Pandemic has destroyed protest tourism

'Protest tourism mostly caters to a small, privileged group of middle-class Leftists'

January 07, 2021 12:44

When I lived in downtown Jerusalem, every few Fridays a group of middle-aged European activists would stage an anti-Israel protest on my doorstep.

It was possible to run into them later on, in one of Jerusalem’s few pubs. They were usually German or Swedish, and had come to the country for a week of activism, mainly on the West Bank.

Those who were particularly stylish would wear a Palestinian headscarf and would talk about the latest “demo” and the “horrid Israelis”. They would sip Palestinian Taybeh beer, if they could find it. As the night wore on, they would plunk down plenty of cash in Israeli bars, which they evidently were not boycotting.

For decades, Israel has been a Mecca for people with a saviour complex. Countless groups have catered to this market, from the activist Breaking the Silence to Christian Peacemaker Teams. Stunts by organisations like Code Pink, who unfurled a BDS banner at the Kotel, have become routine.

What did the Palestinians ever get out of it? Over the past year, international activists have been unable to fly in due to the Covid pandemic, yet this does not seem to have affected the population of the West Bank.

Bedouin villagers in Khan al-Ahmar are still on their land, despite activists posing for years as the last line of defence against Israeli bulldozers. The Bedouin in Susiya, the heart of the protest tour trail, are still in their homes as well.

I know, because I covered both places during the height of the protests. The communities remain in place, despite Western radicals warning of their imminent demolition.

In Hebron, the heart of the activism, there has been fewer clashes, curfews and stabbing attacks since the pandemic. Are people tired of fighting during a health crisis? Or are there fewer flash points between Israelis, foreign activists and Palestinians?

It’s not clear. But what is clear is that Palestinians are not left worse off when Westerners in Arab headscarves stop exploiting their struggle.

Protest tourism mostly caters to a small, privileged group of middle-class Leftists. They use it as a way to burnish their radical credentials at home, or even make a profit for whatever “non-profit” they run. For the most part, it’s about a short tour and then a plane ride home.

The pandemic has taught us that activism can best be done locally. The funds wasted on air fares and fancy hotels, like the American Colony in Jerusalem, could better be directed towards local causes, or Palestinian NGOs that actually hire Palestinians.

Lockdown has given us a good opportunity to look in the mirror and ask what all these antics were about. Was it really just a way for people to have “fun” bashing Israel? Was it a kind of virtue-signalling on steroids – titillating to the foreigners at the expense of the Palestinians?

The activists may have planted trees or escorted people through checkpoints, but most of it was a charade. Palestinian lives haven’t changed. Radical westerners have simply sponged up resources that could have actually done some good.


January 07, 2021 12:44

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