Palestine and Palestinians Guide Book

Alternative Tourism Group
Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Palestine
2008 (2nd edition) ISBN 9950-319-01-03, 455 pp.
$35 + shipping ($20 of the purchase price goes direct to ATG)



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Publishing this Guidebook marks an important turning-point in presenting Palestine to visitors. The ATG (Alternative Tourism Group)  presents the country from the inside.

The guidebook covers such key topics as the Land, its geography and resources.
  • Palestinian history from prehistoric times until the present day
  • Palestinian society in all its diversity
  • the holy and historical sites
  • sites of contemporary importance:
    • Neighbourhoods, villages, the destroyed villages of 1948
    • Refugee camps and Israeli settlements
    • Contemporary culture.

The book contains information to facilitate encounters with the local population (including addresses of organisations, institutions and resource people), as well as practical information on internal travel, food, personal safety and the like. Not satisfying itself with simply providing long lists of sites, restaurants, hotels, taxis, and museums, the expertise of the ATG is harnessed to promote encounters of high quality, all carefully designed to connect with their particular agendas.

Tourism to Palestine still relies mainly on Israeli guides and guidebooks. Besides distorting basic information about the country's history and culture, and introducing hostile views about the Palestinian people, the domination that foreign tour operators have wielded over Palestinian tourism has meant that Palestine's own tour operators and vendors have seen little revenue from what is a major industry in the Palestinian economy.

When foreign tourists, carefully shepherded by Israeli guides, venture into Palestinian areas – today limited to Bethlehem and Jerusalem — they zip in and out without spending a night in Palestinian accommodation, without eating a meal in a Palestinian restaurant and without patronizing Palestinian stores or cultural venues. Visitors receive a biased and superficial picture of the political situation, and seldom visit Palestinians or their many interesting sites. If they relate to Palestinians at all, most guidebooks accord them only a scant reference, an abbreviated chapter at the end. Worst of all, but most common, Palestine is presented as merely a part of Israel itself.

This book resolves part of the  equation by providing  comprehensive guide to Palestine. Those of you who purchase the book and intend to visit Palestine are encouraged to become responsible tourists, helping sustain the Palestinian economy by visiting the length and breadth of the country, and  patronizing Palestinian hotels, restaurants, guiding services, and other resources.

Victor's Pilgrimage Tour


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2012 Taybeh Oktoberfest Reservations

October 6th & 7th • Departures daily

From Tel Aviv: 12.30 (12.30pm) - 175 shekels
Meeting place:
Alrozorov (Merkaz) rail station see map 

From Jerusalem: 14.00 (2pm)  - 140 shekels
Meeting place: 
Notre Dame Hotel, Jerusalem - see map

Return at 20.00 (8pm)
21.00 (9pm) Arrive back in Jerusalem
22.00 (10pm) Arrive back in Tel Aviv


Article in Dutch Newspaper

From Newspaper images www.toursinenglish.com

Taybeh Oktoberfest 2009

The 2011 Taybeh Oktoberfest will be held on 
October 1st & 2nd 2011. Details at this link.

The Taybeh Oktoberfest is two days filled with Palestinian music, culture, and of course, beer. This festival is an annual tradition that brings together visitors from abroad, Israelis, and Palestinians.







All year long there are weekly tours to Taybeh village and Brewery departing from the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem. Visit our tour description page for more information and reservations.

Download poster

The Taybeh Brewery, just north of Jerusalem, was established in 1995 by the Khoury family and produces fine beers on a par with the best microbreweries in Europe and the USA. Taybeh, a Christian Palestinian village, is also famous for its handmade olive oil soap, ceramic 'peace lamps', and crafts cooperatives.



The history of Taybeh dates back 5000 years ago as one of the most ancient places in Palestine established originally with the name Ofra (Ophrah) mentioned 11 times in the Torah (Old Testament, Book of Joshua 18:21-23: "The tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, had the following cities: Jericho, Beth Hoglah, Emek Keziz, Beth Arabah, Zemaraim, Bethel, Avvim, Parah, Ophrah..."),  and later called Ephraim mentioned in the New Testament (Christian Bible: Gospel of John 11:54.  "Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim...")

Taybeh today is a dynamic village which welcomes visitors with hospitality and warmth. The festival will feature local crafts and music, and tours of the brewery, churches, and archeological site.


Music groups will include Spafford Children’s Center, Wael Abu Salom and Mohamed Hadeeb; Culture Shock, the new Rock-Rap Band; Sanabel; G-Town Hip Hop Makers; Zaman Arabic Gipsy Music; Cinderella-Al Kasaba Theater; Karate Demonstration from Japan; Sarab for Dance; Assayel Dance Troup; Ramallah Orthodox Club; Al Ghad Al Jadid Folklore (Beit Sahour); Ibdaa Dance Troup (Bethlehem) and many local Dabkeh groups.

Taybeh will host the first Tag Rugby in Palestine Ramallah Blue Snakes vs Beit Jala Lions RFC, 1 pm, Sunday, October 12th, Taybeh Soccer Field, North entrance of Taybeh.

The Festival is sponsored by the
ToursInEnglish.com will be running tours from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on both days of the Oktoberfest. Reservations can be made online. Don't miss this great event!

Samaritan Passover Tour


Wednesday 28th April
Cost:

Jerusalem & Tel Aviv: Shekels NIS 295
Ra'anana: Shekels NIS 240
Departing: 
14.30 (2.30pm) Jerusalem - Notre Dame Hotel, see map
15.30
(3.30pm) Tel Aviv - Alrozorov (Merkaz) rail station
                                                          - Sixt Car Rental
16.00 (4pm) Ra'anana Junction (Tsomet Ra'anana)
                    Bus stop on north side of bus station


Arrival at the Samaritan village - 17.00 (5pm)
Departure at 21.00 (9pm).

This special tour celebrates the ancient Passover tradition of the Samaritan community on Mount Grizim. You are invited to observe the event as our special guests. The men in the community rise at 3am on Passover to observe their prayer obligations and continue with family events in the morning.

Come and join us for a memorable evening, witnessing ceremonies little changed since the time of the First Temple in Jerusalem

Mount Grizim just south of Nablus in the north-central West Bank, about one hour's drive from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. En-route you will see many Israeli settlements, Palestinian villages, sections of the separation Barrier, and some stunning scenery.

