Humanitarian intervention or colonial tourism?

"...these Europeans travel thousands of miles to get the Jew.”

A boat aiming to break Israel's maritime blockade on Gaza at sea, May 29, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
A boat aiming to break Israel's maritime blockade on Gaza at sea, May 29, 2018
In his most recent publication, A Foreign Policy for the Left, Prof. Michael Walzer, one of America’s most distinguished academic liberal thinkers, includes a chapter entitled “In Defense of Humanitarian Intervention.” Here he presents the criteria and means for political, humanitarian and finally military intervention by one or more outside agents when “a government, an army, a police force, tyrannically controlled, attacks its own people or some subset of its own people – a vulnerable minority.” 
The examples he offers include some of most heinous atrocities of more recent memory such as in Cambodia, East Pakistan, Uganda, East Timor, Kosovo and Rwanda. Clearly his discussion is not relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in spite of the scurrilous charges of “massacre” and “genocide” that are systematically alleged by Israel’s detractors.
However, by way of contrast, Walzer brings to mind the recent feature article by Gol Kalev, “Are Palestinians ready to tell ‘supporters’: ‘We’re Not Your Toy,” in the Jerusalem Post Magazine of July 6. In it, Kalev argues that intervention by “some of those who adopt the Palestinian cause are inflicting damage (upon the Palestinians).” He argues, “Many of those outsiders aggressively promote a narrative of victimhood while suppressing Palestinian progress, prosperity and creativity.... In addition, outsiders instill radical messages and help perpetuate and escalate the conflict.” 
According to Kalev, Europeans are the most egregious practitioners whose political and material support of the Palestinians is an expression of “The European Union’s front against the United States.” He cites one British political commentator who argues, “The Israel/Hamas/Palestine issue is a proxy diplomatic war between the US and a European Union trying to flex its muscles on the world stage.”
Tuvia Tenenbom, in his book Catch the Jew, makes much the same case when it comes to Europeans’ meddling on the ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He documents his exploits in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including his encounters with Europeans whose patronizing attitude toward Palestinian Arabs evenly offsets their darker feelings about Israelis. 
Says Tenenbom, “Human rights activists are the biggest racists there are. The normal racist fights within his own territory, wishing that his land be cleansed of those he hates.... The European NGO folks are different. The Jew they are fighting does not reside in their territory, for he lives thousands of miles away, and yet these Europeans travel thousands of miles to get the Jew.” 
DEXTER VAN ZILE is Christian Media Analyst for CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. He too is quite perturbed by the many organized foreign groups, particularly those that are church-affiliated that travel thousands of miles to visit Palestinians who they claim to be in dire need of their intervention because of Israel’s “occupation.” In fact, says Van Zile in an online broadcast, “I think they’re [the foreign visitors] junkies. They’re addicted to anti-Israel propaganda because they really like the feeling of indignation. They tell a distorted narrative that gives them leave to think that they are morally superior to everybody else and that it gives them leave to basically hate Israel and its supporters in the United States.”  
European NGOs active in Israel and the Palestinian Authority are generously funded by their governments and mainstream churches. Through their protracted presence – which includes significant investment in property and personnel – and their political intervention, they have operationally “colonized the conflict.”   
Such is the case with UNRWA, the United Nations Relief Works Agency, whose support for refugee assistance programs is largely a European affair, especially as US support is curtailed. UNRWA has been around since 1949. As revealed by journalist David Bedein, UNRWA’s schools and summer camps serve as breeding grounds for Palestinian radicalism. The agency is a full-fledged player in the conflict with its own interests.
Others European NGOs, such as the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation with its permanent offices in east Jerusalem, and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) with its offices in Ramallah, are removed from radicalism. Nonetheless, they serve as local bases for their visiting nationals who come for a period to work or volunteer, or as tourists on brief solidarity visits. And there are many others.    
Bringing groups to plant olive tree saplings, harvesting grapes, visiting a refugee camp and in other ways offering succor, moral support and political advice to Palestinians constitutes “colonial tourism.” It is a way of colonizing the conflict. Such short-term and superficial intervention, in effect to show the Palestinians “We are here for you,” often comes across as patronizing and diminishes Palestinians’ own capacities. It allows visitors to feel righteous about themselves and provides the opportunity to bash Israel from up close. 
But other than contribute to the local economy, colonial tourism has done little over the years to better the situation of the Palestinians. The visitors – colonial tourists – are not authentic stakeholders in the conflict, and most never return.  
Walzer’s discussion of serious humanitarian intervention by a third party when the situation warrants makes sense. Colonial tourism, on the other hand, generally delivers more to the tourists than to those they come to visit.
 The writer lives in Efrat and is the director of iTalkIsrael.