Editorial

No to Occupation Tourism

Houses along the West Bank separation barrier near Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

The Civil Administration and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have invited the public to visit nature preserves and national parks beyond the Green Line during this week’s Sukkot holiday. The agency in charge of the occupied territories urges Israelis to enjoy the springs and rich vegetation near the Dead Sea, the biblical landscape of Mount Gerizim and the thrilling stories of Sebastia, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel.

Any Israeli with a conscience and a basic awareness of the situation beyond the Green Line should refuse this invitation. The West Bank has fascinating landscapes with an extraordinary mix of nature and areas shaped by agriculture. According to international law, the role of the authorities representing the ruling military force is to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the area. There are a few important actions taken by these authorities, such as protecting wild animals from hunters, most of whom are Palestinian, or preventing mining and quarrying in protected areas. But the authorities have not stopped there. They have joined in a variety of ways the settlement and occupation enterprise, which co-opts nature for its own purposes.

While Israelis are invited to visit the nature spots of the occupied territories, Palestinians are excluded or removed from nature sites through a wide variety of tactics, as can be learned from reports by human rights organizations such as Kerem Navot, Ta’ayush and Engaged Dharma Israel. In the Umm Zuka Nature Reserve, in the northern Jordan Valley, Palestinians are being pushed out so as not to disturb the illegal outpost there, and their flocks are removed from other nature preserves in the area on the grounds of the territory being military zones. At Nahal Kane Nature Reserve, in the central West Bank, olive trees planted by Palestinians were uprooted while a road and structures were built within the preserve for the benefit of illegal outposts. The roads and the outposts are illegal, but the Civil Administration rarely moves to prevent this activity.

In the Jerusalem area, for example, one can celebrate Sukkot in the Nahal Refaim National Park, with its springs and agricultural terraces. The Palestinian inhabitants of Walaja, who helped to shaped this heritage landscape, can only look on from behind the separation barrier. It was recently decided not to open one of the springs in the area to the public since no solution has been found for the need to relocate a security barrier in the separation fence. Thus, the people who created this landscape have become a security threat.

The Civil Administration and the Nature and Parks Authority are trying to portray the West Bank as an enjoyable tourist destination, and many settlers indeed enjoy visiting these sites. For the Palestinians, the reality is very different. The right form of civil disobedience to protest this situation is by not going en masse to Mount Gerizim or to Nahal Kaneh.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.