The Samaritan Community dates back to King Solomon's time when a dispute among the ancient Hebrew tribes resulted in competing temples being built in Jerusalem and Mount Grizim. This began the split between the northern tribes in Samaria who became known as Samaritans, and the southern tribes in Judea who became known as the Jews.

However many of the holidays have remained the same through the millennia. Despite differences in religious practice, the Torah and the laws of Moses remain at the core of both faiths.

The fortunes of the Samaritans have waxed and waned over the millennia depending on who conquered the country and the degree of suppression. However they were never expelled like the Jews and reputedly were over 3 million strong after the Jews were expelled and the second temple destroyed. However by the beginning of the 20th century the number of Samaritans had dwindled to less than 200, as a result of assimilation and forced conversion in the aftermath of the Byzantine, Crusader, and Islamic conquests.

After the British discovered their now tiny community after World War 1, they received assistance and have thrived ever since. The subsequent Jordanian and Israeli authorities were also helpful. In recognition of their ancient ties with Judaism, the Samaritans were the only West Bank residents to receive Israeli citizenship since the conquest of the West bank in 1967. Today there is a Samaritan community on Mount Grizim, and in Holon, just south of Tel Aviv. However the total number of Samaritans is still less than 800.

Taybeh Oktoberfest 2010


The 2011 Oktoberfest will be held on 
October 1st and 2nd
Details at this link


The Taybeh Oktoberfest is two days filled with Palestinian music, culture, and of course, beer. This festival is an annual tradition that brings together thousands of visitors from abroad, Israelis, and Palestinians.


Download poster

The Taybeh Brewery, just north of Jerusalem, was established in 1995 by the Khoury family and produces fine beers on a par with the best microbreweries in Europe and the USA. Taybeh, a Christian Palestinian village, is also famous for its handmade olive oil soap, ceramic 'peace lamps', and crafts cooperatives.



The history of Taybeh dates back 5000 years ago as one of the most ancient places in Palestine established originally with the name Ofra (Ophrah) mentioned 11 times in the Torah (Old Testament, Book of Joshua 18:21-23: "The tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, had the following cities: Jericho, Beth Hoglah, Emek Keziz, Beth Arabah, Zemaraim, Bethel, Avvim, Parah, Ophrah..."),  and later called Ephraim mentioned in the New Testament (Christian Bible: Gospel of John 11:54.  "Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim...")

Taybeh today is a dynamic village which welcomes visitors with hospitality and warmth. The festival will feature local crafts and music, and tours of the brewery, churches, and archeological site.

Program
Saturday:
1pm  Al Ahlam Theatre
1.25pm  Sri Lanka Traditional Dancers
1.45pm  Baiao Band from Brazil
3.00pm  Karate Demonstration
3.15pm  CYS-Zababdeh/ Puppet Show GroupCYS Puppet Show
4.00pm  Taybeh Beer Competition
4.30pm  Dom Band/Jerusalem
5,15 pm  G-Town Palestinian Hip-Hop Makers
6:15 pm   Taybeh Folklore Dance
7.00pm  CULTURESHOC: Palestine’s 1st Rock-Rap Band
8:00 pm  MMD Rap Family
9:00 pm   Ramallah Band with Jack Tanous

Sunday:
11:00 am   Palestinian National Theater/Al-Hakawati - Childrens program
1:00 pm  Karate Demonstration
1:15  pm  Spafford Children’s Center
3:00 pm   Toot Ard/Golan Heights Reggae Music
4:00 pm   Beer Competition
4:30 pm   Baqoun Folklore Dance Group
5:15 pm   Al Roward Theater and Training Center
6:00 pm   Old City Soldiers Hip HopCYS Puppet Show
6:45 pm   Mina Band with Nazal Zanyed
7:45 pm   Taybeh Folkore Dance Group
8:30 pm   DAM - Palestinian Hip Hop

The Festival is sponsored by the
Green Olive Tours will be running tours from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on both days of the Oktoberfest. Reservations can be made online. Don't miss this great event!

2008 Oktoberfest in Taybeh - Jonathan Cook

Click here for information and bus reservations for the
2011 Oktoberfest -
October 1st and 2nd, 2011

 

This article was originally published by The National.

taybeh-west-bank.jpg
A Palestinian man fills a glass with the Palestinian-brewed Taybeh Beer at the central West Bank village's annual Oktoberfest. (Maan Images)
The small village of Taybeh, nestling in the mountains of the West Bank, has established several Palestinian firsts, but it hopes its latest will make it a household name in the Arab world.

As well as being the only entirely Christian village in the Palestinian territories and running the only Palestinian brewery, it now hopes to export what it is calling a "non-alcoholic beverage", modelled on its popular Golden Taybeh beer, to Muslims across the Middle East.

The new drink was launched last weekend at the village's annual beer festival, where the green-labeled bottles were sold alongside regular draught beer.

In the West Bank Palestinians are already dubbing it "Hamas beer", seeing it as the brewery's response to the growing influence of the Islamic movement in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Taybeh, located close to Ramallah, has been staging its beer festival for the past four years, modelling the event on the Oktoberfest staged in Munich.

The microbrewery, established in 1995, is the brainchild of brothers Nadim and David Khoury, who were lured back to Taybeh by the signing of the Oslo accords after more than two decades in the United States.

Believing like many others that a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was on the horizon, they ploughed US$1.2 million of their own money into the factory. They also won the endorsement of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader then, to forestall any backlash.

The 1,300 inhabitants of Taybeh, which means "delicious" in Arabic, have come largely to depend on the beer for their livelihoods.

But after initial commercial success and plaudits from connoisseurs for the quality of their ale, which is brewed to the highest German purity standards, the business has been struggling since the outbreak of the second intifada in late 2000.

Profits have been squeezed both by the obstructions imposed by the Israeli army on all Palestinian exports from the occupied territories and by Hamas's success in keeping many Palestinian areas "dry".

Sales of the beer are restricted mainly to Christian concentrations in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Beit Sahour and Beit Jalla.

But with Christians numbering only a few per cent of the total Palestinian population, Taybeh has been keen to find way to reach the rest of the Palestinian population. To do this, they have had to import special equipment from Germany to de-alcoholise the beer.

It is too early, however, to say whether green-label Taybeh will be selling soon in shops and restaurants in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The brewery is waiting to talk to Hamas officials to seek their approval.

But Nadim Khoury, 48, also has his sights on a far larger market in the Arab world.

"One of our tasks is showing the world, including the Arab public, that the Palestinians can produce a world-class product," he said. "And our new drink means all Palestinians can share in the success story."
taybeh-oktoberfest.jpg
International visitors enjoy Taybeh at the West Bank's only Oktoberfest. (Maan Images)

But if they are to succeed with their export business, the Khoury brothers must first find a way to get their beer out of the West Bank.

"Israel controls all the borders, so we can't do anything unless they are prepared to help," said David Khoury, who is also Taybeh's mayor. "But so far what we have faced is harassment in the name of security."

He noted that even when the checkpoints are open, Israel holds up the company's trucks for many hours while bottles are unloaded and individually inspected with sniffer dogs. Then the bottles have to be reloaded on to Israeli trucks on the other side of the checkpoint.

Apart from local spring water, all the beer's ingredients and the bottles are imported from Europe, adding further logistical problems at Israeli ports.

After the intifada, Taybeh's output of more than 600,000 litres a year slumped by 80 per cent. Although this year has been the best since 2000, the brewery is still facing major difficulties reaching its main markets, particularly Jerusalem and Israel. Limited supplies are sold to Israeli cities that include a significant number of Christians, such as Nazareth, Haifa and Jaffa; a few Jewish establishments in Tel Aviv offer the beer.

The most pressing problem is the lack of a high-tech scanner to screen beer kegs at the nearest checkpoint into Israel, at Ofer. This would allow Taybeh to compete with other major beers in Israel by exporting kegs to provide beer on tap to hotels and restaurants.

But so far Israel has restricted such scanners to two checkpoints, far away and near the Muslim cities of Tulkarm and Hebron. Given sensitivities in both cities, Taybeh has decided not to use either crossing point.

David Khoury noted that Israel has absolute freedom to flood the occupied territories with its own products. "The policy is clearly meant to harm businesses like ours. Israel freely sells its Maccabeh and Goldstar beers in the West Bank." Ultimately, he added, the success of local businesses like his was the key to developing the Palestinian economy, improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians and moving peace nearer.

Nadim Khoury said delays at the Israeli checkpoints and ports made exporting the beer further afield impractical for the time being. However, Taybeh is selling to markets in Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom from a Belgian plant under licence, the first Palestinian franchise ever sold abroad.

He hoped a similar arrangement might be possible in the Arab world.

Click here for information and bus reservations
for the 2009 Oktoberfest

Palestine through a clearer glass


2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

Palestine - Through a Clearer Glass
by Iluminada Armas, Spain

During July 2012, my friend Fatima and I visited Palestine for five days to meet some locals and gain perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My personal story had got tangled with the Arab countries long time ago but I always avoided Palestine as I used to believe my heart would break into little pieces if I ever dare to witness all that suffering. Then life took me away for a while teaching me a lesson: to see the whole picture right, you need to get close, far and close again a couple of times. And so we went!

We took a bus from Cairo to Taba where we crossed the border to Eilat arriving on an early Friday afternoon. Their festivity of Sabbath took us by surprise as it starts earlier than we thought. Without any buses running, we decided to hitchhike to Jerusalem. "That might be difficult. People here are not..." someone started saying. "Not impossible!", we interrupted on our way to the main road. Not even half an hour later, we were on a jeep to Tel Aviv with two middle age Jewish men. Conversation got deep enough to realize once more that similarities bringing us together are stronger than differences breaking us apart. That night, we hided ourselves from noisy Tel Aviv as we wanted to save energy in the beginning of our trip.

After having breakfast on the beach we headed to Jerusalem, our stopover to the peaceful Bethlehem. With the main touristic sights in the Holy City all checked, we crossed the suk where the little Arabic we speak was welcome among the sellers who nevertheless would take us inside their shops before speaking openly in their language.

Then Palestine happened as soon as we rode to Bethlehem that afternoon. People started chatting with us, two Spanish girls, as if we had been friends for long time. Our smiles were returned from little boys or from old women and with this nice feeling we didn’t care much about taking the long way to our hostel.

Next morning, Hebron received us offering us new local friends who showed us around the Jewish settlement we almost miss -although it is right in the middle of town- and the fence of separation. “Don’t get too close”, they said, “once a kid touched it and we never saw him again.” That day we were late to catch the bus back but it wasn’t hard to find a driver going to Bethlehem asking us nothing in return but a friendly conversation.

“If you are here, it means you want to understand us. Thank you for supporting us”, a man said to us next day as soon as we arrived in the Syrian look-a-like city of Nablus. Having walked up and down the main street, we stopped by the tourist office in search of information on where to get good coffee and something sweet to eat. We had not finished posing our question when the boy working there had closed the stall mumbling something about konefa. Indeed, he took us to a factory where we ate their unique and tasteful sweet. With cheese!. It didn’t make him upset to hear we wanted to ramble a bit on our own, rather he said happily “you know where to find me!”.

By chance, as the whole of our travel, we discovered the little soap factory that it is also the oldest shop in the market. There Abdullah explained us how to make a good traditional soap and showed us all his books meanwhile shop got busier. The hammans were closed to girls that day but that’s sounded like the perfect excuse to go back. In the afternoon we went for a walk and a tea in the commercial city Ramallah before heading back home for our last night.

This visit helped me on knocking down many walls of my understanding of the conflict. I feel more confident in a future solution being achieved. Such a prepared and committed people don’t deserve any different. Labeling systems keeps Palestinian divided, more than walls or fences, but their willing is strong and know we are all Palestine.

Thoughts of a German traveler in Israel / Palestine




2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

Thoughts of a German Traveler in Israel/Palestine
by Marianna Hillmer, Germany

I‘m German, well half, but born, raised and educated in Germany. I mention that, because our handling with Israel is different, is sensitive. Israel and Israeli politics are kind of untouchable. If you dare to criticise them you either mention your knowledge and compassion about the holocaust in the same sentence or you risk getting the stigma of antisemitism. And before visiting Israel and joining two of the Green Olive Tours (Hebron&Bethlehem and greater Jerusalem) this year, I believed the same: of course you‘re anti-Semite, if you criticise Israeli politics. From a clear black and white status, my mind is mixed with lots of grey shades now. I thought, there is not a lot to criticise about the Israeli politics, because the way the so called high quality journalism and the german and western politicians are presenting the topic is the truth - it is all about self defence.

