Alternative travel facts from ‘the Tuscany of the Middle East’

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A friend alerted me to the Telegraph travel writer Soo Kim’s recent article about visiting Israel (“The Mediterranean country you’d never thought to visit (but really should)”) and noted that it didn’t mention the Palestinian Arabs, not once. We actually make up two thirds of the population of Western Galilee, the region extolled in the article as “Tuscany of the Middle East.” We also make up half of the residents of the entire Galilee and one fifth of all of Israel’s population.

I wrote notes  in the margins of the Telegraph article,  which I will now share with you along with the relevant bits from the hasbara article.

From the original:

“Israel has a tremendous history and legacy, architecturally speaking, much of which dates back to the architecture in Jerusalem which evolved over three millennia, formed by inspirations from the best Persian, Roman, Ottoman Turkish architecture, with a bit of colonial German architecture thrown in the mix”, Asa Bruno, the Israeli-born director of London’s Ron Arad Studio, told Telegraph Travel.

This is a standard Israeli Hasbara gymnastic trick, jumping over 13 centuries of Arab history to avoid using the accursed term.

“Sitting at the mouth of the meandering Yarkon river …”

Heavily polluted. In 1997 when a bridge over it collapsed, a visiting athlete died from the trauma of the fall and three others later on from the polluted water.

“Tel Aviv has a six-mile beach popular with young, hip and laid-back locals.”

A note of caution: You may want to join the “laid-back locals” on the dry sand. The Gaza sewage pollution may reach this beach.

“Israel can boast around 300 days of sunshine a year. Rays are so reliable that the country has been a pioneer of solar energy.”

Even the Bedouins in the Negev, Israel’s citizens with the lowest socioeconomic status, and villagers in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, have adapted the technology extensively (with financial aid from international sources) before Israel put an end to such frivolity. This is in line with its policy of banning the Bedouins’ access to their native environment. The homes and any solar energy rigs one such group, Al-Araqib, had were destroyed for the 116th time as of August 1, 2017. But they come back. I have more pity on the cockroaches in my kitchen, it seems.

“…though fares tend to rise during major Jewish holidays.”

But you will be compensated for the extra cost: The whole country is off limits to Palestinians from the occupied territories during the Jewish holidays and you are spared their disturbing presence.

“Like New York, Tel Aviv has been handed the nickname ‘The City That Never Sleeps’, thanks to its 24-hour lifestyle.”

Just a note of caution: Behind the bohemian façade, nearly every hotel maintenance worker and all the restaurant dishwashers are Palestinian.

“Don’t miss the musabaha.”

Beware! This is an Arabic name which means “floated,” referring to the whole hummus (another Arabic word!) kernels floating in the liquidy mix. In view of the total absence of the word ‘Arabic,’ much less ‘Palestinian,’ in this upbeat travel advertisement, you may want to keep your distance. The entire hummus scene is heavily contaminated by Arab and Palestinian culture.

“Further north in the port of Acre, Uri Buri…”

The restaurant is housed in a very distinctive structure, the high-ceiling, local sandstone home of some Palestinian refugee whose family likely survives on charity handouts in some refugee camp in nearby South Lebanon, awaiting the next Israeli air-raid.

“and the cardamom ice cream…”

Is that another Israeli invention like falafel, shawarma, tabbouleh, pita bread and shakshouka?

“It has more museums per capita than anywhere else in the world.”

Relax! Here as well, you will not run into any trace of Arabs. By definition, culture in Israel is Ashkenazi Jewish. Anything else, even if occasionally present, is seen and interpreted from that perspective.

“Further north along the Mediterranean coast sits the city of Acre. Its UNESCO-listed Old City is…”

You can skip that one now.

“The area is home to Achziv beach, one of the most romantic in the country, offering blue lagoons and natural seawater pools overlooked by cliffs and with incredible views of the small islands that form part of the Achziv National Park.”

