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Sound Off: Letter from Palestine

Rami Kassis typically does what most Palestinians do when being blind to the PA’s internal problems – blame Israel.

Is it Israel’s fault that the Palestinians voted for Hamas which began a reign of terror within the Palestinian population in 2006 and exacerbate an already fraught Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of its overriding aim to wipe Israel off the map?

Rami Kassis typically does what most Palestinians do when being blind to the PA’s internal problems – blame Israel.

Is it Israel’s fault that the Palestinians voted for Hamas which began a reign of terror within the Palestinian population in 2006 and exacerbate an already fraught Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of its overriding aim to wipe Israel off the map?

Is it Israel’s fault that Bethlehem which used to be a town with a Christian majority is now a town with a small Christian minority because Islamists made life intolerable for Christians?

Is it Israel’s fault that law and order in the PA areas is so lacking that almost every tourism generating country advises its citizens to avoid travel to the West Bank and Gaza ? is it any wonder that given an intelligent choice tourist, especially religious pilgrims, even those with genuine sympathy for Palestinians will take a calculated risk to visit Bethlehem but would prefer to stay in Jerusalem?

I had enough experience in dealing with Israeli/ Palestinian tourism to know that if Israeli-Palestinian relations were left to tourism professionals and not hate mongering ratbags posing as Islamic religious leaders the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict may have been solved years ago. The Peres foundation and other Israeli organizations have worked hard to try and build real tourism bridges between Israeli and Palestinian tourism and hotel professionals because we know that if The PA does real a real slice of the Israeli Palestinian tourism pie this will service the interests of peace but your only response is to blame Israel.

So Rami, play it safe on your side of the fence which regrettably was built to keep suicide bombers and other Palestinian ambassadors of ill will out of Israel. By all means keep blaming Israel as it’s the politically correct thing to do in the shining Palestinian democratic paradise but don’t kid yourself that any tourism professional with a grain of intelligence will take you seriously. –David Beirman, Australia

What is so shocking about David Beirman’s reply to the very reasonable comments made by Rami Kassis, is not so much the unnecessarily vitriolic tone, but rather the fact that he appears to have so little understanding of the almost universally-acknowledged facts of the Israeli Occupation and its implications for everyday life on the ground for ordinary Palestinians.

This is an occupation which has resulted in the quasi-incarceration and collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population for acts committed by a minority. Moreover, to eqaute Hamas merely with ‘terror’ both fails to comprehend the complexity of a movement which has grown in tandem with Israel’s occupation (and abetted by Israeli governments) and excuses Israel’s record of violence against Palestinians. Notwithstanding numerous Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s occupation, which has resulted in the uprooting of 180,000 olive and citrus trees, the demolition of 12,000 homes or more, the wanton destruction of Palestinian natural and cultural heritage (acknowledged by UNESCO), Israel continues to act with impunity against Palestinian civilians. More recently, the construction of the egregious separation wall, on the pretext of security, but which in fact extends deep into Palestinian territories, enclosing farm lands and separating families and entire villages from each other, constitutes a breach of the fourth Geneva Convention and has been condemned by the International Court of Justice in 2004.

In terms of tourism it is relatively safe for foreign visitors to stay in Bethlehem – no more or no less than many other destinations one could name – and it is disingenuous of Beirman to suggest otherwise. The situation is not of course helped by the harassment at checkpoints, the almost complete closure of Palestinian hotels and associated businesses as a result of the occupation and indeed of former Palestinian hotels being taken over by the IDF again in the name of ‘security’. What of Rachel’s Tomb? The fortress-like blockade that now exists around it, cutting through Palestinian homes and farmland on either side, has nothing to do with security whatsoever but rather with the exclusion of all but a minority of religious Jews, many of whom do not enjoy the support of the wider Israeli public, armed to the teeth, from being able to visit the site.

Like all those blind to the crimes of the occupation and Israel’s massive techno-military superiority vis-à-vis the Palestinians, Beirman reduces everything to the pathologies of “hate mongering ratbags” (who are only ever Palestinian mind) with not even a flicker of recognition of the huge injustices created by Israel’s utter intransigence with regard to giving up the occupied territories, in particular its settler colonies, or removing the draconian restrictions on mobility which prevent ordinary Palestinians in Bethlehem from visiting friends and relatives in Jerusalem, a short bus journey away.

It is incumbent upon commentators like Beirman to report the situation that confronts Palestinians and in particular Palestinian tourism enterprises whose livelihoods have been massively compromised and in some cases destroyed by the Israeli occupation, in particular the last 7 years, with a degree of objectivity and humanity. To suggest that Rami Kassis and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have suffered the indignities and hardships of occupation wish to “play it safe on your side of the fence” is an insult to their struggle and a gross misrepresentation of the current situation that confronts them.—Dr. Raoul Bianchi, London

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