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Alternative Tourism
The Palestinians and Justice Tourism
“Justice tourism can be a very effective means of promoting understanding,
mutual education, economic exchange and environmental protection."
Alternative or critical tours are crucial for bringing people into contact with Palestinian reality, for giving them both information and learning experiences that heighten their understanding of the conflict. Critical tours allow the Palestinians to present their own views and culture, and allow visitors to draw their own conclusions. Key target populations include: academic groups, church groups concerned with issues of social justice, diplomats, journalists and researchers, political organizations, tourist and pilgrims groups willing to explore local issues. The wider Israeli public, for whom knowledge of Palestine, both 1948 Palestine and the Occupied Territories, is meager and distorted by preconceptions, might also constitute a target group.
To what are alternative tours an alternative? To conventional tours that impart facts, anecdotes and “light” history about disconnected sites to passive listeners. Tourists come away with a lot of facts that they soon forget because they are disjointed and do not fit into any overarching conceptual framework. Just as problematic, conventional tour guides impart on unsuspecting visitors hidden ideologies of the dominant groups that hire them, groups who frame the essential narrative or story. Conventional tourists are not empowered to see or understand the issues surrounding the people and places they visit. Either stereotypic views are reinforced or political positions uncritically accepted - or the entire experience simply dissipates when the tourist returns home.
By contrast, several key elements differentiate our approach from conventional tourism:
 * Advocacy. ATG is an NGO dedicated to furthering a just and viable peace in our region through critical tourism and other forms of experiential learning. Our tours have an agenda -- they are intended to uncover the sources of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to present diverse views of peoples and groups of the area -- but the agenda is up-front. Our intention, however, is not to convince but rather to impart concepts and contexts necessary for making sense of what the visitors are encountering, thus empowering them to draw their own conclusions.
 * Issue-Based Critical Tours. Our approach to the role of the guide is as one who, together with the tour planners, develops a route that not only contains significant sites but also themes, issues, questions and connecting threads to other topics and experiences. An alternative tour is a coherent, critical experience. Histories, facts and anecdotes may give context and substance to sites, but they are useful only if they are integrated into problem-posing learning experiences. The role of the guide in such tours is to act as a facilitator – structuring experiences, introducing information and issues, answering contextual questions, acting as an intermediary with local people – rather than assuming the role of ultimate authority, the typical tour guide pose. 
 * Cultural/Historical Context and Diverse Voices. In such an area of the world as Israel/Palestine, with such strong competing claims and a long history of conflict, it is imperative to hear the different voices, view the places of conflict and critically examine the claims and grievances of all sides. While sound research is the basis of all tour planning, alternative tours integrate the views of local people, often using them as guides or hosts. Our tours touch on extremely sensitive issues such as the Occupation, “Judaizing” the landscape, house demolitions, but in ways that stimulate thought and awareness rather than imposing positions.
 * Flexibility. Tour routes are thoroughly planned, but since they are based on issues and topics, they are modular in nature; they can be separated and recombined depending on the group’s interests and schedule. Each unit can be compressed into a half-day tour, or expanded and combined so that they are linked into an integrated tour lasting days or an entire week.  
Read on more:
The Palestinians & Justice Tourism
Another Tourism is Possible
by Rami Kassis, Director of ATG, July 2006
      All varieties of tourists have a choice: sun-seekers can help to heal the inequalities between cultures by injecting local economies with resources, or they can participate in their exploitation; adventure tourists can wreak havoc on local environments, or they can participate in efforts to protect them. Put simply, tourists with a commitment to social justice – justice tourists - have the opportunity, not only to make positive contributions to the communities they visit, but to become holders of  the knowledge that will one day lead to equality, democracy, and human rights for all. Keeping in mind these ideas, this text attempts to describe how justice tourism in Palestine can make a fundamental contribution towards the development of peace in the Middle East and beyond.
(Paper written for the Masters Programme of Pilgrimage, Tourism and Cultural Heritage (MAPT), Bethlehem TEMPUS Programme)



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