How Tourism Supports Israel’s Occupation

Israel uses the travel industry in the occupied Palestinian territories to beautify the image of the colonies and the occupation.

When one thinks of travel, the only thing that strikes our mind is the aesthetics of the place and the beauty which is deeply admired; when you marvel at the architecture or eat their food, how often do you contemplate where it came from?

So far, the Israeli luxury and travel industry provides the allure of exclusivity; it also provides prefatory exposure to places in Palestine through a specific lens as seen from the white, Western culture.

But let’s understand that colonial tourism isn’t just a white people’s thing. For decades, Israel has been attempting to colonize the parts of Palestine, through forceful illegal evictions of Palestinian residents.

Even though many of us claim to be apolitical in our travels, it’s often impossible to separate travels from politics. By now, you’ve probably seen something about the attacks in Sheikh- Jarrah, Al Aqsa mosque, or the attack on Gaza all over news headlines. What’s going on is horrific, but it’s also not a new situation— this has been happening for decades.

Travel becomes almost exploitative and it very much fits the present-day situation in Palestine, as the native Palestinians are forced to evict their homes by settlers. For the ignorant tourist, fantasizing about vacation and tourism on Palestinian land, for the occupation could be easy to overlook.

However, the sugarcoated promotion of tourism is reminiscent of the ways, in which Israel uses the travel industry in the occupied Palestinian territories to “beautify the image of the colonies and the occupation”. The apartheid tourism of Palestine is never mentioned in the mainstream media, which aims to mask the settler colonialism in the form of warm hospitality “of beautiful Israel” settlements, in Palestine. The prime narrative of strengthening the perception of Palestine “is just a desire to colonize the Palestinian lands”.

Where tourists, domestic and foreigners, can come and travel freely, but on the other side Palestinians in their land are subjected to harassment through Israeli military checkpoints, house raids, and internet blockades.

While the Israeli entrepreneurs are seen relaxing land ownership laws and tourism opportunities, the Palestinians eye Israel’s consistent efforts to purposefully dilute Palestine’s right to freedom.

But before diving into the article let me introduce you to what colonialism is; the policy of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically. Now the question is what makes “tourism modern colonialism”, it’s an activity where wealthy and privileged outsiders can indulge in, often while exploiting local resources and people”.

What Western travel content creators are seen doing, using social media promoting tourism in the name of “exploring foreign countries” are perfect modern-day colonists”. They, discover places already well known to locals and are considered experts, despite spending limited time in destinations.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine

Let’s look back into history as to how all settler colonialism in Palestine commenced.

Prior to 1948, the region now known as Israel was Palestinian land. The UN intended to partition it into two similarly sized states: one for Jew, one for Arabs. War broke out because of the partition. Now, though there is a state of Palestine, but has been controlled by Israel since 1967.

The Israeli government now encourages settler colonialism. Israeli forces are forcibly removing Palestinians from their neighborhoods, and establishing Israeli settlements on Palestinian land; through illegal settlements which is just one way out of the thousand Israeli propaganda tactics executed to justify occupation.

As per a report in the World Bank 2016, the economic outlook continues to be highly uncertain. Under a baseline scenario that assumes no change to the Israeli restriction of trade on Palestine, movement, and access, growth is expected to remain unchanged in 2016 at 3.3 %.

As tourism normalizes Israel’s Occupation of Palestine, illegal settlers profit from stolen land by running hotels, restaurants, historical sites, in their settlements. The Israeli government designates areas as tourist sites to justify taking over Palestinian land and homes, resulting in enforced evictions of families who have lived there for generations.

Popular religious pilgrimage sites in Palestine such as Bethlehem primarily benefit Israeli companies. Most pilgrims stay in hotels and eat at fancy restaurants, and take tours with Israeli-owned companies.

In a report mentioned in 2014; Palestinian Authority Tourism Minister says Israel collects 90% of pilgrim-related tourism revenue.

“Palestine’s losses from Israeli control are $ 3.4 billion per year. Archeological tourist sites are used to reinforce the government narrative connecting modern Israel to ancient history, justifying its control of Palestine,” it added.