For example our politicians and the news, when referring to Hebron, they do always add terrorist connected attributes like „capital of the Hamas“ or „Hamas controlled city“ and the thousands of Israeli soldiers stationed in the city are there to protect some hundreds of Israeli settlers.

Having been there the situation looks much more complicated and in a way twisted. Who should get protection too, are the palestinian families in Hebron. The Israeli army seems to be there to give the Israeli settlers the opportunity  and right to discriminate against the Muslims, expropriate and suppress the Palestinians. Walking through to the old market and realising that some of the houses on the top of the market are build or occupied by Israeli settlers is strange enough. Realising that the fence above my head is build by the salesmen to protect the palestinian vendors and shoppers from stones and much more falling from the sky thrown by Jews settlers is shocking me, like the two separate footpaths, one for Jews and one for Muslims - or you could synonymous also say one for Israelis and one for Palestinians. Which doesn't sound as discriminating as the first subdivision, but means pretty much the same. Because Israeli is not a nationality, it is just another wo rd for Jew. That‘s how I finally understood the terms. You don‘t belong to a nation, you belong to a religion and that one is defining your nationality for your passport and your legal rights. And Palestinians=Muslims have not a lot of rights.

The situation in Hebron shows that in a dramatic way.

The old city of Hebron, lots of it is Israeli occupied now, looks pretty much like a ghost town, almost every shop is closed, nobody is on the streets. And how could it be crowded, where thousands of Muslims lived once, and now some hundreds of Jews stay.
But some of the houses in opposite of the grave of Abraham, are still inhabited by palestinian families. Families who struggle, because they have no income anymore, ‘cause there is nobody to take advantage of their occupations. Jews don‘t want to and Palestinians are not allowed to, ‘cause they‘re not allowed to cross the street. The staked areas are not easy to understand, for foreigners, for me.

A Muslim boy is telling us in a frigid voice, that his Jew neighbour killed 7 people and his uncle and shot his friend, when he was young. My irritated question: „And the guy is still living here? He is not condemned as murderer?“ got a short reply: „No he is not.“ There is even not a trial.

He belongs to one of the last families living in the old city, living a realistic nightmare knowing, that every day in his house could be the last day. Jewish occupation can happen day by day in Hebron, without warning, without compensation.

Mapping Palestine




2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

1st Place 
- $250 prize + one copy each of the Bradt Travel Guide to Israel and Palestine

From the judge, Sarah Irving.
I loved the way Alexandra raised such a wide range of aspects of Palestine in a short piece ofwriting, whilst linking them into the wider international context with the fact that our images of Palestine are so skewed by the way that everyday media – such as Google – fail to represent the land properly. Alexandra balances the personal and the political deftly, and presents both the troubles that Palestine and Palestinian people face, and the beauty and optimism of Palestinian culture.

Mapping Palestine
by Alexandra Vaughan, USA

There are no Google Maps of Palestine. The streets I wander down every day are not named, not by Google’s standards. Thin white lines on an unfinished map snake eastwards from Jerusalem into the unknown grey. Palestine is a blank spot on a world map that’s been retraced and readjusted countless times, an “entity” whose borders have been redrawn a thousand ways since 1948.

When I leave Palestine, what will be the image I carry with me? I’ve had borders and walls burned into my brain through endless lectures and articles and maps. British Mandate Pre-1948. Israel and the Occupied Territories 1967. The West Bank and Gaza Post Oslo 1993. Green lines, dotted lines, authorized areas, restricted areas, Areas A, B, C. Is this how I will remember it?

Will I remember the checkpoints and settlements announced on giant green signs, pointing me towards “safe” zones, towards approved roads, towards Israel, always towards Israel? Or will I remember the watermelon vendor, crouching in the shade by the side of the road, peddling his produce for 10 shekels a kilo? Will I remember his grin as I accepted the piece from his outstretched hand?

Will I remember the Israeli flags strung between the highway lampposts, flying high on the tallest towers, painted on every military vehicle? Will I remember the boxy red-roofed houses, colonizing every hilltop and defiling every distant view, the settlers inside hiding behind barbed wire and high walls? Or will I remember the young teenager, waving a Palestinian flag as he climbed a human pyramid to rise victorious above the swelling crowds of Nakba day? Will I remember the cheers?

Will I remember all those camouflaged soldiers who stared at me through unwashed windows, questioning my white presence among Arab strangers as we pass through their checkpoint? Will I remember their angry faces and indifferent voices as they casually lift their guns in their left hand and take our passports, our identities, with their right? Or will I remember the winding drive home, that perfect moment in the evening when the sun catches the western-facing hills, the warm wind blowing through the open window, with only the terraced olives groves revealing the human mark on this scarred landscape?

Will I remember the Wall, the unending, uprooting, encroaching Wall that violates this Holy land so many faithful walk upon? The Wall that divides this earth that has been burned and bulldozed and bombed by those that live in a not-so-distant bubble? Or will I remember the peaceful afternoons spent in a village blighted by its distant specter? Will I remember where I sat on the hillside, eating maftoul and maqloubeh made with ingredients from the farm next door?

Will I remember the nameless streets I walked along, the cities without addresses, the seemingly temporary structures on a barren horizon? Or will I remember the conversations with my neighborhood baker, pharmacist, or fruit vendor? With my favorite taxi driver, who put up with my halting Arabic and calmed my nerves at stalled checkpoints?

Will I remember that Palestine doesn’t exist between walls or zones or barbed fences? Will I remember that it doesn’t exist as a map that can be redrawn at the will of others?

In the end, how can I forget Palestine? How can anyone? You see, Palestine does exist. Well, not yet technically. Not in the United Nations, not in political negotiations, not in post office addresses. Not even in Google Maps. But something real and unwavering remains in that grey unmarked zone, just east of where Google ends. Existence is resistance, they say. And so is persistence.

So no, I can’t forget this place, this country, this unmappable and immutable land. No one can forget Palestine.

