AL SALAAM ALAIKUM WA RAHAMAT ALLAH WA
Ladies and gentlemen. It is my pleasure to be addressing you today under this
umbrella of Tourism and Peace.
I would like to quote first something that I have read recently.
“The General Assembly of the United Nations has conferred the WTO the role of a fully-fledged Specialized Agency of the UN. Tourism has now been placed on equal footing with other principal activities of human society as industry, agriculture, transport, education culture, health and labor. I would say, it is high time that the United Nations recognizes the great importance of our industry. We from the Holy Land knew this for at least 5 thousand years since the inception of monotheism advocating pilgrimages. I guess, it is always better late than never.
I started today with our Arabic traditional greeting. We, in the Arab and Islamic world would greet each of you individually and as a group any where in the world in the same manner as I have greeted you now. In the context of this conference on Peace and Tourism, it is a greeting that is most poignant.
Let me focus on this for a moment at the beginning of my talk. For those of you who are not acquainted with our language, this greeting translates as follows;
“PEACE BE UPON YOU AND GOD’S MERCY AND BLESSINGS BE WITH YOU’
it is poignant, because our traditional greeting and the order of things stated captures most incisively the whole theme of our conference. Peace first and then God will provide his mercy and blessings.
Tourism which is a dividend of peace and must be a catalyst for peace, if managed correctly - The operative two words here are “managed correctly”- can be a mercy and a blessing to our various countries, communities and peoples.
When, I was first invited to address this conference on “Examples for
Success” and “Models of Best Practice”, I was at a quandary as to what
I can bring to our table from my region that would encompass these
themes and the spirit of this conference. What
is happening in my region goes against the spirit of tourism at many levels. We
have several examples that the international tourism community can learn from
us as to what not to do.
The Berlin Wall goes down. The separation Wall goes up. The freedom of movement worldwide is getting less bureaucratic albeit more security conscious due to the awful and regrettable incidents of international terrorism, our movement as Palestinians is further encumbered by physical and bureaucratic barriers. Freedom of religion is paid lip service by the Israeli authorities with our Moslem and Christian adherents not being able to make their way from a distance of 3/8 kms away from Jerusalem to their most important places of worship in Jerusalem either Masjid El Aqsa for those of us of the Moslem faith and/or to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for those of us who are of the various Christian denominations. There are legion of examples of what not to do that are practiced in our country and that go against the very grain for what we take for granted in the field of tourism and more importantly in the field of human rights. Yes, we can be an excellent example for the rest of the world about the pitfalls to avoid; including those, in the field of tourism.
My feelings about this were specifically relayed to Mr. Louise D-Amour. His
answer was very indirect but forceful.. He emailed me a p011 taken on the
Palestinian side about our people’s future expectations about their relations
with Israel. More than 65 percent expect cordial, peaceful and cooperative
relations with our Israeli neighbors even in the absence of a complete peace
agreement. These opinions were given in spite of the suffering of our people
under the harsh measures of the Israeli occupation. This was coupled with news
report from e Turbo news about the resurgence of tourism in areas that have
suffered bad terrorism incidents, like Spain, England, and Turkey. Turkey is
now breaking records in tourism arrivals even from such diverse country as Iran
and Israel. My friends who went to Sharm El Sheikh relayed to me with great
enthusiasm the fascinating great number of tourist presence at this important
destination which suffered most recently and with the gruesome images still most
vivid and fresh. In our Holy Land, in spite of the closures the numbers of the
faithful that are arriving are breaking all the records of the past five years
and are almost back to normal.
One is awed by the resiliency of the human spirit. My people in Palestine and our international tourists themselves are showing us the
way by refusing to surrender to the despair of
the negative international incidents of terrorism and the bad news. It was a
most forceful challenge indeed. How can I in the tourism trade afford to be
“Examples for Success” and “Models of Best Practice” is staring me in the face and I was not seeing it. By refusing to surrender to despair; your average individual tourist and my average individual country men and women are individual “examples of success” and are individually “models of best practices”.
How can we in the field of tourism use this momentum that is created by this spirit and by the resurgence of tourism to help develop models of best practices in the management of tourism and in the language of tourism to promote peace and help develop sustainable tourism in and for our region?
In other papers that I have written, I have contended that the future development of the Palestinian economy will be heavily dependent on services lead by tourism and the other ancillary services connected to tourism. I still hold strongly to this premise. I also would state that Tourism has and will play a significant role in the economies of the surrounding countries including the Israeli economy. None of us in this region can ignore this most important sector and to do so will be at our own risk individually and collectively. Because of the crucial importance that tourism is playing in our own development as Palestine — part of the Holy Land, we should be looking at development models that are not only specifically Palestinian in target and content but also regional in its outlook. I keep saying region here and emphasizing regionalism because our product is a Holy Land product and that is inherently regional. As a center for the three monotheistic religions, things happened in our region and over the continuity- and I want to emphasize continuity — of the geography of our region that has given great meanings to our lives and to humanity as a whole.
As such I Any future development plan has to contend with this regional dimension and cannot ignore it. : To suggest a future plan for our development I will be relying very heavily on the thoughts and succinct theories of development posited by the great contemporary Nobel Laurite in the field of economy Dr. Amartya Sen in his seminal book on development “Development is Freedom” and his paper “How does culture Matters”
Development is Freedom’s basic proposition is
that we should evaluate development in terms of “the expansion of capabilities
of people to lead the kind of lives they value and have reason to value”.
