By Amelie Phillipson -
In Israel, tourism is usually orientated towards visiting the Holy Sites by religious pilgrims, or to the image of long sandy beaches in Tel Aviv, Eilat and by the Dead Sea. Yet it also happens that travelers are curious to find out how people live and how a country works, to figure out what makes Israel and Palestine so different from other places in the world. For these kind of visitors, facilities accommodating a form of mass tourism are inadequate. In Israel, where freedom of expression and of information are valued like in any other democracy, Green Olive Tours has had the opportunity to develop an alternative form of tourism that is closely related to politics. Viewing the issues on the ground and discussing them freely are a big part of advancing democracy.
|Green Olive Tour's Director Fred Schlomka during a tour|
Green Olive Tours was created in 2007 by Fred Schlomka to achieve this goal, and began by showing tourists around Jerusalem with a different vision of the city, spreading different information, bringing the visitors to the heart of social and political issues. Green Olive Tours has now expanded and become a collective offering tours ranging from three hours to several days, including many excursions to the Palestinian territories, and the possibility for visitors to schedule specific private tours.
An alternative vision on very traditional tourist landmarks
It is hard to believe that a tour company offers a three hour tour of the Old City without going down the Via Dolorosa, or into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A Green Olive Tour guide will prefer to insist on discussing the history and social situation of the Old City. Apart from pointing out some of the traditional landmarks, he will show and explain a specific graffiti and will point out why there are Israeli flags in the middle of the Muslim Quarter. All the information is as clear as possible, making sure it is full of historical, geographical and social facts.
|Senior Guide Yahav Zohar|
Discussion is encouraged as the groups are usually small, as opposed to many other groups you will see in the Old City, and arguments are made so as to help to relate what is being shown to historical or political knowledge. For example a visit to the Jewish Quarter puts into perspective the relationship between politics and archeology: archeology is used to determine what belongs to whom. Green Olive Tours gives its clients insights into the history of the people as well as political and social challenges that the population faces. Explanations are given through a social and historical point of view, not the religious or biblical perspectives.
The originality of Green Olive Tours lies within the idea of always presenting counter perspectives, as well as the facts on the ground, enabling each visitor to make up their own mind about what they see. The important thing is that the visitors come and see everything for themselves and are always free to have their own opinion.
A complete program on Palestinian life
Green Olive Tours runs trips to cities and villages in the West Bank and in Israel. Every moment of the tour is carefully utilized, whether it is for the discovery of a local culture, a local custom, or whether it is a discussion about the political situation whilst being on the road.
Tours in the West Bank give visitors an insight into difficulties faced daily by Palestinians, but also into the culture and history of the people, without omitting stops at some famous must-see locations such as the Dead Sea. Some tours also include visiting settlements and meeting settlers, which contributes to the necessity of diving into several perspectives. Visitors are introduced to all the negative and positive aspects of how people live there, and are shown the dynamics that bind people together within the context of an ongoing conflict.
Cultural experience is emphasized for visitors who decide to try out the home stays and multi-day tours. This provides the enlightening opportunity to learn about the daily lives of the locals in Palestinian or in Bedouin homes. If Green Olive Tours stands out as an alternative tour company, it doesn’t forget about those who can be considered regular tourists in the country, the pilgrims. Once again, these tours specially designed for pilgrims, as well as covering all the important religious sites, also include a close take on Christianity in the region, introducing the pilgrims to local Christians, and always relating this to a social and political analysis.
Green Olive Tours is a unique enterprise in Israel, offering the opportunity to get a deeper sense of the culture of the people met along the way. The opportunity of learning from one another goes both ways, so this is as important for the locals as it is for the visitors. Local people learn a lot from visitors, who then go on to become ambassadors to their countries as much as they learn about the way people truly live in the area.
The original article was published in the Palestine-Israel Journey of Politics, Economics and Culture
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