My Visit to Israel



2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry
My Visit to Israel
by Dexter Matilla, Philippines

It has long been my belief that if I want something so bad, I'd just wish for it and it would come true. It's as if I had my own imaginary wishing well that listened to my innermost needs, well, desires actually.  

Growing up reared in the teachings of the Catholic church, the allure of Israel has always been strong. Never mind that the news would almost always report about the conflict that's happening there and very rarely about the technological and agricultural advancements being made by its scientists and engineers. 

Thus, in my list of five must-visit countries, Israel was on top. And I thought that the only way I'd be able to visit the Holy Land was as part of a pilgrimage tour, years after my retirement, and when repeated bathroom breaks have become a necessity.

But there I was, at 27, taking my sweet time standing in front of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Another wish granted. Before saying my prayer in front of practically the biggest wishing well/wall, I looked around if anyone was looking at me, hoping that someone would at least take a picture of me standing there. Pictures of important people who visited the Western Wall showed them touching their foreheads to the wall, sometimes bracing their weight with one hand, sometimes with both hands. To which I thought, were they afraid that the weight of their heads would be enough to topple the wall? 

Unfortunately, whether I used my hands or not didn't matter as my classmates and I went on the Sabbath. And as custom, pictures were not allowed to be taken that day inside what I have endearingly called, that's right, the no photo zone. 

I was hoping that my good friends John, from Kenya, and/or Nenad, from Serbia, would have stolen one click with either their point and shoot cameras or even their camera phone so I'd at least have something to post in my Facebook profile. 

Imagine my envy when I found out later that night, as we started uploading pictures in the computer room in the basement of the Golda Meir Training Center in Haifa, that our female classmates were able to take a couple of pictures on their side of the wall. 

Realizing that no one was going to take my picture except for the surveillance cameras all over the area, I decided to just go on with it, touch my forehead to the wall, say my prayer, and insert my piece of paper into a tiny crevice. 

Days before, just as we were starting with our first few lessons inside the classroom, I let my mind wander and come up with scenarios of what would happen when I finally got to touch the wall. Would I experience an epiphany? Will something be revealed to me? Wll I have super powers? Or would I be speaking in tongues after? 

I settled with epiphany and hoped for super powers as bonus. 

And then I thought, how about those who have been here most of their lives? Do they still feel excitement when they wander around the Old City of Jerusalem and look at the Western Wall? I'm no history buff and I know very little but I know how I react every time I pass by our National Hero's statue in Luneta. And almost always, when I see tourists having their pictures taken with Jose Rizal in the background, I would think, when the hell am I gonna do that again? 

I could have asked the locals during one of my leisurely strolls around Haifa but if there's one thing I found out early, it's that some tend to be cautious when a stranger such as myself would talk to them. I understood because that's how I am as well. But I'd learn eventually that once a certain level of trust has been established, they are actually very charming. (Hey! Just like Filipinos!)

Yep, just like Filipinos. 

I never got to ask that question though and in the midst of my thought, I could sense that my companions had finished saying their prayers and were making their way out of the no photo zone. Fearing that saying "Toda" and "Boker Tov" might not be enough to bring me back to Haifa in case I got left behind, I touched my forehead to the wall. 

Right then and there, something happened. A nothingness. Nothing was happening. I thought maybe a little later something will, after I say my prayer. 

I knew what I was going to pray for, on top of the prayer intentions I had written in a small square piece of paper during the bus ride. I usually start my prayer by giving praise to God, thanking Him, asking for forgiveness, asking for healing, and then asking for my personal needs. I left out my personal needs during this one because I felt that I was already given too much just by being there. 

Despite doing all of these, I still wasn't speaking in tongues so I lifted my head, took out the piece of paper from my jacket's pocket, and looked for a nice-looking crevice that would be the home of my hopes and dreams for the next couple of hours. (I found out that they take out the papers at the end of the day to make room for the next day's visitors.)

Unfortunately, all possible crevices that I could reach--whether by crouching or by tiptoe--were filled with papers of different colors and designs carrying prayers of all possible languages. I settled for one that was easily within my reach and with no further dramatics, turned my back to it to join my friends.   

I felt bummed out when I touched the wall, still waiting for my telekinesis to kick in. Certainly, I wasn't the only one. But perhaps like most, I put too much into the wall and expected too much in return. I was in Israel seeing nothing but the positives that the country has to offer, I have good friends from different parts of the world, and I have a family waiting for me back in the Philippines.

Clearly, my wishes had been answered long before I asked for them.

Somewhere in Hebron



2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

Somewhere in Hebron
by 
Benjamin Donato-Woodger, USA

Since this summer, it has become clear to me that  where we live becomes a part of who we are. I saw this when I visited Hebron this summer and saw the Ibrahimi Mosque, ate lunch with a Muslim family, and toured Israel's infamous settlements before returning to Jerusalem.

This tour taught me that history is a living force. I felt it when visiting the Ibrahimi Mosque where beside Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, Sarah, and Leah's tombs reside raw memories of the contemporary conflict. For it is here that the radical Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 Muslims on February 25, 1994. Now, beside the cenotaphs—symbolic tombs—honouring these enormous religious figures, are small numbered pieces of paper an NGO has put up to mark where bullets struck the building during Goldstein's assault. Thus, recent violence and the sacred mingle today as the building is shared by Muslims and Jews as a synagogue and mosque. This balance is broken, though, when Hebron's Israeli settlers take over the entire building on specific religious holidays, including the anniversary of Goldstein's massacre.

After seeing this, we ate lunch in a Palestinian family's shop within 500 meters of the mosque. To get there we had to declare we were all Christians as Israeli soldiers make Muslims walk on one side of a barrier dividing the street. Beyond the storefront of ceramic plates, coffee mugs, and bells the Palestinian family told us about how they have resisted many expensive offers to buy it by Hebron's Israeli Settlers. They served us a delicious chicken and rice dish the family's mother prepared while we talked to her son, Ahmed, about his life. Getting this chance to talk to someone from Hebron put our recent experiences into welcome human relief. American movies had taught him English well, and as we ate he told us about how his pregnant wife had asked him yesterday if she could fast for Ramadam. He had answered that she could only fast if the child in her womb did not have to fast with her. Though only 22, and anticipating what he predicted would be his first son's birth, we saw his face fall when we asked what he thought the future held. Undoubtedly thinking something involving the thousands of soldiers preserving 'peace' through their threat of death outside, he answered, "I don't want to think about it".

