I recently met in our home, for the umpteenth time, with yet another group of foreign visitors, this one associated with a church from the United States, who have traveled a great distance to witness, according to the church’s website, how “Palestinian Arabs are persecuted for their retaliation against the Israelis in defense of their homeland. [How] Arab Muslims are stigmatized and labeled as terrorists while Arab Christians are fleeing the land upon which Jesus walked to escape the ongoing persecution and denial of basic human rights.”
While most of this group seemed to really be listening to what I was saying, it was clear that some came into the meeting with a hardened, biased mindset. They were not interested in dialogue; they came, in the words of author Tuvia Tenenbom, to “Catch the Jew.” One visitor in particular clearly felt smugly satisfied when I stated unequivocally that I do not accept the allegation that Israel is in violation of international law. The same person also asked my opinion of an alleged government proposal to allow only Jews to be citizens of Israel. I asked this person for evidence of this proposal, but the person could not cite any.
This person then made some veiled reference to Human Rights Watch. I said that I accept nothing that Human Rights Watch reports about Israel and that the organization’s own founder, Robert Bernstein, published a scathing critique of this once valued NGO’s present work, especially when it comes to Israel. This elicited only a smirk and snide utterance.
Like all the groups with whom I meet, this one purportedly came to the region because they care about human rights, social justice and peace. They consider their visit a special opportunity to witness first-hand this high-profile and ongoing conflict that is geographically so removed from their own lives, but especially important to them as Christians.
They came seeking understanding.
IN RESEARCHING this group before its arrival I came across its full “Palestine-Israel” itinerary. Applying the same style of language for which the pro-Palestinian camp is infamous, I contend that this itinerary, like others followed by similar groups, is nothing less than a crime against intellectual honesty. Even without being privy to the discussions this group is holding with others during their visit, it takes little imagination to grasp the extreme bias to which they are falling victim.
In a 14-day itinerary to “Palestine-Israel,” whose stated mission also includes the phrase “[helping] to better understand the complexities of the history and of the conflict between the Palestinian people and Israel,” exactly three meetings are scheduled with Jewish Israelis, myself (listed as a nameless “Israeli settler”), an anonymous “Pro-Zionist Jewish voice,” and Rabbis for Human Rights, which is a far-left and highly contentious Israeli NGO.
Other “Palestine-Israel” encounters include:
Day Three: A political orientation to Jerusalem
Day Four: UN Office for Humanitarian Coordination (OCHA), a walk around the Wall and a visit to the Aida refugee camp. Dinner and overnight with local families in Bethlehem.
Day Five: Meet with the Hebron Old City Rehabilitation Committee and the village of Artas with overnight in Bethlehem
Day Six: Visit to Tel Arad and meet with local Palestinian Beduin communities...and observing their conditions.
Dinner with local families.
Day Seven: Visit to Jericho and a local (non-Jewish) community in the Jordan Valley. Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.
Day Eight: Taiba and then Ramallah, including a visit to the Arafat tomb. Visit Nabi Saleh community and hear about the ongoing non-violent resistance in the village. Dinner and overnight in Nablus.
Day Nine: Meet with the local women organized in the Balata refugee camp. Drive to Nazareth and meet with Jonathan Cock (a fringe Irish journalist whose blatant lies about and unbridled hatred for Israel are expressed on the extreme Left Internet magazine “Washington’s Blog”), with dinner and overnight in Nazareth.
Day Ten: Nazareth (a completely Arab city) and the Sea of Galilee
Day Eleven: Acco and then Haifa to meet with Adalah (a noted anti-Zionist Israeli NGO that claims to be “an independent human rights organization and legal center” that “promote[s] and defend[s] the rights of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel”). Return to Jaffa to “hear about the transition of Jaffa from 1948 until today.” Overnight in Bethlehem.
Day Twelve: Free. Orthodox Christmas Day Thirteen: Rabbis for Human Rights.
The top of the page of the church’s online itinerary is crowned with a jarring photograph of the ugly grey Israeli pill-box tower that one sees attached at intervals to the separation barrier.
The visit is a hoax. It provides no opportunity “to better understand the complexities of the history and of the conflict between the Palestinian people and Israel.” But that is the point and the true agenda of its sponsors. That such tours regularly take place is not news to many in Israel, both to those in and out of official positions. What is particularly sad, however, and as I again witnessed, is what I view as the corrupted innocence of the members of the group. After taking part in hundreds of these encounters it is obvious to me that the majority of visitors carry no special animus toward the Jewish state upon their arrival in the country, even if they have been influenced by the generally negative image of Israel that is prevalent in mainstream American media.
However, the type of visit described here – and this is but one of hundreds that take place every year – is so craftily constructed in its bias that it is hard to imagine the majority of participants not becoming outright anti-Zionist, at least in mind if not in action, upon their return home.
Einat Wilf (The Jerusalem Post, December 29) is correct: Israel is losing the “battle of the war with words.” Through a combination of the purposeful and consistent use of hyperbolic and incendiary language, in addition to outright deception and lies, most effectively delivered in managed visits such as the one described herein, the pro-Palestinian camp, Palestinian Arabs and their supporters from abroad are regularly winning the hearts and minds of good people. If Israel does not effectively reach out first to this same population, the battle will be lost.The author, based in Efrat, works in Israel advocacy and is the director of www.iTalkIsrael.com.