Ethical Travel to Palestine & Challenging Apartheid Tourism
A crucial component to challenging Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people is examining the harmful role of tourism in Israel. Palestinians, wherever they are, are denied the freedom to move freely to and within their homeland by Israel. At the same time, Israel cultivates a tourism industry that quite literally erases Palestinians from the landscape and history, appropriates Palestinian culture and cuisine, and whitewashes the reality of Israel’s state violence.
Whether in Palestine, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or New Orleans, typical travel and tourism enable ongoing colonization, gentrification, appropriation of native culture. Native lands and gentrifying neighborhoods are packaged and sold as tourist destinations, often featuring local culture as exotic entertainment while reinforcing negative and patronizing stereotypes of those communities. Many tourists travel effortlessly across borders and in places where oppressive governments are erecting walls, militarizing borders, dividing families, and denying freedom of movement to local communities. From Palestine to Mexico, from the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights to New Orleans, resisting racism means listening to the voices of those impacted by these systems of harm rather than normalizing and contributing to those systems through tourism.
If you’re considering traveling to Palestine, start by familiarizing yourself with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s (PACBI) official guidelines for ethical travel to Palestine. The responsibility for ethical travel extends beyond Palestinian lands. Al-Marsad: Arab Human Rights Centre in Golan Heights has also called for responsible travel in the Israel-occupied Syrian Golan and provides these guidelines. And always, keep in mind that the privilege of non-Palestinians to travel to Palestine is, by design, premised on the denial of Palestinians to travel freely—and return—to their homeland.
Organized Trips for Diaspora Palestinians
- Diaspora-Solidarity Volunteer Program (Dalia Association and To Be There): Engage the Palestinian Diaspora and friends in solidarity in voluntary activities. In the 10-day program, participants will learn about the political reality for Palestinians living under occupation since 1948.
- Know Thy Heritage (Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation): Annual delegations that empower Palestinian youth in the Diaspora by strengthening their knowledge of their Palestinian identity, culture, history, traditions, as well as their understanding of the Palestinian economic environment, political landscape, social structures, and conditions.
Responsible Delegations by International Organizations
- Eyewitness Palestine: Powerful, socially responsible, politically accountable tours integrating political education and skills-building to build movements of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for justice.
- Zaytoun (UK): Offers annual olive harvest-oriented tours for volunteers and visitors, aimed at building solidarity. One of the delegations, the Protective Presence Trip, supports Palestinian farmers in the olive harvest.
- Travel2Palestine (UK): Organizes small group trips with the aim to help educate, inform, and engage.
- The Palestine Committee (Norway): An independent national solidarity organization that works to spread knowledge about the situation in Palestine and to influence Norwegian public opinion. Organizes solidarity delegations.
If you are based in Norway, check out the Association of Norwegian NGOs for Palestine. If you are in the Netherlands, check out Diensten en Onderzoek Centrum Palestina.
Palestinian and Syrian Golan Tour Operators
If you decide to travel to Palestine or the Syrian Golan Heights, ensure that you are using local and ethical tour operators. Most Israeli tour companies and operators whitewash Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, provide false and misleading information, and exploit native populations.
- Alternative Tourism Group (ATG): Tours, home stays, activities, guidebooks, and other practical information.
- Siraj Center: Responsible tourism for experiential travel and human connection featuring home stays, pilgrimages, hiking, and more.
- Grassroots Jerusalem: Political tours reveal the political and grassroots reality of Jerusalem for Palestinians.
- Al-Marsad: Alternative tours of the Syrian Golan Heights with a human rights lens centering the voices and narrative of the native Syrian population.
- To Be There: Organizes delegations, day trips, and more focusing on political, social, and agricultural life.
- Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA YWCA of Palestine: Provides a diverse array of Journeys for Justice, for youth, pilgrims, and others.
- Green Olive Collective: Organizes various educational tours in collaboration with Siraj and ATG.
Undertaking ethical faith-oriented travel to Palestine is critical in the face of faithwashing and sanitized Christian pilgrimages that erase the injustices faced by Palestinians. Kairos Palestine’s Come and See: A Call from Palestinian Christians provides guidelines for Christians contemplating a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Holy Land Trust has 20+ years of experience offering customized trips and experiences for international visitors and pilgrims. And Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian liberation theology organization, offers Witness Visit trips providing participants with the opportunity to learn about the Palestinian struggle, and to worship, meet, and reflect with locals living in the Holy Land.
