Thursday, October 23, 2008

Palestine & Palestinians New Guide Book


This guidebook has been completely updated by the Alternative Tourism Group for the 2008 edition. It's a real gem. Now available for online purchase.

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.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taybeh Oktoberfest 2008

The Taybeh OktoberFest was a great success with thousands of people attending the festivities. The guests included officials from the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations, and diplomats from various embassies. Palestinians came from all over the West Bank and Israel, and a large contingent of Israelis came from Tel Aviv. This was truly a great showcase of Palestinian goodwill, hospitality, arts & crafts and coexistance at its best.The municipal hall was packed for the opening ceremonies, with standing room only and many people left outside. No-one minded because the beer was flowing and good humor prevailed.

The festival site included many food stalls provided by the villagers and local crafts were displayed for purchase including the famous ceramic Peace Lamps, olive oil, soap, carvings, and embroidery.

A contingent of Palestinian police provided security, and it was interesting to note that they were not armed but directed traffic and acted as informal guides to people seeking directions. There was also a great deal of discrete plain clothes security who tagged along with the many dignitaries at the event.

In addition to several beer stations at the festival site, the Taybeh Brewery conducted frequent tours of the facility, and did a brisk trade in cases of beer, T-shirts and olive oil. The Khoury family who own the brewery were principal organizers of the festival and many members were conducting tours, and facilitating the festival events.

One of the highlights was the guided tour of Taybeh's 8th Century Byzantine Church by John Awwad who also conducts tours in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. On the first day of the festival a sheep was slaughtered at the entrance to the church in an ancient rite that predates Christianity and maybe Judaism also. During the tour, visitors had to step around the drying blood to enter the church. This ongoing tradition only underscores Taybeh's claim to 5,000 years of existence.

All in all it was a great event, and serves to promote the village and the West Bank as a tourist destination. ToursInEnglish.com transported people from Tel Aviv and jerusalem on both days of the festival, providing them with an overview of the political geography of the region en-route.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

On Tour - Gridlock in Ramallah & Flowing Traffic in Nablus

Fred Schlomka
Ramadan is now over and the festivities of Eid have concluded. The streets of Ramallah were full of people decked out in their holiday finery for the end of the holiday. Participants in the Ramallah tour last Thursday were surprised to see the varieties of beautiful Hijabs (head coverings) worn by many women, demonstrating that fashion and religious/cultural observance are compatible.

The only problem on the Ramallah tour was the incredible traffic jam leading out of the city at the Kalandia Checkpoint. It seemed like half the Palstinians in teh West Bank were either entering or leaving the city. It took almost 3 hours to exit into the West Bank, compared to the usual 20-minute drive. The problem was the lack of traffic lights at three critical intersections. Gridlock doesn't begin to describe the chaos.

Another surprise was on the Friday tour to the Central West Bank. On arrival at the Huwara checkpoint to Nablus, most cars were passing through with only a cursory discussion with the Israeli soldiers. On discussion with the soldiers we learned that the checkpoint was open to all-comers for the Eid holiday, including Israelis, even Jewish israelis. By military order Israeli Jews are barred from entering Nablus, which is in Area 'A' under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

I decided against entering Nablus with the group for safety reasons since the policy of ToursInEnglish.com is not to enter Area 'A' without being accompanied by a Palestinian guide. Besides, the itinerary for the day did not include such a excursion.

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