Maybe you’ve heard great things about Tel Aviv’s nightlife (even here on this blog). Or you’re interested in Middle Eastern history & culture. Or maybe you’re religious and interested in the religious history of a controversial and culturally important land. Israel and the Palestinian territories catch a lot of attention in the media so it’s natural to be curious about visiting or travelling to Israel.
But, should you visit Israel? Should you visit the Palestinian territories?
My own answer to this question hasn’t been an easy decision. When I was living in Tel Aviv, Israel last year, I tried to convince a friend to visit me in Tel Aviv. Her answer: no. Not because she didn’t want to see me, but because she’d read and researched enough about the region to make a decision to not support the country with her tourism. At the time, I thought that was a silly cop-out. How could she know what Israel is like if she’s never been?
Since that time, I myself have had the chance to learn and see a lot more. Over time, I’ve increasingly been more vocal about my political beliefs regarding Israel and the Palestinian territories. I wrote the following a few months ago:
If you’re planning to be a tourist in Israel, I hope you’ll take the time to read about the places you might visit. There are lots of Israeli and Palestinian organizations that run study tours around the country. If you decide to see & visit controversial places for yourself, be sure to get as much understanding out of it as possible.
Many people visit Israel because of religious reasons, or because they’ve heard about how European of a city Tel Aviv is, or because they’re interested in the Middle East, or sometimes for very little reason other than an affordable flight. Those indeed are all reasons to visit a place, but as a firm believer in responsible travel, visiting Israel (and most countries) requires a little bit more of an effort.
Packing a bag and boarding a plane is easy. Making an informed decision on whether or not to visit a place is not. So if you’re considering a trip to Israel, I urge you to take the time to read the news from both sides of the political conflict, to get to know where you’re going. But don’t just stop there. When travelling in Israel, it’s important to speak to the people, to see the places. It’s important to visit Israeli and Palestinian cities, to visit demonstrations. The more you see, the more you learn.
Politics matters while (and where) you travel
There’s a new TED talk from Julia Bacha, the director of Budrus (a documentary film about nonviolent protests in the West Bank). While her talk doesn’t necessarily have to do with visiting Israel, I think it’s worth watching. In her speech and this subsequent editorial on CNN.com, she touches on how media can and does provide a limited view of much of the world. That’s why I believe it’s important to seek out alternate sources, to see things for yourself.
There is a lot of misconception when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian territories. If you ignore the conflict when travelling in Israel, you’re not really seeing what the country deals with. Plenty of people can and do ignore it, but plenty of people are also affected by it every single day.
Many people will claim you can never know a place unless you’ve lived there, and therefore you cannot reasonably speak on the matter nor have an opinion. While I may have once believed this to be true, I know it isn’t an ultimatum. Let’s revisit the story of my friend who wouldn’t visit me in Israel. She’s a smart, intelligent and informed person. She wasn’t interested in visiting Israel for fear of “supporting” Israel’s policies toward Palestinians and the Palestinian territories. Her support wouldn’t have been implicit, simply just a fact of her being there and of spending her money there. But she made a conscious, informed & deliberate decision to not visit Israel based on the information available to her. For this, I cannot blame her. In fact, I admire her. Packing a bag and boarding a plane is easy. Making an informed decision on whether or not to visit a place is not.
I won’t say whether or not you should visit Israel. But I will say that if you do visit Israel, you should deliberately consider what types of repercussions your actions might have on a bigger picture. Because so much of the travel and tourism industry in Israel is controversial for so many people, be careful where your feet land.
And don’t forget that there’s more to Israel than just Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The Palestinian territories, as it is today, falls under Israeli control. And within the West Bank alone are some incredible tourist sites, whether the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem or nightclubs in Ramallah.