Gaza as an exotic destination

Knut Rognes (
Fri, 26 Mar 1999 09:21:06 +0100


siste nytt for (norske) Israel-turister?

Hilsen Knut Rognes

Friday, March 26, 1999
Gaza as an exotic destination
By Meron Benvenisti
Despite the overwhelming abundance of pre-Pesach advertisements offering
exciting trips to Bali, Patagonia and Europe, one ad nevertheless succeeds
in standing out. A company by the name of Psifas Eichut (quality mosaic)
offers the jaded, well-traveled Israeli "magnificent and safe excursions"
to the Palestinian Authority.Here is your chance to travel, "accompanied by
a Palestinian guide and a Palestinian police escort," to Nablus, Bethlehem
and Ramallah. In the latter the Israeli tourist is promised "a wonderful
evening of Palestinian music and culture." The high point of the trip: "A
visit to the Gaza Strip, with its mosques and beach, and lunch in the city."
Registration is still open, so there is no way of knowing just how popular
these excursions will be. But the commercial initiative itself harbors an
important message: Borders and sovereignty over territory are not
necessarily the reflection of a separate national identity. In most cases,
they create this identity rather than express it.
Geopolitical facts, however artificial and absurd, cause people to detach
themselves emotionally from territory they only recently considered their
homeland. Post a "Border Crossing" sign and place uniformed guards near it
and anyone walking past them is bound to feel that he is abroad.
Who would have dreamed of offering a "magnificent tour" of Gaza before it
became a separate geopolitical entity? Now, under the exotic rule of the
Palestinian Authority with its security forces in colorful regalia, Gaza
has the magical appeal of a foreign country.
A live Palestinian folklore performance in Ramallah can therefore be
enjoyed in the same way as a flamenco show in Spain or a tribal dance in
The fact that the roads to these recreation sites are lined with tawdry
refugee camps and that financial despair cries out of every corner is of
little interest to the tourist. Does he pay any special attention to the
living conditions of the masses of Indians he sees on his way to the Taj
That's life in the Third World, now conveniently located on the other side
of the checkpoint just five minutes away from home. The tourist, after all,
is a welcome guest, enjoying the hospitality of the Palestinian Authority.
His guide, expecting a handsome tip, will carefully avoid expressing any
political views and might even organize a visit to a local home, just like
his colleagues in China or Zanzibar would.
The advocates of "separation" between Israel and the territories and those
who concocted the geopolitical arrangements in the Oslo accords will be
delighted by this sense of being abroad.
The Erez, Bethlehem and Ramallah checkpoints are signs of their success in
bringing Gaza out of Tel Aviv. Similarly, tourists from Tel Aviv visiting
Gaza (but not, God forbid, the other way around) are indications of
normalization and of the way the "historical compromise" has even been
accepted as part of our leisure and entertainment.
An important dynamic is taking place before their very eyes, the same
dynamic that turned the artificial boundaries of Third World European
colonies into frameworks requiring an identity, instantly creating
homelands where none existed.
If Zimbabwe - whose arbitrary borders were dictated by Cecil Rhodes' greed,
with no consideration for its ethnic make-up - is considered a nation
state, why not Gaza and Ramallah?
The problem with this normalization is, of course, that it is one-sided. It
also seeks to obliterate the heavy responsibility for the miserable living
conditions that make the Third World a permanent reality just five minutes
away from our comfortable homes.
A Palestinian tourist bureau organizing "quality tours" to Tel Aviv and
Netanya will never get entry permits. Work and commerce are the only
reasons why Palestinians are allowed to spend time in Israel.
Just strolling through the city or lunching at a "typical Israeli
restaurant" is out of the question for anyone but VIPs. Imagine the
response if people from Nablus dared to ask for a permit in order to swim
at the Netanya beach. Hell, no. What do they need to come here for?
This journey to the folklore of Gaza and Ramallah does not bode well. It
implies a cementing of the twisted relationship between the Israeli and
Palestinian communities. It would be interesting to know just how many
"tourists" take the bait
© copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved