A large number of non-Jewish tourist groups consisting on the average of 10 – 40 people, from North America, Great Britain and Ireland, Western Europe (France and Belgium) and Australia arrive in Israel each week.
They enter Israel on regular tourist visas, but these are not regular tourists. Their agenda is political. They profess to have come to "Israel and Palestine to learn about both sides of the conflict." In reality, they have mainly come to show support and solidarity to the Palestinians and gather incriminating facts about the state of Israel, her government, the IDF and the "settlers" that many will disseminate in various forums upon their return home.
Unlike other internationals that come to the area to protest, these groups generally arrive and depart quietly, virtually unnoticed by any Israel government official or ministry. They manage to "fly under the radar."
These tourists are as young as high school students and as old as senior adults, though the majority is between 30 – 60 years old.
They represent all professions and walks of life.
They are both Christian and secular (many "post-Christian"). Some groups include a small number of Muslims and Jews.
They stay, on average, from 5 – 14 days, though some come for an extended educational or volunteer program.
They come to the area under the auspices of various churches or human rights organizations. Locally, they may be handled by, among others,
· Holy Land Trust http://www.holylandtrust.org/
· Alternative Tourism Group http://www.atg.ps/
· Sabeel http://www.sabeel.org/
· Christian Peacemaker Teams (Palestine) http://www.cpt.org/work/palestine
Their itinerary is based on a combined program of site visits, seminars, lectures and almost always includes Arab home hospitality in the Palestinian Authority, including sharing meals with and sleeping in the homes of Palestinian families. It is here that tourists are exposed to the most intensive and effective anti-Israel propaganda.
They also meet representative of extreme left-wing Israeli organizations such as
· The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions http://www.icahd.org
· Breaking the Silence http://www.shovrimshtika.org/index_e.asp
· Peace Now http://www.peacenow.org.il/site/en/homepage.asp
Most of these groups do not meet with any spokesperson from the Israel government nor the opposition.
Their visit to the "Efrat settlement" usually last 1 -1.5 hours and consists of a frontal lecture only that cannot compete emotionally with the Palestinian experience.
The author is token "settler" that they meet for an hour to pretend that their week-long trip immersed in Palestinian Arab propaganda is "balanced."
His observations are worth noting:
It appears that some 70-80% of these visitors, although they consider themselves politically to the left, are not anti-Semitic or particularly anti-Israel upon their arrival.
A minority, perhaps some 10%, arrive with an existing hostility towards Israel. Another approximately 10% seem mostly ignorant of the history of the conflict.
The majority of participants are not interested in the Israeli narrative. They are not made more sympathetic to Israel’s case through stories of Palestinian terrorism.
By the time their visit is over the majority's opinion of Israel is quite negative. We have lost their hearts and minds.
In recent years these groups more frequently raise the question concerning the very need for a Jewish state. For a growing number of these tourists, the notion of a sovereign and independent Jewish state seems wrong.
These visitors readily, even eagerly, adopt the Palestinian narrative of the conflict with its short and simple message:
(1) Israel has stolen and illegally occupies the Land of PalestineThe reason he wrote to me is that he wanted to use my posters to most effectively use his limited time with the visitors and show them, as effectively as possible, that there are two sides to the story.
(2) Israel oppresses Palestinians, up to and including being guilty of committing crimes against humanity
Many participants in these groups, albeit an unknown number, upon returning to their respective countries become active in various ways in their communities or on their campuses on behalf of the Palestinian cause and denounce the state of Israel for its alleged treatment of the Palestinians.
In spite of the hostility they convey towards the government of Israel and the IDF, each group, without exception, asks about a "vision of peace." While most visitors blame Israel for the ongoing conflict, they are not seeking a "winner and loser." What they want is for Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side in peace.
I am gratified that he was very happy with the posters I sent him (mostly the "This Is Zionism" series). Here's what he responded:
I have got to tell you, I am smiling from ear to ear. :)He sent me more information, including a detailed proposal he wrote up for encouraging non-Jewish groups to visit Israel to see things that the Palestinian Arab tour sponsors stay away from: Jewish-Arab cooperation in Israel as well as in the territories (such as Arab students in Ariel University,) the Peres Center for Peace, MASHAV, meetings with successful Palestinian Arab businessmen, shopping expeditions to the trendy districts in Ramallah, and other activities that are not "right wing" but an accurate representation of Israeli society and tolerance.
I am going to print these posters out and laminate them and show them to every pro-Palestinian group that I speak to, beginning next week.
There is no doubt that a picture is worth a thousand words. For years I have been speaking to groups who have first been taken to "see evidence of Israeli oppression," i.e. a checkpoint, a "wall," the mere presence of an Israel soldier. My hour to hour-and-a-half presentation, by then, usually falls on deaf ears. Most leave with the phrase "Thank you for your time," when what they really mean is "Don't bother us with facts, our minds are made up."
Although my holding these posters up in front of their faces is naturally not as powerful an experience as having a poor, Palestinian woman tell these visitors that cruel Israeli soldiers shot my son for sport, at least it is a start in the right direction.
It is a very important idea, and one that needs support. There are literally thousands of people who are visiting Israel with groups whose entire purpose is to poison their minds against Israel - and the poor dupes who go on these trips believe that they are being given both sides of the story.
(Sorry, I don't know if I have permission to publish this person's name; if he wants I'll add it.)
UPDATE: I had forgotten about this article I had linked to a couple of months ago where an Israeli journalist tagged along a tour for foreign journalists. Very worthwhile reading. (h/t Amanda)