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Israel plunders West Bank tourism economy as part of ‘creeping annexation’ of Palestine

Israel/Palestine
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At first glance, it looked like a generous promotional stunt by Israel to aid the Palestinians’ struggling tourism industry. Israeli military authorities published this month a video on social media publicizing Palestinian attractions in the West Bank.

Most are Christian, including Jesus’s birthplace in Bethlehem – now the Church of the Nativity – and more obscure locations such as the monasteries of Mar Saba and Wadi Qelt, in mountainous desert terrain few pilgrim coaches ever reach.

The video was produced by COGAT, the Israeli military body that rules over Palestinians. It appears to be the latest initiative in defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s so-called “carrot and stick” policy – a program that rewards and punishes Palestinians according to their behavior.

Lieberman has vowed to bypass the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and deal with Palestinians directly. The head of COGAT, Yoav Mordechai, has become a familiar face to ordinary Palestinians.

Last month, in his first live chat in Arabic on COGAT’s Facebook page, he answered questions from Palestinians on how they could receive Israeli work permits or resolve other bureaucratic headaches his officials created for them. Even Palestinians in Gaza defied Hamas to contact him.

The tourism video is similarly designed to reverse the Oslo accords, which held out a false promise two decades ago that the Palestinians would one day enjoy statehood and self-determination. Israel’s micromanagement of the territories is now such that it is even taking responsibility for attracting visitors to Palestine.

Except that is precisely not where COGAT’s video invites them. Instead it beckons tourists to visit “Judea and Samaria”, the Biblical names Israel uses to justify the illegal Jewish settlements that dominate much of the West Bank.

What is going on?

The deception at the campaign’s heart operates on several levels – and reveals much about Israel’s long-term policy towards the Palestinians.

Lieberman wants Palestinians to view Mordechai’s military administration as a benevolent father figure, the address for their problems, rather than Abbas. Who has the power to bring tourists to the territories and boost the Palestinian economy? COGAT, not the Palestinian Authority.

But Israel’s charity comes at a high price: Palestinians must jettison their national ambitions. The tourists can visit but Palestinians must first concede that these are Israeli sites.

A similar message is directed at the tourists. Christian pilgrims with little understanding of the Palestinians’ long history of dispossession are being encouraged to explore Greater Israel oblivious to which side of the Green Line they are on. The distinction between Nazareth and Bethlehem, in Israel and the occupied West Bank, respectively, is increasingly blurred.

Palestinians themselves are all but invisible. The video at no point mentions that they even live in “Judea and Samaria”. It shows buildings, not people.

This rebranding process is already well underway in Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in violation of international law decades ago. Tourism maps are littered with Jewish settler sites, marked as prominently as important holy places such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Al Aqsa mosque. The latter is identified only by its Hebrew name, Temple Mount.

But in truth the tourism video is even less generous than it appears. Israel controls all entry into the West Bank, meaning that it is impossible for pilgrims to visit without contributing to the Israeli economy.

Israel announced in September a record budget for promoting tourism, a mainstay of its economy. The vast majority of visitors stay in Israeli hotels, are transported in Israeli coaches, eat in Israeli restaurants, visit Israeli gift shops to buy Israeli souvenirs using Israeli money.

In fact, most of the sites visited in the West Bank are controlled by Israel – from the Dead Sea and Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque to Herod’s acropolis near Bethlehem and the Baptism site on the River Jordan.

Tourists absorb the Palestinian presence only as a distant menace, highlighted by the bright red traffic signs warning that it is “dangerous to your lives” to stray from major roads. Pilgrims dart into Bethlehem for a brief tour of the Church of the Nativity, passing through a checkpoint in the oppressive, prison-like wall, hinting that Israel has good reason to treat Palestinians like felons.

If COGAT really wanted to change that impression, and help the Palestinian economy, it would encourage tourists to stay in Palestinian cities such as Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah and Jericho. And meet actual Palestinians.

Last week the Israeli parliament passed the first reading of a so-called legalization bill, which will retroactively authorize the settlers’ theft of land and property privately owned by Palestinians in the West Bank. The legislation extends to the settlers’ criminal acts the same legal protection as the state’s theft of Palestinian land.

The privatization of the looting of Palestinian territory is intimately connected to the authorities’ latest moves to plunder Palestine’s tourism economy. The overarching goal in both is the “creeping annexation” of the Palestinians’ homeland. Israel is ready to use any and every means at its disposal

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook
About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.

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3 Responses

  1. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    December 14, 2016, 1:45 pm

    The political cost of reversing YESHA and admitting to Yossi and Yosefina Israeli
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fb-f8CTafHs
    that $120 bn was lost is too high

    http://www.haaretz.com/misc/iphone-article/1.601122
    “Almost every Israeli in the last 47 years has done military service in the territories. Almost all of them have had to do things that go against human decency and morality – often not for the sake of Israel’s security at large, but to protect some isolated outpost of settlers. If indeed Israel were to reach peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world, most Israelis would have to live with the painful realization that most of what Israel has done to the Palestinians was unnecessary; that Israel could have ended the occupation a long time ago; and that the energies and resources invested in the West Bank’s colonization could have been invested in Israel’s flourishing instead.
    This idea is too difficult to bear, and the regret would be unendurable. It is, therefore, psychologically imperative to create a narrative that explains why the occupation was inevitable; why Israel had no choice but to hang onto the West Bank; why all the sacrifice in human lives, moral turpitude and political isolation were necessary for Israel’s survival. ”

    So Israel has decided to spend even more money on the settlers and accept the risk that the entire Zionist project collapses .

    It’s a no brainer.

    http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/jerusalem-babylon/.premium-1.600000

    Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote in his seminal essay “After Kibiyeh” (collected in “Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State,” edited by Eliezer Goldman, Harvard University Press 1995) of “the fear of losing religous-moral supremacy, which is easy to hold on to when there is no risk to it and difficult under other circumstances.”
    Less than six years after the creation of a sovereign state with a powerful army, Leibowitz wrote that the “real religious and moral meaning of our political rebirth and the return to our hands of the use of force” would be a severe test for Jews who were too accustomed to being victims. “Can we prove capable not only of suffering for these values we exalted, but also acting upon them?” he asked. “It’s easy to suffer, physically and materially for values, even to sacrifice our lives: that necessitates only physical courage which exists in surprising quantities among all human gatherings. It’s difficult to suffer for values, when this suffering means also giving up things which are also seen as values.”
    In the decades after 1967, Leibowitz would be excoriated by the right wing for his fierce criticism of the occupation which he, perhaps inexcusably, described as “Judeo-Nazi.” But he was speaking as a fervent Zionist who was one of the first to see how the success of Zionism meant we had to realize we were no longer victims and that victory came with a moral price. It was “the great test we are faced with by national liberation, political independence and sovereign power — as a nation, a society and a culture which for generations had the privilege of mental and spiritual enjoyment in exile, foreign-rule and self-impotence.”

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      December 14, 2016, 6:18 pm

      Oh shoot, they’re making the same mistakes they made last time.

  2. RoHa
    RoHa
    December 14, 2016, 7:22 pm

    “If COGAT really wanted to change that impression, and help the Palestinian economy, it would encourage tourists to stay in Palestinian cities such as Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah and Jericho. And meet actual Palestinians.”

    Heavens, no. The tourists might decide that Palestinians are marginally less repulsive than Israeli Jews.

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