Recently a dear friend of mine - a lifelong Zionist - visited Israel for the first time. He loved every minute of it, but concluded the summary of his trip with the statement "It's very segregated though." Segregated? Are you kidding me? "That's what I saw," he said. And that is what most tourists see.

Tourists do not see the shopping malls, the supermarkets, the playgrounds, the water-parks, the quiet beaches that locals use, the pharmacies, hospitals and nursing homes, the universities, business offices, government agencies, farms, the post office, and all those other normal everyday commonplace activities where Israelis of all kinds interact all day long, every day of the year, Jew and Arab alike. None of these things are exciting or interesting to a tourist.

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Tourists to Israel first and foremost see historical sites. These are mostly operated by government agencies (the Parks or Antiquities Authorities), and tend to attract mainly Jewish employees who are either interested in the subject, or young people wanting an active job after the military and serve as guides - and because Jews are in fact the majority here. Moreover, employees at these sites typically wear uniforms and as a practical matter must speak fluent Hebrew and English, so Arab employees would not be readily identifiable as Arabs to most tourists. They would not be wearing traditional garb and speaking Arabic, so your typical American would simply assume they are Jewish like their identically dressed colleagues. The same phenomenon is true for restaurant and hotel employees.
Tourists are told there are four "quarters" to Jerusalem's Old City, but it is rarely explained that this is a historic designation dating back centuries and is not connected to any policy or practice of the Israeli government. Nor is it pointed out that all parts of the City are open to all (except the Temple Mount, where it is the country's majority population that is discriminated against). Similarly, tourists see "Arab" towns or villages and "Israeli/Jewish" towns and villages. Tourists don't spend much time in the "mixed" cities like Ramle, Lod, or Haifa. These cities have fewer attractions, are generally poorer, and are considered "high crime" areas - places that tourists should avoid, so they do. Organized tour groups may also stop in a Druze or Bedouin village. Again, little or no context is given to the fact that these towns and villages - Arab, Jewish, Druze, Bedouin - grew where they are as a part of the natural development of the different population groups, in some cases over the course of many centuries and under various colonial powers. Many of the larger towns have long histories unrelated to the modern state. And all Israelis - regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity - may live, work, shop, play or visit anywhere they like, and they frequently do. The descriptive labels of these towns are no more nefarious than the existence of a "Chinatown" or "Little Pakistan" in any American or European city. But tourists are not shown that.

This is a tragedy. Tourists are predisposed to be friendly to Israel. They come here excited to see and learn about this country. But they are shown its divisions rather than the remarkable multicultural nation that Israel truly is.
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