Where can I start? There is hardly a square foot in Israel where you are not stepping on Palestinian history. Sitting in the resort in Achziv (as I related in my memoir, A Doctor in Galilee), you are sitting in what was once the center of the prosperous Arab fishing village of al-Zeeb before the 1948 Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, when the Palestinians were dispossessed of their homeland under the cover of war. Some of al-Zeeb’s homes now house the Club Med resort for international vacationers, while others have been claimed by a Jewish squatter, Eli Avivi, who collected a great many household items, especially ceramic jars and stone implements, left by the Palestinian residents who were driven out from the village to Lebanon by the Jewish forces. Mr. Avivi was reputed to have created a beatnik and hippy commune attracting stray youth from all corners of the earth.

Now here is Soo Kim’s penultimate reason to visit Israel. Most travelers

“are unfamiliar with the Western Galilee region (the country’s most mountainous). It calls itself the ‘Tuscany of the Middle East.’”

Bear with me please while I share a story that illustrates the essence of the Palestinian citizens of Israel’s dysfunctional relationship with ‘the Jewish state,’ the basis of much of my remarks heretofore. But first here is the background: Many of the residents of Nazareth today are internal refugees, ‘present absentees,’ from the neighboring historical town of Saffuriyeh, the childhood home of the Virgin Mary. They fled their homes in 1948 under the strafing of the fledgling Israeli air force. Their homes were then razed and their town replaced by the Jewish-only collective farming village of Moshav Tsipori populated mainly by immigrants from Bulgaria.

Saffuries in Nazareth have since agitated for cleaning their ancestral cemetery and for stopping the next-door farmer from extending the limits of his orchard to let his olive seedlings benefit from the natural rich compost. He had already torn down the partially damaged home on ‘his’ field, one of only two such surviving Palestinian homes. The second had been extended into a guesthouse by the addition of a second story. To the Jewish farmers’ consternation, the court eventually let Saffuriyeh’s descendants clean the shrubbery and thorny overgrowth in the cemetery but not to bury their dead in it.

The olive farmer bore a grudge. He had little clue as to who those characters were or what claim they had to ‘his’ space. To illustrate the absurdity of all of this Jonathan Cook tells a story: Not long ago he led a busload of visitors to Saffuriyeh. When they visited the cemetery, their Palestinian bus driver stayed in his vehicle at the edge of the olive grove. Shortly Jonathan heard Hebrew shouting and cussing. When he interfered, he was shouted at as well. All is well that ends well: The driver had collected a small bag of green olives for his family. The farmer took it from him and the group departed safely.

The next day Jonathan returned with another tour group and a different bus driver. The driver told Jonathan that he is staying in his bus and that he intends to fill a small plastic bag with green olives for his family. Jonathan warned him but he insisted, protesting loudly that as a Palestinian refugee he has the moral right to take some of those luscious olives for his children to savor. Jonathan let the man be and led the group to the cemetery. Shortly he heard the loud shouting and Hebrew cussing. This time the farmer came over and upbraided Jonathan loudly before the group.

Then, taking a deep breath and choosing to explain his message calmly, he begged Jonathan: “You must explain to those Arabs that it is not right to steal what doesn’t belong to you.”

Did you get that, Soo Kim?

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“… It calls itself the ‘Tuscany of the Middle East.’” It also calls itself a “moral beacon”, a “light unto the nations” and a “Western-style democracy”. And yet if you dare to point out that this ersatz Tuscany is actually a deliberately and unapologetically colonialist, (war) criminal and religion-supremacist state,… Read more »

Not right to steal what doesn’t belong to you? But surely all property is theft? And the Palestinians took it away from * * * * the Romans? Great story. It seems that travel-lit is also subject to theft! Look how much of the story was missing! I wonder who… Read more »

Dr. Kanaaneh,

Thanks for such eloquence. I look forward to reading your book.


Dr. Kanaaneh is complaining that an article promoting tourism to Israel doesn’t mention Palestinian Arabs even though they are “…one fifth of all of Israel’s population”. So, I read the article to see if he’s right, and indeed he is. However, when reading the article, I couldn’t help but notice… Read more »