Many of the 3.5 million incoming tourists visiting Israel unexpectedly fall into the hands of Arab tour guides from the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) and hear only a one-sided narrative. This can happen when the charter deal was sold to them by an East Jerusalem agency or if they contact a random tour guide recommended by a hotel in East Jerusalem. Often groups change guides when entering the Palestine Authority to visit Bethlehem. These Palestinian tour guides may range from unlicensed, non-professional to out-right anti-Israeli. I myself met a couple from South Korea, driven to Masada from East Jerusalem. There “tour guide” said no more than, “This is a nice mountain with a cable car ride. I will meet you in the souvenir shop after the ride.” At that point my wife launched into a spirited discussion with this couple over a cup of coffee and explained to them about the zealots, the Romans, the siege, the battle and the mass-suicide. The South Korean couple was so thankful for the explanation. This is not just an incident. This happens over and over throughout the country. Beware!
Many groups from Europe and South America miss the opportunity to meet a real Israeli. Unfortunately they do not have a licensed, Israel tour guide to equally present all points of view. Some tour agencies have the anti-Semitic “chutzpa” to request that the local guide be neither Jewish nor Zionist. This is a “War of Narrative”. To be fair there are a Palestinian tour guides that believe in “dual narrative tourism”. I wish there were more. Perhaps we need more communication between tour guides from both sides of the “Green Line”.
Israeli tour guides must study two years, pass stringent examinations and successfully complete internship. Following the Oslo Agreements a certain amount of Palestinian tour guides were licensed by Israel. These Palestinian guides were allowed to cross into Israel and continue guiding their groups while Israeli tour guides have limited access to cross over into the Palestinian Authority and there is also the problem of Arab terrorism against Israelis.
Since most Christian religious sites are in Arab communities some groups never meet Jewish Israelis or visit an Israeli community. Most Catholic pilgrimage groups choose short itineraries of about 7 days, most of which are spent in monasteries and churches. On the other hand, most Protestant religious groups choose a longer 14 day itinerary which will include Jewish cities and sites with historical, archaeological, and geological interest.
Read some samples of the propaganda that Palestinian tour guides and some “spiritual leader” tour guides are dishing out:
- At Yad Vashem: What happened to the Jews in Germany 70 years ago is happening to the Palestinians today.
- The number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust is a gross exaggeration exploited Jews for material gain.
- Yad Vashem is “Jewish propaganda”.
- The Israeli HaBika’a IDF Memorial is a cover-up for a massacre of Palestinians.
- The armored vehicles along Route 1 to Jerusalem are the remains of traffic accidents.
- The suicide of the defenders of Masada is comparable to Moslem suicide-terrorists.
- Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel.
Here are a 9 tips to help you choose you guide:
- Check out who is going to be your tour guide before your trip.
- Ensure your guide is licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.
- Each guide must wear his badge while on duty. This ensures quality.
- Ask your licensed Israeli guide to accompany the group to tours in Jericho and Bethlehem.
- If you do have an Arab guide in Bethlehem, ask for a “dual narrative” tour guide.
- Spiritual leaders, priests and monks leading pilgrimages of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox groups are permitted to guide throughout Israel wherever religious guidance and ceremonies are the main objective of the visit – and of course under condition that they do not receive remuneration for this tour guiding. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism has approved licensing by the Vatican, although some of them have only a one and a half day long course and many are actually Palestinians circumventing Israeli licensing. Check out who your guide is.
- If you are travelling with a spiritual leader, ask for an Israeli tour guide to accompany him to work as a team and complete the local historical background.
- Ensure that you itinerary in Israel includes both Jewish and Arab communities.
- Make your visit in Israel long enough to see more of both historical and modern Israel.