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16 Feb, 2018

World invited to visit Palestine, see the reality of life under occupation

RAMALLAH, February 15, 2018 (WAFA & Travel Impact Newswire) – Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi Thursday called on all countries to accept the invitation of President Mahmoud Abbas to visit Palestine and occupied Jerusalem to assert solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Abbas Thursday met bin Alawi at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah, after which a joint press conference was held. The Omani official expressed support for Abbas’ efforts, which aim to end the Israeli occupation and establish a sovereign Palestinian state.

He said Oman will support Palestine at all times and that the establishment of a Palestinian state is not a phase, but a historical necessity. He added that whoever wishes to end the remains of wars, must support Abbas and his government, noting that his speech at the Security Council on February 20 will define the Palestinian course, which is of peace.

Bin Alawi called on the Palestinian people to work tirelessly to build their country that is considered a wealth for all Arab nations.

Palestine and East Jerusalem are not common for those visiting Israel. But a new trend has been steadily gaining popularity among independent tourists who deliberately go beyond the standard pilgrimage sites to step out of the tourist bubble.

By visiting Palestine, one learns about how many Palestinians feel disenfranchised. The people one encounters feel stuck, abandoned by international society. Seeing the hopelessness is a sobering experience.

This emerging breed of tourists occasionally comes with prior knowledge about the conflict and sometimes not. And educating the lot of tourists, who stumble upon these tours by accident, as tours that are off the beaten track, is what tour guides do. Most people on such tours are not very political.

The concept of alternative tourism was introduced in Palestine for the first time by the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG) in 1995 after the end of the First Intifada (five-year Palestinian uprising). That was when people wanted to learn about the Palestinian question, political realities, and the struggle here, according to Rami Kassis, ATG.

Over the past 10 years, other tour operators, and many NGOs and human rights organisations on both sides of the Green Line, have started offering alternative tours of East Jerusalem, Palestine, and Israeli settlements inside the West Bank.

These tours take tourists deep into conflict zones. They try to break negative stereotypes about Palestine as an unsafe place infested with terrorists by showing tourists the natural beauty, cultural wealth and hospitality of Palestine. This idea took time to be understood by Palestine’s tourism community.

But this has changed over the last two decades. The Palestinian ministry of tourism now sees ATG as a role model for tour operators in the region. They realise the importance of this kind of tourism. Kassis says. “We encourage tourists to stay longer, and explore Palestine beyond Bethlehem. We suggest they visit other cities, refugee camps and interact with people in remote villages.”

An increase in the global community’s interest in Palestine is evident not only from the growth of tourists but also from the interest of tour operators in other countries. Advocacy and education are a large part of the work of alternative tour operators.

Guides often have no time to breathe on these tours, as travellers bombard them with questions, ask for clarifications, and get into debates. “Do Arab and Israeli children study together?” “Can Israelis safely enter areas that are completely under Palestinian control?” “What is the general sentiment about Prime Minister Netanyahu?”

The questions don’t stop.

The alternative tours have not gone unnoticed by the Israeli government. Though tourists on alternative tours are not harassed generally, “there have been instances of visitors to the country being sent back from the airport on grounds of suspicion of their true intent,” says Kassis.

International visitors to Israel and Palestine have an advantage over both Israelis and Palestinians – they can cross the Green Line with ease, unlike Israelis who are warned against entering areas under complete Palestinian control and Palestinians whose entry into Israel is forbidden and subject to permits which are difficult to obtain.