Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Family Accommodation in Bethlehem

One of my clients booked a Bethlehem tour today and requested overnight accommodations since they were traveling from Tel Aviv for the on-day tour. Staying with a Palestinian family is an excellent way to learn about local culture and mores. I managed to place my guest with a family that lives very close to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. The neighborhood is a great place to wander through, especially when all the day-trippers have gone back to Jerusalem.

One of the unfortunate aspects of the encapsulation of Bethlehem by the Security Wall is the reluctance of visitors to spend the night in the town. Israeli tour operators encourage this trend and as a result the Bethlehem residents lose out and unemployment remains high despite a record year for tourism. In addition to family hosts, there is a wide variety of accommodations to meet everyone's budget. Even luxurious five-star accommodations are almost half the price of nearby Jerusalem.

There's truly no better way to learn about life under Occupation that to hear it first hand through informal discussions with a host family. Experiencing Palestinian hospitality is always a treat. Family acommodations always include breakfast and sometimes dinner as well. Costs are generally quite low, $30-$45 per night.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Wall Graffiti in Bethlehem

Fred Schlomka
One of the most interesting aspects of any Bethlehem tour is seeing the grafitti on the Israeli West Bank Barrier which almost completely surrounds the city. Whether you take a guided tour or a public bus, wandering around the neighborhoods where the wall is ever present is truly a profound experience. The grafitti generally falls into three categories.
  • Grafitti by the local population
  • Grafitti by visiting internationals
  • Grafitti by artists

The Wall has become a narrative of peoples' feelings about the occupation and the Barrier in particular, and has given rise to an vernacular art, some of which is pure venting, while others demonstrate the power of a people to continually challenge their overlords.

 Sometimes the power of the gun can be subordinated to the power of art, of creative expression that transcends the any attempt to repress the spirit of the people of Palestine. Good examples of this are Project Hope in Nablus and the Freedom Theater in Jenin.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Palestinian Testimony

Frank Barat spent 5 weeks in Nablus during August and September 2008. During his visit he took video testimony from Palestinians. Franks website contains these videos and links to articles he has written.

Interview with Saed Abu Hijeh , Prof. in Political geography at An Najah University, Nablus. He recounts the unprovoked murder of his mother by the Israeli military, while sitting on her front porch.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jerusalem settlers in the City of David

Many tours of Jerusalem include a visit to the City of David in the Palestinian Neighborhood of Silwan. This is an important element in understanding the gradual takeover of Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem by Israeli settler organizations. In the case of Silwan, the Elad Foundation was contracted with Israeli government agencies to develop the archeological site and uses this relationship, and their 'official' presence in Silwan as a base for settlement activities in.

It's often useful to take a Jerusalem Old City Tour that also visits Silwan and the City of David, and thereby gain an understanding of the larger context within which the settlement activity occurs.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Holy Land Tours

Fred Schlomka
A recent article in one of Israel's leading newspapers, Ha'aretz, was written like a tourist industry press release touting the Israeli Government's opening of the Jordan River site where Christians believe that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. However the site remains under Israel's Military Occupation and any economic benefit from pilgrim visits should enhance the Palestinian economy rather than Israel.

While Christian pilgrims on Holy Land Tours should have unfettered access to religious sites, perhaps they should also consider the political ramifications of their visit. By booking tours with mainstream Israeli tour agencies  rather than Palestinian companies they are directly supporting the ongoing Occupation of theWest Bank and Israel's continuing annexation of Palestinian land. There are many professional Palestinian tour agencies, that would be happy to organize Holy Land Tours. Tours In English is one of the few Israeli companies that operates in partnership with Palestinian counterparts, whereas the vast majority of Israeli tour companies exclude them.

There are also many advantages to basing a tour in Palestinian hotels in Jerusalem or Bethlehem. When Holy Land Tours are hosted within Christian communities in Palestine the overall experience is enhanced through being embedded within the living tradition.

Any Holy Land Tour has political overtones regardless of the intention of the pilgrims. The choice of tour agencies, the choice of hotels, the choice of restaurants and gift buying locations support either the Israeli Occupation or the Palestinian people. It's up to you to make an informed choice.

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