Israel has left no stone unturned to whitewash the Palestinian right to self-determination by snatching their lands, culture, and misappropriation of their right to freedom against the occupation. Likewise always the non-Jewish contributions to sites are downplayed or erased to minimize Palestinian links to the land, denying Palestinians their “right to sovereignty over their own heritage and culture.”

Masking settler colonialism through influencers

Like explorers of colonial times, modern-day influencers adventure on already inhabited countries then gains power and profit by establishing themselves in countries digitally. They are selling nothing but themselves and the aesthetics of the place, ignoring historical, political, socio, or environmental contexts of destinations they visit.

Profiting off from destination can happen in many ways; traveling to countries especially to gain followers. One such example is of Nusseir Yasin an Israeli citizen of Palestinian descent who runs a YouTube channel with 6 million followers, received backlash last month for his whitewashing of Israeli crimes against Palestinians. In one of his posts, he stated “Jews and Arab friendship must be normalized and was reifying Zionism’s toxic fantasies.”

His profile namely Nas-Daily has cumulated more than 20 million followers, over social media, mostly over Facebook, drawn by his videos suggests a tantalizing atmosphere and views of culture, food, and its countries.

He very unhesitantly promotes the colonial narrative of Israeli occupation in Palestine, by nurturing friendships and good relations between the colonizer and the colonized.

By only sharing photos of themselves looking glamorous or adventurous, influencers are selling nothing but themselves and the aesthetics of places. Ignoring the historical, political, socio, or environmental contexts of destinations they visit.

As reported in TRT world, the Palestinian Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, called on people across the world to snub, the famed You tuber, Nas Daily, on his attempts to “normalize” the UAE- Israel normalization deal, which was widely condemned and received huge outrage from Palestinian fraternity.

The shallow, self-centered promotion encourages followers like in the case of Yasin to travel equally selfishly. They follow influencers like colonial settler’s travels, traveling to countries for the sake of photos focused on the looks, luxury, and likes rather than cultural exchange.

Globalization and gentrification

The industry of luxury travel functions as a form of neo-colonialism in the sense that visitors can pick and choose what elements of the country and its culture they want to seize upon, while the rest is left by the wayside.

While influencers might contribute to local economies, it’s important to consider wealth distribution. In many parts of Palestine where tourism is growing, lodges, shops, and restaurants are often owned by foreigners. Since the influencers and travels sell certain images of the “developing world” or “third world”, through their social media handles. While some may wrangle believing “it’s just a result of “globalization”, it’s a directly linked component of neo-colonialism, and states that “the State is independent and has international sovereignty when in reality the economic systems and political policy are directed from outside actors and capital.

Where Israeli tourists can dine in on Palestinian land and travel via their airports, Palestinian’s are devoid of any airport facilities in the face of 21 century, as Israel destroyed its only Yasser Arafat International airport in Gaza in 2001.

As reported in the World Trade Organization, the pilgrim market has a fluctuating high season between March and April (due to Easter, increasing the number of pilgrims) and between September and November (as a by-product of Jewish holidays which lead to high occupation rates in Israel, pushing pilgrims into Palestinian accommodation).

Instead of holding themselves accountable, influencers hop between destinations, writing, and vlogging about entire countries like they are experts after only visiting for a few days or weeks. Their content is often filled with mistakes and ignorant claims but is accepted as truth because their clickbait, ill-researched content is accessible. Shallow social media posts might not seem like a big deal, but some influencers reach hundreds of thousands or millions of people.

Be careful with broad generalizations and assumptions-they can erase people’s realities like Nas-daily misappropriating the struggle of Palestinians. Travel influencers are selling nothing but themselves and the aesthetics of the place, ignoring historical, political, socio, or environmental contexts of destinations they visit.

As neo-colonists, they establish an entire career promoting “foreign” landscapes with themselves at the center. The people and culture are just accessories for them. From travel influencer to follower, the impact becomes exacerbated in heavily trafficked tourist areas, causing environmental degradation and furthering the economy. So next time you plan a travel vacation on Palestinian land give yourself some self-time, avoid neo-colonist tendencies and cultivate holistic sustainability in your travel.

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