Responsible Christian pilgrimages:
- Friends of Sabeel Witness Trips (Palestinian Christian liberation theology organization)
- Living Stones (Holy Land Trust)
- Community Peacemaker Teams
- Tree of Life Journeys (First Congregational Church of Old Lyme)
- Living Stones Pilgrimages (Pilgrims of Ibillin)
- Living Stones Tours (United Methodists for Kairos Response)
- Footsteps of Jesus (Disciples of Christ)
- People-to-People Pilgrimages (United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ Global Ministries)
While Israel denies Palestinians their rights and freedom of movement, it recruits international celebrities, politicians, pilgrims, and others on visits that obscure the reality of Israel’s state violence. These trips, usually part of the Brand Israel campaign, engage figures in promoting a false image of Israel as fun, exotic, and a safe haven in a sea of hostile Arab countries, rather than an ongoing perpetrator of violence and apartheid against the native population.
Challenge Corporate Complicity
- Google, Put Palestine on the Map: Join the campaign by 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media calling on Google to stop mislabeling Palestinian villages, cities, and roads on Google Maps.
- Booking.com: Tell the Truth: Sign Jewish Voice for Peace’s (JVP) petition calling on Booking.com to stop listing and mislabeling places in occupied East Jerusalem, as reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
- TripAdvisor: Pull Out of Illegal Settlements: Ask TripAdvisor Inc. to stop listing or promoting properties, activities, and attractions located in illegal Israeli settlements or run by settlers.
- Stolen Homes – Airbnb: In 2018, Airbnb committed to removing all listings in illegal Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, except those in East Jerusalem. In April 2019, Airbnb reversed its decision, choosing to remain complicit in Israel’s displacement of Palestinians.
Challenge Whitewashed Study Abroad & Birthright
Learn more about the academic boycott of Israel, which targets Israeli universities as major, willing, and persistent accomplices in Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism, and apartheid.
- Boycott Study Abroad in Israel: Sign the pledge to uphold the academic boycott of Israel by refusing participation in study abroad programs in Israel that ignore and perpetuate Israel’s ongoing violations of academic and other freedoms of the Palestinian people.
- Return the Birthright: Sign JVP’s pledge not to go on Birthright Israel’s free trips for Jewish youth that are premised on the denial of Palestinian refugees’ right to return and obscure, rationalize, and defend Israel’s violence against the Palestinian people.
Support Palestinian civil society’s call for a boycott of Israeli cultural institutions, which are used for propaganda and whitewashing of Israel’s violence. Thousands of artists have canceled events in Israel or refused to travel there. For example, following calls to #SkipTheTrip, 2016 Oscars host Chris Rock and 25 top nominees were offered free trips to Israel and not a single star visited.
Normalization in the international sports arena is an important component of Israel’s public relations and status-seeking. As in the movement to boycott apartheid in South Africa, the sports boycott is an important tool to challenge Israeli oppression and stand in solidarity with Palestinian athletes and others. Scholars, athletes, and others have called on FIFA to revoke the Israeli Football Association’s membership over its inclusion of several football teams based in Israeli settlements. In 2017, Super Bowl star Michael Bennett and 5 other athletes canceled a trip to Israel, citing a commitment to justice and refusing to be used for propaganda purposes.
Christian Zionist Pilgrimages
30+ US colleges have partnered with Philos, a Zionist organization, to send 1,000+ Christian students each year on Israeli propagandizing delegations as part of a program called Passages. Contact Friends of Sabeel – North America at firstname.lastname@example.org to join them in calling on colleges to end the partnership and to provide justice-oriented delegations to their students.
Pinkwashing is Israel’s campaign to distract from its egregious violations of Palestinian rights by promoting an image of false progressivism, cultural liberalism and its supposedly fun, fabulous, and gay-friendly culture.
- Organize against pinkwashing by joining an ongoing campaign
- No to Eurovision: Join queer and trans liberation organizations from nearly 20 countries across Europe and beyond calling on global LGBTQIA communities to take a stand for Palestinian rights and boycott the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Israel.
- Learn how Palestine is a queer struggle in Together We Rise, our online political education curriculum.
Politicians: Skip the Trip
Some Zionist groups fund trips for US public/municipal officials to strengthen US political support for Israel by whitewashing its violations of Palestinian rights. Pro-Israel groups also fund propaganda trips at the state level for legislators. Organizers can insist legislators refuse propaganda trips and only attend trips that respect human rights. However, many of these trips are being challenged. In 2018, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) rebuked the tradition of elected officials’ traveling to Israel on AIPAC-sponsored trips and announced her intention to lead her own delegation to Palestine focused on issues of justice for the Palestinian people. In addition to encouraging congressional participation in responsible, human rights-centered delegations to Palestine, activists are also encouraging Congress to skip AIPAC’s propaganda trips that whitewash Israeli crimes. You can also campaign for your local officials to skip such trips.
