Ala’adin from Al-Bireh used to greet new foreign arrivals to Palestine with a cheerful, “So you’re here to save my country too?” He was fond of mocking good intentions.
Still it’s fair to say that most international visitors to Palestine, particularly those in relief or activism campaigns, do so at least partly out of conscience. In Britain, and I daresay most of Europe, Palestinian liberation is widely seen as a “good” cause. While many Palestinians feel abandoned by the international community, surely Egypt has taught us not to confuse a nation’s rulers with its population.
In London, where I grew up, this conflict was a “red-line” topic. If you took the wrong position on Palestine-Israel, it was as bad as supporting the death penalty, or liking Margaret Thatcher, and you would be considered the devil incarnate. As I overheard at a Kensington dinner party: “You cannot be a good person if you think the Occupation is okay.”
...While the vast majority of ex-pats living here genuinely believe in the cause of liberation, it is far from the only reason for our mass invasion. Since the International Solidarity Movement was established in 2001, over 200 NGOs have sprung up in the West Bank and Gaza. Their presence is proof of how favourable Palestinian conditions have become.
“Palestine is the best-kept secret in the aid industry,” I am told by Emily Williams, an American project manager at a medical NGO. “People need field experience and Palestine sounds cool and dangerous because it can be described as a war zone, but in reality it’s quite safe and has all the comforts that internationals want. Quality of life here is so much higher than somewhere like Afghanistan, but we don’t tell anyone so that we are not replaced or reassigned.”
That quality of life is becoming rapidly more apparent in the “A” areas. In cities like Ramallah and Nablus, expensive restaurants and high-powered financial institutions are common now. Nightlife and entertainment is expanding to cater for international tastes.
At times these tastes sit uneasily with local values. More than once I’ve heard the fear voiced that our influence will damage the traditions of Palestinian society. Most internationals at least attempt to be culturally sensitive, but our differences can be striking. I can only imagine how West Bankers feel to see us breezing over to Jerusalem or even Tel Aviv, but these trips have an allure to visitors from the West, who can be somewhere more like home just half an hour away. In my experience, these guilty pleasures are also popular among young Palestinians with the necessary ID.
It is no coincidence that a rise in the number of international visitors here coincides with economic downturn in the West and a shrinking jobs market. With the proliferation of NGOs, the degrees that were just paper back home entitle us to prominent positions in growth industries.
For media professionals, there is a wealth of material to be uncovered here, along with the experience of working on such a major issue. Palestine has been a reliable source of news stories since the conflict began, and it receives forensic, albeit often misguided, analysis across the world. For Western students, Arabic language skills are becoming increasingly desirable and many English universities now arrange placements in exchange for volunteer work. Throw in a warmer climate, Palestine’s natural wonders and holy sites, lower crime rates, and a preposterously welcoming host population, and it’s little wonder that Bi’lin resembles a model United Nations on a Friday morning.
Here we see the truth. Being "pro-Palestinian" (which means, of course, anti-Israel) is trendy and cool. Going there establishes one as a daredevil, willing to risk one's life. Thousands of young, faux-humanitarians go there to find a use for their useless degrees, and get paid by hundreds of NGOs that pop up to accommodate them, who can always be counted upon to raise all the money needed to keep the Palestinian Arab NGO industry going. But these same Israel haters will happily travel to Tel Aviv to enjoy the comforts of home.
And the NGOs, flush with cash from Westerners who feel that this is the holiest cause on Earth, dutifully churn out reports about how horrible the conditions are, as they live it up in this "war zone." Those reports, filled with lies and exaggerations, are used to raise more money so that these fake adventurers can continue to live it up.
Money that could be used to actually help people in need is instead diverted to help young people live it up and write anti-Israel reports.
This article raises the curtain, only a little, on an entire industry dedicated to demonizing Israel.
It is an entire financial and social ecosystem where everyone knows they are part of a game but they do not want to let the world in on the truth, because it would risk them losing their comfort, stature and prestige - not to mention their salaries. They raise money by claiming life in the territories is terrible and dangerous while they happily flock to live there because it is so safe and comfortable.
It is a scandal - but the only people who can expose it are the ones who are profiting from it, so it remains a dirty little secret.