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29 Mar, 2012

Exercising the Universal Right to Visit Palestine, Minus an Israeli Visa

By Stuart Ward, Nick Ferriman, Marut Mekloy, Imtiaz Muqbil

Palestine, a state recognised by the governments of 132 countries around the world, is the only sovereign state that needs a visa from another state in order to visit it. This travesty must end.

When that happens, when the Israeli Occupation ends, then and only then can the peoples of the Middle East, and the world at large, rejoice. The right to visit Palestine – and anywhere else for that matter – is an inalienable right that underpins the transition to a fairer global society.

Tourism has played a major role in bringing the peoples of the world closer together. Our industry is the human side of globalization. When we get it right, we are a powerful force for good; after all, we promote peaceful human interaction. As part of our ethical mission, we have a responsibility to ensure the change to a more just and peaceful world. We cannot therefore ignore the momentous events that are taking place around us.

In the last 12 months, we have witnessed a social upheaval in the Middle East, and beyond, that signals a revolution in world affairs. The Arab Spring has shown that freedom and democracy are desired by all, not just the first-class passengers on the top deck of SS Global Citizen.

The travel and tourism industry can play a major role in advancing the cause of the Arab Spring and building global peace if it makes an open and unequivocal call for Palestinian statehood in line with scores of UN resolutions before it.

At the moment, millions of people in Asia, especially Muslim and Christian pilgrims, who want to visit Palestine have to apply for a visa at an Israeli Embassy. This effectively means that they have to seek the permission of Country A in order to visit Country B. This restriction of access is not only illegal, it also violates the principles on which our own industry is based.

The visa application process for Palestine, via Israel, includes a range of onerous and intrusive questions designed to protect what Israel purports to be its security interests, when in fact the visitors have no intention whatsoever of even visiting Israel.

Our first action therefore is to demand the right of all those who wish to visit Palestine, and not Israel, to do so through the normal channels of Palestinian sovereignty, not those of the Israeli Occupation. This demand must be pursued zealously and persistently.

Our second action is to demand that the occupier and the occupation do not impede the right of the global citizenry to visit and travel through Palestine in any way. This means the end of Israeli checkpoints on transition into, through, and out of Palestine. A failure to do this by Israel would negate the meaning of Palestinian independence as understood by the UN General Assembly and the vast majority of the peoples of the world.

Building tourism to Palestine will help cement its statehood, create jobs by the thousands, and contribute to a wider regional peace that will lead to a win-win situation for everyone, including Israel. Many people will want to visit Israel too. Those who do are free to apply for their visas and undergo the usual security checks at an Israeli embassy.

The biggest potential for visiting Palestine is the prospects of pilgrimage tourism, which can bring together people of all the Abrahamic faiths in the common pursuit of global peace and understanding. At a time of great global turmoil, instability, conflict, and a loss of trust and faith in global leadership, the world needs a “feel-good” factor. A clear declaration in support a Palestinian state will go a long way towards making that happen.

The peoples of the world expect to exercise their inalienable right to visit Palestine free of any impediments and obstacles. Every fair and legitimate means must be used to bring pressure to bear on those who would prevent us from exercising this right of freedom of movement into, through, and out of Palestine at the express invitation of its people, the Palestinians.

The occupation is illegal. If the travel and tourism industry is truly an industry of peace, it must work harder to honour and earn that reputation.

All four authors are members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Thailand

Stuart Ward is Chairperson of PSC Thailand, Nick Ferriman is a lecturer at Mahidol University, Marut Mekloy is a professional translator and humanist, Imtiaz Muqbil is Executive Editor of Travel Impact Newswire.