Six months ago, nineteen Jews broke the usual partisan norms when it comes to visiting the “Holy Land” by choosing to hear not only the Israeli Zionist narrative—with which most of them are already familiar—but also pushing themselves to learn and experience the Palestinian narrative on their synagogue’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. They chose to shatter the classical stereotype of tourists who come to Israel to experience the luxurious hotels and touchstone religious sites but that prevent them from experiencing the “other” important local culture.While the article did not mention the rabbi's name or the group he is a part of, luckily he commented so we can see exactly how even-handed this tour was.
Tourism packages excel in keeping tourists in a bubble. The guests visit restaurants, hotels, and venues that are designed to give them the illusion of having a local experience, without having to step outside their comfort zone. Tourism in Israel and Palestine is largely dependent on “religious” pilgrimage trips where tourists are rushed from one archeological site to another without fulfilling the spiritual aspect of the trip they had aspired to experience.
This kind of tourism doesn’t characterize all visitors to the Holy Land, however, because there is emerging lately an alternative kind of tourism. There are people who have interests that go beyond the usual religious sites. They understand religious pilgrimage to mean creating a connection with the land, the people and the culture. Such special people choose to come for an educational and practical experience. This not to say they avoid typical sites, nor do they fail to indulge in relaxing and luxurious experiences, but they refuse to ignore the full potential of a Holy Land trip.
In December of 2010, I had the privilege of coordinating a tour for the nineteen Jews from Chicago led by their rabbi. Contrary to normal tours, ours was led equally by two tour guides for the entire trip, a Palestinian and an Israeli. The purpose was to provide the tourists with a context of the Israel/Palestine conflict and allow them to learn the different narratives that exist in the region. They visited many religious sites in Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem. Everywhere they visited, locals welcomed them and spoke to them about a vast variety of issues. They learned about the life, challenges and aspirations of both the people of Palestine and of Israel.
The rabbi who led the trip is a Reconstructionist rabbi named Brant Rosen. He blogged the entire trip, so we could see exactly how much the of itinerary was dedicated to the "Zionist narrative."
It turns out...essentially none.
The Israeli tour guide is supposedly a former Kach member and settler who turned into a "peace activist" and co-founded Breaking the Silence. And the Palestinian Arab guide, who authored the +972 article, isn't any more Zionist than the Israeli!
On the first day, they visited Jewish, christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, and then met with the Imam of Al Aqsa - and, for balance, a member of "Rabbis for Human Rights."
This was the theme of the entire tour: meeting with Palestinian Arabs, sleeping in their homes, and then with extreme israeli leftists who agree with the Palestinian Arab narrative in toto.
Not a single visit with a religious Jew. Not a single talk with a Jewish resident of the areas they visited in Judea and Samaria. No visits with government spokespeople, or IDF representatives, or anyone who could remotely be associated with the Israeli center or right. No talks with victims of Arab terror. No visit to Sderot or any scenes of intifada bombings.
Even worse, Rabbi Brand makes no secret of his own skewed feelings. Look how he describes his visit with a leading Christian anti-Zionist:
Our Wednesday began with a visit with Reverend Naim Ateek (above), founder and head of Sabeel, a well-known institute that advocates Palestinian Chrisitian Liberation Theology. As readers of my blog might know, I’ve long been an admirer of Reverend Ateek’s theological writings. In particular, his work has informed and challenged my own thinking about the Jewish conception of the land and the dangers inherent in wedding religion to power. It was a great pleasure to finally meet Reverend Ateek personally and to introduce him to members of my congregation.So this tour was led by a non-religious rabbi who believes that Zionism is inherently a form of colonialism. And who seems to admire the theological writings of a Christian anti-Zionist more than any Jewish theologian.
To my dismay, Ateek has been unfairly and relentlessly attacked by the American Jewish establishment – largely, I believe, because he does not shrink from illuminating the problems that come with the land-centric nature of Zionist ideology. For myself, I’ve learned much from Ateek’s suggestion that Zionism represents a kind of “Constantinian Judaism” – i.e., a fusing of Judaism with Empire.
And now Palestinian Arabs, represented by the author of the +972 article, are bragging how open-minded they are in allowing nominally Jewish anti-Zionist Jews to enter their homes to be fed propaganda.
It is worthwhile to mention that the self-congratulatory Palestinian Arab author of the article doesn't seem to find the Jews he led around human enough to mention their names, or even the name of the group they were with. But he "loves" them - because they are exactly the types of useful idiots that Palestinian Arabs rely on to push their fake narrative.
It is ironic that the Palestinian Arab who is so upset that Jewish tours of the Holy Land are in a "bubble" led the exact same type of tour - and has the audacity to pretend that it presented both sides of the story.
Even the many skewed political brainwashing tours of Israel pretend to be even handed by giving an hour or so to a "settler" after a week of propaganda. Rabbi Rosen didn't even do that.