After lunch, we saw army patrols while walking through streets of boarded up or occupied houses. Right outside one formerly Palestinian home we even saw a family being denied permission to visit their Uncle in the basement by the soldier outside. We were unsure how their Uncle remained there with Israeli settlers living above him. This was our visit to Hebron in a nutshell—a
combination of conflict and coexistence we tourists could never imagine living in.

In the next part of Hebron we saw a Palestinian school that was next to a war of graffiti that had been waged on the neighbourhood's walls. The graffiti showed everything from stencils saying 'Free Palestine' to Zionist works calling for all Palestinians to be forcibly deported from the land.

As we looked on we noticed a young settler in a pristine white clothes angrily muttering something at our tour guide. Our guide had  finished explaining the many ways Israeli soldiers regulate who is allowed to be on the street we stood. We asked what he said and learned the young boy, who could not have been more than seven years old, had sworn at our tour guide and told
him to be quiet.

Fortunately for us, one moment mocked the conflicted surroundings when a young Palestinian girl, who could not have been older than seven too, went out to look at us from the roof of a building to say hello and revel at our group's touristy diversity. Other peoples' labels did not matter. While we greeted her we indirectly mocked the ways people divided this land. She was a friendly child. We were well-intentioned travelers. And whether any of us were Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim felt irrelevant.

Negev Bedouin Under Seige

Fred Schlomka
First published by Ynet, January 2008, under the title: Israel's Quiet War

While Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen were wheeling and dealing at Annapolis, several Israeli government ministries and security agencies were deploying their combined resources in a massive operation aimed at Israel’s southern Negev Desert. While the eyes of the world are on the West Bank and Gaza, Israel is in the middle of a campaign to complete the displacement of Palestinian Arabs who also are Israeli citizens.

The indigenous Bedouin are the target, and their lands are required by the state in order to complete the implementation a master plan for the Negev. The plan relegates the Bedouin to ghetto enclaves while allocating huge swathes of territory for Jewish suburban development and agricultural communities. The Negev is the final frontier inside Israel, the last tract of largely undeveloped land in the state. Israel has virtually completed the dismemberment of Palestinian lands in the center and north of the country, and now is consolidating the ‘Jewish redemption’ of the southern desert.

These Bedouin lands are coveted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) which has published plans to move large numbers of Jews to the Negev. To make way for new JNF communities, the ‘unrecognized’ villages of A-Tir, Um Al-Hiran, and Twail Abu Jarwal were destroyed during 2007 in military-style operations involving large forces of police and soldiers, displacing hundreds of families. The Interior ministry has also sent airborne crop dusters to poison the Bedouin fields with broad-spectrum herbicides. The feared Green Patrol, a paramilitary unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, conducts these operations.

There are over 150,000 Bedouin in the Negev desert, with well-established territorial rights dating back to the Ottoman Era. However immediately after the founding of the state in 1948, the government began to confiscate land and move the Bedouin to ever decreasing areas, while allocating state resources for the development of new Jewish-only towns and agricultural settlements. Although the Bedouin were eventually granted citizenship of Israel, they were under military rule until 1966. Through legislation and various legal mechanisms the state has decreed the Bedouin to be squatters on their own land and thus the courts support the demolition of homes and expulsion of the inhabitants. The JNF, through its ‘Blueprint Negev’ plan, intends to create 25 new towns in the Negev over the coming years, bringing 250,000 new Jewish residents to the region according to its web site. The JNF is also planting forests on Bedouin land, such as the Ambassador Forest on the lands of the Elokbi Tribe north of Be’er Sheva.

Such measures would never be taken against Jewish citizens of Israel, who enjoy the right to live almost anywhere in the country in relative luxury, while the Bedouin are relegated to a pitiful remnant of their patrimony. This institutional racism, supported by the JNF, belies the so-called democracy in Israel and is supported by tax-deductible donations from the USA. Perhaps the Annapolis conference might also have considered the plight of the Bedouin citizens of Israel at a time when they are under siege as acute as the situation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The parallels between them are self-evident. Jewish settlements in the West Bank have almost foreclosed the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian State. Israel continues to consolidate its grip though settlement expansion, land confiscations, ‘Jewish-only’ roads, the construction of the Separation Barrier, and the denial of equal access to water for Palestinians. Is it so different in the Negev? Bedouin in ‘unrecognized’ villages receive no government services, are subject to a separate body of law and regulation, have their land confiscated for Jewish settlement, and are generally relegated to the margins of existence.

The Bedouin have a long and proud tradition as a people. During the first decades of the state, they gave allegiance to Israel, sent their sons to the army and expected the respect they deserve. They received none. Instead the state as continued its mission to serve only the interests of Jewish citizens, and as a result few Bedouin serve in the IDF today. The cost might be high. Bedouin leaders have warned that the anger simmering under the surface may erupt, and Israel may face a Bedouin uprising, an Intifada within the state that could destroy what little is left of Jewish democracy. Perhaps it’s time for the State of Israel to become a democracy for the benefit of all its citizens, before it’s too late.

Fred Schlomka is the Administrator of Green Olive Tours and a member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He is a 2003 Fellow of the Echoing Green Foundation in recognition of his work in developing equitable and just relationships between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

To learn more about the plight of the Bedouin consider taking the Bedouin Reality Tour.

Gaza Border Tour

Tour Highlights

Gaza as seen from Sderot
• Erez Crossing
• Kibbutz Zikkim
• Sderot
• Nitzan
• West Bank Settlements
• Bethlehem Separation Wall
• Checkpoints
Tour Details

Tuesday and Friday
Length of Tour: 8 Hours (11 hours from Tel Aviv)
Tel Aviv Departure*:  6.30 am - Hyarkon48 Hostel (map)
Jerusalem Departure  8.30am - YMCA, West Jerusalem -(map)
Return 4.30pm in Jerusalem - 6pm to Tel Aviv
Cost: From Jerusalem US$110
From Tel Aviv US$140
Make a Reservation


Detailed Description
Erez CrossingAlthough it is not possible to cross from Israel into the Gaza Strip, the region immediately adjacent to the border, on the Israel side, contains much of interest. During the tour your guide will elaborate on the history of the closure of the Gaza strip, the removal of the settlements, and the tunnels to Egypt. The discussion will also include the issue of rocket attacks from Gaza, and the often devastating Israeli response.

