Walking the occupation: Alternative Tourism Group shed light on realities in Palestine

The mid-March sun burns bright over the olive groves surrounding Aqraba village, non-discriminate between Palestinian hamlets and sprawling Israeli settlements.

A group of mostly Christian pilgrims are half way through an 11-day journey through the Holy Land. But this is not your ‘typical’ pilgrim tour. The group are travelling on an Alternative Tourism Group (ATG) designed itinerary, indicative of their desire to dig further below the surface of life in Palestine.

Established in 1995, ATG works to counter the traditional perspective given to visitors to the Holy Land. ATG program coordinator, Jawad Musleh, told Palestine Monitor most visitors to Palestine are pilgrims, maybe over 70%.

He lamented, however, the majority of such visitors just move from one tourist place to another, one church to another, without meeting people, without learning anything about the situation here.

When they come to Bethlehem they visit the [Nativity] church, they spend an hour or two in Bethlehem, then they go back [to Israel], Musleh said.

Those tourists first of all learn nothing, and they spend no money in Palestine, they don’t support the Palestinian economy in any way.

Not only do these visitors not hear the Palestinian perspective, but in some cases they are actively poisoned against it.

In the worst cases, their Israeli guide gives a bad image of Palestinians, whether directly, like when driving into Bethlehem they will say things like ‘Now we are entering a Palestinian town so be careful of your wallets’. Or they will speak more directly and describe Palestinians as terrorists, Musleh explained.