Handbooks, Maps, and Guides
- “Palestine & Palestinians” Guide Book (ATG): Comprehensive information on Palestinian culture, history, archaeology, religion, architecture, and politics, along with practical information (transport, hotels, cafes, restaurants, museums, hiking routes, cultural centers, etc.) to travel responsibly.
- Wujood “Existence/Presence” (Grassroots Jerusalem): Political tourist guide of Jerusalem, emphasizing the city’s unique attractions while drawing a picture of the realities of Palestinian Jerusalemite communities from a grassroots perspective. It invites visitors to take an active role in supporting Palestinian freedom by supporting the Palestinian economy or volunteering.
- Interactive Map of Jerusalem (Grassroots Jerusalem): Profiles the neighborhoods, history, stories, businesses, and local organizing of Palestinian Jerusalemites.
- Palestine Open Maps (Visualizing Palestine and Columbia University Studio X Amman): An online interactive map of the geography of Palestine, including present-day Palestinian localities and the hundreds of destroyed Palestinian villages often erased from official government maps.
- Walk Palestine and Bike Palestine: Outline walking, hiking, and biking trails throughout the occupied West Bank.
- VisitPalestine.tech: Itineraries, logistical support, and more for travelers interested in the Palestinian technology and startup sector.
- Welcome to Palestine: A website offering comprehensive destination guides, broken down by city and village.
Reports & Issue Guides
- Hidden in Plain Sight: The Village of Nabi Samwil (Al Haq): This report tells the story of the Palestinian village of Nabi Samwil, whose residents have been forcedly removed by Israel so it can make the picturesque stone village a national park and excavation site for the enjoyment of pilgrims and other visitors.
- Think Twice: Can Companies Do Business with Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories While Respecting Ruman Rights? (AI): This briefing provides companies with a framework for examining their business in Israeli settlements, including tourism agencies that profit from promoting holiday accommodation and attractions built or developed on land seized from Palestinians.
- Monopolizing the Sites – The Politics of Tourism in the Occupied Syrian Golan (Al-Marsad: Arab Human Rights Centre in Golan Heights): This report analyzes the numerous elements of the Israeli tourism industry in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights that contribute to the normalization of Israel’s occupation and continued discrimination against local Syrians.
- Israel’s Tourism Expo in Tel Aviv: Promoting Settler Tourism in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Al-Haq): This article offers a legal analysis of settler tourism as it examines an Israeli tourism exhibition, which featured tourism on stolen Arab land including settlements, occupied East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
- Norweigan NGO Report on Tourism to Israel and Palestine (Association of Norwegian NGOs for Palestine): A report that exposes misinformation in marketing visits to Israel by Norweigan tour operators (similarly to operators in other countries), mislabeling Palestinian and Syrian occupied lands as Israel, and organizing trips in illegal Israeli settlements.
- Destination: Occupation (AI): This report exposes how four leading online tourism companies and global brands—TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Expedia and Airbnb—are promoting and profiting from occupation by listing places to stay or things to do in illegal Israeli settlements, in direct contradiction with their own corporate standards.
- Settler Tourism in the Occupied West Bank and Israel’s Unlawful Appropriation of the ‘Ein Fara Spring (Al-Haq): An article about the ‘Ein Fara natural spring, which served Palestinian villages throughout the area with water year-round until Israel illegally shut down the pumping station and renamed it “En Prat Nature Reserve,” promoted by companies like TripAdvisor as a tourist destination for walking and rock-climbing.
- VIDEO: TripAdvisor – Stop Profiting from Listing in Illegal, Israeli Settlements (Amnesty International): Focuses on TripAdvisor’s role in profiting from the brutal Israeli military occupation.
- Bed & Breakfast on Stolen Land (Human Rights Watch): A report on tourist rental listings by Airbnb and Booking.com in West Bank settlements, which foreigners can visit while the Palestinians who own that land cannot.
- Tourism Infrastructure and Settlement Expansion: The Case of the Jerusalem Cable Car (WhoProfits.org): This report highlights the role of the tourism sector in facilitating Israeli colonial expansion and gives an overview of the Jerusalem cable car project as a case study.