From Jerusalem you'll travel south past Bethlehem through the Gush Etzion settlement block and Palestinian areas. Then east on route 35 just north of Hebron, passing through the checkpoint back into Israel. This part of the trip will enable you to see many Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages and learn from the guide about the fraught relationship between them. 

Gaza Borders
On arrival at the Gaza border, the group will stop at the Erez checkpoint where few people are allowed to cross, mainly a handful of Palestinians with medical visas, coming into Israel for treatment. Then off to Kibbutz Zikkim, where you’ll have a tour of the kibbutz and learn what it is like to be on the receiving end of rockets.

The next stop is the town of Sderot which has been on the receiving end of a variety of rockets from Gaza. You'll visit to the Sderot police station where there is an impressive museum of rockets that have fallen on the town. You'll also see a reinforced school with huge concrete arches over the roof to protect the children from rockets.


When the Israeli government conducted its unilateral withdrawal and sealing of the Gaza Strip in 2005, many of the Israeli residents relocated north of the strip to the community of Nitzan. Your visit to Nitzan will highlight the trauma of removal from Gaza that the residents experienced. You'll spend some time at the visitor's center there that memorialises the event. 


The Great Divide




2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

The Great Divide
by Melliyal Annamalai, USA

In the United States, where I live, there is great pride that President Ronald Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall.  It is seen as the moment where a people were united and countries moved toward democracy.  It is seen as a hugely significant moment in history when barriers were broken down and the world moved towards oneness with common dreams of peace, prosperity, and happiness.  Economic globalization and increased movement of peoples has in recent times contributed to the feeling that the world is one, tightly connected.

In this world that is moving closer, while visiting Israel, I come across the Wall.  It feels like precisely the wrong thing to be there.  It feels like moving back in time, away from modern day goals of justice and fairness.  Of course I know about the conflict, the history of the region, the reason the Wall was built.  But to see the actual Wall is a jarring reminder of the deep divisions, the injustice, the creation of rifts instead of peaceable and just solutions.  The world should be moving towards co-existence and harmony.  Yet here is the starkly divisive line, dividing people, hampering livelihoods, unfair by its existence.  It feels like something that is going in the wrong direction.

Our guides are ever hopeful.  They fight peacefully for what they believe is rightfully theirs.  Without bitterness and despair, they steadfastly believe in their dream of having their homeland whole again.  Where people can move without going through barred entryways, X-rayed bag checks, turnstiles that hold people back, the barbed wire that separates families, the crafted rules to keep them out.    Without bitterness and despair, with calmness and logic, our guides show us the bullet holes, the havoc in some people’s lives, the challenges they face, and what they believe the boundary should be.

Then there is the intangible Wall.  A friend arranges for a taxi to take us Jerusalem to the airport.  A security guard stops us at one of the entrance gates to the airport.  An armed man walks up to the car and asks for the trunk to be opened.  He examines the suitcases, and asks my father where we are from and where we are going.  We had been warned by many friends that security questions and checks at the airport could be long, so to us this was the expected routine questioning.  After the trunk is closed the armed security guard asks the driver to go inside the office with him.  We are puzzled, because the security guard had seemed satisfied with my father’s answers.  What additional questions did he have? We wait in the car pulled to one side of the road while car after car whizzes by us through the gates.  Only our driver had been asked to go inside.  Why?  Then it dawns on us.  Because he was Muslim.   Our driver comes out after a while, and the expression on his face is a mixture of anger and helplessness.  He tells that we would have been asked to go inside also, if we had been Muslim.  He takes us the rest of the way to the airport in silence and gives us his card offering his services if he we need a taxi in the future.

In the airport, in the lounge, I notice that the all the newspapers are in Hebrew and English.  None in Arabic.  Yet another subtle reminder of the divide.

The tangible Wall has many poignant messages from people who yearn for it to come down like the Berlin Wall.  “This Wall may take care of the present but it has no future” says it all.

Palestine Tours

Fred Schlomka
Tours to Palestine have been increasing during 2008, in concert with the increase in tourists to israel. According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), tourism is up 71% in 2008 compared to 2007, and, up 18% since the year 2000. PCBS also reported that 769,000 people visited the West Bank during the fist half of 2008.

This is an encouraging sign, as more tourists feel comfortable traveling to the West Bank. Hotels also reported an increase of 40% occupancy from the same period last year. Bethlehem remains the most visited palestinian city with 66% of all tourist traffic visiting the city. Unfortunately most visitors only come for a day-trip from israel, arranged by Israeli tour operators who discourage staying in Palestinian hotels.

A great deal still needs to be done in order to increase the number of tourists to the levels that Palestine/West Bank deserves. A decrease in Israeli restrictions on Palestinian travel would go a long way to help the situation. Currently only a small fraction of Palestinian tours guides have permits to enter Jerusalem and pick up tour buses. Palestinian buses are forbidden from entering Israel to make their own pickups while israeli vehicles may enter Palestinian areas freely. This imbalance needs to be addressed.

However the encouraging year of 2008 bodes well for the future as Palestinian hotels and tour agencies gear up for a successful 2009. With more promotion abroad about the attractions of Palestine tours, the trend will continue. The current economic and cultural renaissance in Ramallah is going a long way to helping attract more tourists to the West Bank as more hotel rooms become available and the city's offerings gain more depth.

Taybeh Oktoberfest 2012


6th & 7th October 2012
 
 • Departures daily

From Tel Aviv: 12.30 (12.30pm) - 175 shekels
Meeting place: Alrozorov (Merkaz) rail station see map 

From Jerusalem: 14.00 (2pm)  - 140 shekels
Meeting place: 
YMCA, King David St., Jerusalem - see map

Return at 20.00 (8pm)
21.00 (9pm) Arrive back in Jerusalem
22.00 (10pm) Arrive back in Tel Aviv

The Taybeh Oktoberfest is two days filled with Palestinian music, culture, and of course, beer. This festival is an annual tradition that brings together thousands of visitors.
Download the brochure at this link.

