double standards. The Islamic world, too, is approaching zero-tolerance level for being blamed as the source of problems caused by others.

The Israelis also have long claimed that their foes seek to wipe them off the map. Today, it is the Israelis who have to prove that they are not trying to wipe Palestine off the map.  It is time for them to recognise Palestine rather than constantly demand that the Palestinians recognise them. If they are such great lovers of democracy as they claim, then it would behoove them to respect the views of the majority and create the conditions for a Palestinian state to evolve.

Israelis need not worry about the security when the floodgates of tourism open. The 8 m high wall they have built to keep the Palestinian terrorists out will suffice to ward off any security threats from foreign visitors. However, when the visitors go back to their home countries after photographing the massive wall and seeing the reality on the ground, they will realise who has been telling the truth. This global awakening is what Israelis fear most.

On World Tourism Day, Sept 27, the Egyptian city of Aswan will host the official celebrations, which will include a High-Level Think Tank on this year’s theme, ‘Tourism – Linking Cultures’. At the Think Tank, leading public and private tourism stakeholders, academia and the media will address the role of tourism in building understanding, respect and tolerance worldwide – referred to as “building blocks for a more peaceful world.” All very well. But the world’s done enough thinking. And talking. Its now time for some courageous action.


  • A totally biased article clouding over reality with such phrases as “outpouring of global support” tells us who wrote this article. Perhaps you mean the President of Iran flying in to show his support?

    Christians and Muslims WANT to go to one country and one country ONLY in the middle east – Israel and that will continue.

    No one is intererested in visiting a refugee camp that is their own doing. That’s right they are born and told they are refugees when in fact they are not. The refugee funds that flow in as a result are incredible – not from Arab nations but European.

    And the main issue is why should anyone support nationhood for a state that refuses to recognize Israel as a country? Get the refugee mentality out of Palestine, stop supporting it with money as if they are refugees and wait for an administration that recognizes as with the ENTIRE WORLD that Israel is a country.

    Then, that would be a great place to visit…after I see all the sites in Israel.

    Think before you write please.

  • Supardi Asmorobangun

    Reading these two opposite thoughts, the article and the comment by Tim Obendorf, I could see how huge is the international community task to help solve the everlasting conflict. Even a well-thought article by an east is perceived in a totally different manner by the west. But I still hope this discussion opens a new horizon which could in anyway possible push in helping establishing both Israel and Palestine country as peaceful neighbors in the near future.

  • Mahmoud Darwish

    They did not recognize me in the shadows
    That suck away my color in this Passport
    And to them my wound was an exhibit
    For a tourist Who loves to collect photographs
    They did not recognize me,
    Ah . . . Don’t leave
    The palm of my hand without the sun
    Because the trees recognize me
    Don’t leave me pale like the moon!

    All the birds that followed my palm
    To the door of the distant airport
    All the wheat fields
    All the prisons
    All the white tombstones
    All the barbed Boundaries
    All the waving handkerchiefs
    All the eyes
    were with me,
    But they dropped them from my passport

    Stripped of my name and identity?
    On soil I nourished with my own hands?
    Today Job cried out
    Filling the sky:
    Don’t make and example of me again!
    Oh, gentlemen, Prophets,
    Don’t ask the trees for their names
    Don’t ask the valleys who their mother is
    >From my forehead bursts the sward of light
    And from my hand springs the water of the river
    All the hearts of the people are my identity
    So take away my passport!

  • Mohd Hamzeh

    United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a relief and human development agency, providing education, health care, social services and emergency aid to 5 million[2]Palestine refugees living in Jordan,Lebanon and Syria, as well as in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is the only agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region or conflict. It is separate from UNHCR,[3] the UN Refugee Agency, which is the only other UN agency aiding refugees, dedicated to aiding all refugees in the world.
    It was established following the1948 Arab-Israeli War by theUnited Nations General Assemblyunder resolution 302(IV) of 8 December 1949. This resolution also reaffirmed paragraph 11, concerning refugees, of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and was passed unopposed, supported byIsrael and the Arab states, with only the Soviet bloc and South Africa abstaining.[4] UNRWA has had to develop a working definition of “refugee” to allow it to providehumanitarian assistance. This maintained that beneficiaries had to have lived in the British Mandate of Palestine for at least two years before fleeing and must have lost both their home and livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, or be the descendant of someone who had.[5] Most of UNRWA’s funding comes from European countries and the United States.
    The UNRWA definition is meant solely to determine eligibility for UNRWA assistance, although some argue it serves to perpetuate the conflict.[6][7][8][9]Under General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), of 11 December 1948, other persons may be eligible for repatriation and/or compensation but are not necessarily eligible for relief under the UNRWA’s working definition. Thus a person who is not or who has ceased to be regarded as a refugee by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights definition may still qualify as a refugee by the UNRWA definition.
    All Palestine refugees (as defined) who are registered with UNRWA and are in need of assistance are eligible for help from UNRWA. In 2010, there were almost 5 million qualified Palestine refugees registered with the UNRWA.[2]UNRWA provides facilities in 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It also provided relief to displaced persons inside the state of Israel following the 1948 conflict until the Israeli government took over responsibility for them in 1952.
    For a camp to be recognized by UNRWA, there must be an agreement between the host government and UNRWA governing use of the camp. UNRWA does not itself run any camps, has no police powers or administrative role, but simply provides services to the camp. Refugee camps, which developed from tent citiesto rows of concrete blockhouses to urban ghettos indistinguishable from their surroundings, house around one third of all registered Palestine refugees. UNRWA also provides facilities in other areas where large numbers of registered Palestine refugees live outside of recognized camps.