Just how true the age old saying ‘seeing is believing’ actually can be, became clear during a trip through Israel. Israel is worldwide best known for its occupation of the West Bank. Recently two extremes have been making headlines. On the one hand Israeli settlers are moving ever more onto Palestinian territory, forming an increasingly permanent testimony to how desperate the conflict is becoming. On the other hand, Obama’s first visit to both Prime Minister ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and President Abbas (the first visit by an American president to the Westbank) in January promised renewed efforts of creating a two-state solution.
Slightly overshadowed by the conflict are a hodgepodge of additional internal issues, which every country might suffer from , as gender inequality, racism and social-economic inequality. Exacerbating these issues is the fact that politicians are often chosen not for their social ideals or country leading capacity, as much as for their military leadership or religious conviction (with the exception being the recently elected Yair Lapid). Underlying every internal problem is social hierarchy. Status in Israeli society is very much dependant on one’s ethnic background, dividing society into Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Arabs, Africans and Westerners.
How is an outsider or even an insider ever to comprehend all of this? To the unfocused eye it is not so easy. A single person is not going to witness Israel’s complexities in its entirety. Or if they do start to unravel certain inconsistencies, they may not know what to do with the information. The need for making intricate problems comprehensible is being solved by organizations furthering the causes of different groups in society, by showing the people the problem. Tours are organized around the country revealing the conflicts by showing the physical evidence for it.
In the West bank, Breaking the Silence is an organization that takes those who sign up on a tour of Hebron. Accompanying the physical are testimonies by ‘retired’ IDF (Israeli Defence Force) soldiers, who describe their experiences and often their regrets of being involved in the occupation. In relation to the precarious situation of Sudanese and Eritreans in Israel, human rights organizations involved with refugee rights are organizing tours – taking Israeli school children, the international Jewish community, diplomats, journalists and any random Israeli who sign up – to South Tel Aviv to view how the situation of ‘collectively protected’ African asylum seekers came to exist. Moreover these tours have become reactive, also showing recent developments as the construction of a new fence all along the border with Egypt and several detention centres in the middle of the desert.
Such an activity can turn sour, when suffering becomes a type of amusement. Nevertheless ‘tours of suffering’ can also become a component of responsible travelling. If the tourist was to adapt the concept and make it part of the travelling experience by doing a bit of research beforehand and then seeking out of the window/ city centre/ anywhere, to discover not necessarily the truth, but the different narratives of a place. In this way a bus trip from the Historical city of Jerusalem to the party area Eilat can become a tour of the Bedouin issue in the Negev.
The bus-sitter will view sloppy, make-shift looking unrecognized villages. Non-recognition stems from the state’s refusal to provide the necessary infrastructure, such as (but not limited to) education, jurisdiction, electricity and water. Further along the same road, the bus-sitter will also view what the government has created instead: planned urban centres which completely neglect Bedouin lifestyle needs and ethnic composition. Assembling people from many different groups and grounds into one place and breaking associative bonds. Even fields of trees planted in the middle of the desert by kind donations from all over the world, can then reveal themselves to be a method of ensuring land is not appropriated by an unwanted people.