The Taybeh Brewery, just north of Jerusalem, was established in 1995 by the Khoury family and produces fine beers on a par with the best microbreweries in Europe and the USA. Taybeh, a Christian Palestinian village, is also famous for its handmade olive oil soap, ceramic 'peace lamps', and crafts cooperatives.

Taybeh today is a dynamic village which welcomes visitors with hospitality and warmth. The festival will feature local crafts and music, and tours of the brewery, churches, and archeological site.



The history of Taybeh dates back 5000 years ago as one of the most ancient places in Palestine established originally with the name Ofra (Ophrah) mentioned 11 times in the Torah (Old Testament, Book of Joshua 18:21-23: "The tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, had the following cities: Jericho, Beth Hoglah, Emek Keziz, Beth Arabah, Zemaraim, Bethel, Avvim, Parah, Ophrah...").

 Later the town was called Ephraim and mentioned in the New Testament (Christian Bible: Gospel of John 11:54.  "Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim..."). The modern name Taybeh is coined from Saladin (12th century).


Today Taybeh is a modern village with grand traditions. As a Christian village in the West Bank, the residents educate their children at one of the local Church-run schools, and have become relatively prosperous amid the challenges of the ongoing Occupation.










The Festival is sponsored by
    Green Olive Tours will be running tours from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on both days of the Oktoberfest. Reservations can be made online. Don't miss this great event!


    Justice Tourism

    Imtaiz Muqbil- Bangkok Post

    Hundreds of Thai Christians heading for pilgrimage to the Holy Land are being exposed to "propaganda travels that further sway international opinion away from the hard facts of Israeli occupation," church leaders say.

    Speaking at a consultation of church-backed tourism watchdog groups in Chiang Mai last week, Dr Prawate Khidarn, general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), called on the Christian pilgrims not to be taken in by only the Israeli side of the story as they travel around the Holy Land.

    "Many Thais are visiting the Holy Land these days," he said. "There are only a few Thai travel companies organising these trips, and the packages all have to be approved in advance by the Israeli authorities before they grant a visa."

    Dr Prawate was commenting after a presentation by Mr Ranjan Solomon of the Goa-based non-governmental organisation Alternatives in which he said: "Travel through the occupied territories can have a salutatory effect on anyone provided it is not a trip under an Israeli tourism package."

    The roughly 20 groups represented at the consultation expressed indignation that the only invitee who could not make it to the meeting was Rami Kassis, a Christian and Director of Alternative Tourism Group, Palestine. He was not able to attend because he had been unable to get the necessary Israeli exit permits.

    And yet, Mr Solomon pointed out, thousands of Israelis travel freely to many parts of the world while the Palestinians are deprived of these rights by the occupying power.

    An Indian who once headed the Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism office in Thailand, Mr Solomon says he has visited the Holy Land on these "staged propaganda trips" and been shocked at the one-sided lies he was told about the situation in the occupied territories.

    Now, he said, "the Israelis don't give me a visa anymore."

    However, he added, why should those who want to go only to Palestine have to apply for a visa at the Israeli embassy in the first place?

    "Palestine could quite easily get up to three million tourists annually, if the Israeli authorities do not close the borders," he said.

    "Tourism experts suggest that destinations like Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem could eventually be a gateway for the international community to enter into encounters with the Palestinians and form independent opinions about the real nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict and actually promote heightened solidarity with the Palestinian people."

    He added, "News of the occupation is rarely disseminated through established media outlets. It can only pass from those courageous people who risk being 'justice tourists', and who choose pilgrimage as it must really be - the search for truth.

    "People committed to peace and freedom based on justice need to continue the visit, learn, and carry the message themselves back to their homes whether in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, USA, Canada, Australia, or just about anywhere from where travellers launch out as pilgrims to The Holy Land."

    In a powerful presentation, Mr Solomon noted that citizens of some Western countries who do not need a visa want to "visit Palestine as a matter of solidarity (in order) to witness first and foremost the brutal consequences of the Israeli military Occupation."

    "Yet, a growing number of solidarity tourists are actually stopped upon arrival and turned back or held back and harassed. Only some are allowed immediate entry. The rest are taken away by airport authorities as suspected 'security threats.'

    "Strangely, several of these are people in their 60s and 70s. It's hard to believe that Israeli authorities see these people as violent individuals. A more plausible explanation is that they are held because their purpose for coming to Israel was to further expose to the world the truth behind the occupation."

    According to Mr Solomon, "Israel has also frequently denied entry to and deported an increasing number of peace activists and humanitarian workers for fear that they are aiding the occupied Palestinian population.

    "Such people are often interrogated, with extensive body searches and luggage inspection before they are finally allowed entry."

    He said that with the "ongoing construction of the apartheid wall, denounced by the International Court of Justice as contrary to international law, the Palestinian people are experiencing yet another layer of tyranny.

    "While the Israeli government claims the wall is for security purposes, it serves nothing more than to drown out the Palestinian cry for justice and independence behind concrete slabs and ominous watchtowers.

    "What the wall really does is to restrict fair and appropriate levels of access for Palestinians to a normal life. Visitors who come to protest the insanity and inhumanity of the wall are, they say, getting the message: 'Israel does not want you. Your very existence is a threat to our state. We do not want to hear or see you. Leave."'

    Mr Solomon called on Christian pilgrims to become "justice tourists" and not buy the lies perpetuated by the Israelis and parroted by the international media that seek to "portray the Palestinian as vile and violent and the Israeli as victim."

    "Israel has succeeded in representing itself as the perpetual victim and ensures that it does everything to disallow people to think with an analytical and fair mind about the occupation - often described as oppression unparalleled in history," Mr Solomon said.

    He said it was important to motivate the churches and especially Christian pilgrims so that they better understand how the so-called "war on terror" rhetoric is used to "give visitors false fears about security in Palestinian territories."

    At the same time, "an important focus should be to reach the harsh truth of the occupation to those countries who give economic and political assistance to Israel.

    "Equally important is the need to mobilise the international community in the form of civil society voices who will speak with courage and conviction as to isolate Israel until it relents and hands justice to the Palestinians," he commented.

    This can lead to a new form of "Justice Tourism" which can crack the Israeli monopoly on Christian pilgrimages and create "a viable alternative to this situation by promoting human encounter and breaking the silence in order to lead to political awareness, personal transformation of the visited and visitor and contributing to a just peace through advocacy and political action," Mr Solomon said.