Unlike increases in income, the expansion of people’s capabilities depends both
elimination of oppression and on the provision of facilities like basic
education, health care and social safety net. Second, it implies that choices
for the people must be democratic not in the sense of only electing leadership
but in the setting their own political and social priorities this freedom of
choice w on a continuous basis. Dr. Sen encapsulates his whole theory in a very
simple statement “It is the freedom from fear”. Fear not only from the absence
of the basic needs to live a decent, healthy and productive life but also
freedom from occupation, freedom of fear from terrorism for all of us. For us;
Palestinians.. freedom of fear from having certain
unacceptable values imposed on us by Israeli & western powers. It is the
freedom to develop using our strongest asset which is religious
tourism in a manner that accommodates itself best to the expansion of our
capabilities. This development of tourism must be congenial to our society. The
type of tourism that does not respect our religious and
cultural norms and sensitivities is a form of tourism that we are reluctant to develop and promote.
With that said, I would also like to sound a warning about the negative potential for religious tourism, as I am witnessing things today.
From the field, I can report conflicting things that are occurring simultaneously. In Palestine - the Heart of the Holy Land - we are primarily in the religious niche market in tourism. This is true today as was for thousands of years and will be very true also in the future. What happens in the religious sphere worldwide affects also the segment of the religious tourism that we get and the specific needs that these specific groups are demanding.
With the resurgence of religious values across the spectrum, we are also witnessing also the resurgence of militant fundamentalism in all three monotheistic faiths. Aggressive fundamentalism is now part of the modern world and we have witnessed some of its most negative manifestations. In our Holy Land, we are not only experiencing this directly in political terms in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and its negative impact on our political life let alone our industry, but also we are witnessing a resurgence of religious tourism that is coming to the Holy Land that reflects this theology — the theology of exclusivity. Their theology is that of hatred and exclusion and it is a distortion of all the three monotheistic religions. But, these are the kind of religious tourism that was most predominant within the past four years. Jewish exclusivity, Christian Zionism that both want to deny the rights of my people to our land and Islamic exclusivity that while more inclusive but still believes only in its own domination. This from of exclusionary tourism comes to our country and each wants to hear the echo of his exclusive theology that is a complete distortion of their faiths in their abandonment of the ethos of compassion. For them, when their vision of a religious state does come into place, there will be no more separation of religion and state, the modern heresy of democracy will be abolished and society will have to be reorganized on strictly religious lines each defining itself exclusively and in a totalitarian manner. No democratic tolerance for the other and no individual freedom. This theology within all the three monotheistic religions has neglected the more tolerant, inclusive and compassionate teachings and have cultivated theologies of rage, resentment of the other and revenge. There are many in these religious movements who think that also they and the secular population have nothing in common.
I can assure you that this from of aggressive religious theology, will not bring us any closer to peace in our region and the sustainability of our very physical life let alone the sustainability of our political life and hence our tourism is very highly questionable to say the least. The challenge for us in our region; that is so dependent on religious tourism, is how do we manage this aggressive from of religious tourism and what language can be used so that we can have the prevalence and promotion of the true and positive religious principles of the three monotheistic faiths. We do have a responsibility to ourselves and frankly speaking to the world at large to think of a positive way to develop the form of religious tourism that promotes peace and at the very basic level promotes and sustains life itself and the FREEDOM FROM FEAR.
We have to create opportunities to network better for the betterment of peace. To network not only between people within our industry, but to help network religious leaders and people from within the three faiths. As an industry, we have to assist in networking also with other faiths and with the secular world within our region and outside our region. The religious segment of our population should not be either shunted or shunned aside by the secular world. In creating these networks, we will also be simultaneously creating sustainable tourism for ourselves while we hopefully help promote acceptance, tolerance and respect for the other.
I would like to
report on two positive things from our region lest you think all is gloomy.
First the Israeli authorities have recently given permission for our West Bank
Palestinian guides to guide all over the Holy Land including Israel proper and
access to our tourists to the most important sites such as Jericho and
Bethlehem is moving unencumbered by Israeli security forces. This shows the
importance of tourism to both antagonists. Tourism is the first
thing that I can see that is bringing about some consensus.
The other thing that was heart warming is a musical event that happened recently in Ramallah. The internationally renowned Palestinian intellectual, Dr. Edward Said and the internationally renowned Israeli music director Mr. Daniel Barenboim founded an orchestra that is made of young talented musicians from all over the Middle East including Israelis and Palestinians. They performed under Barenboim’s baton in Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Scotland, England and Germany. Recently they realized the founders dream and performed in Ramallah to a packed Palestinian audience.
It is worth quoting here some of the comments from both sides of the political divide.
An Israeli Violinist “The fact that I am not entering Ramallah with a stick that can shoot, but with a stick that makes music is what is most important”.
In a discussion during intermission between an Israeli musician and his Palestinian guard, the Israeli asked the Palestinian guard if he was happy that they came. The Palestinian guard replied “You can’t imagine how happy I am. It simply gave me goose bumps” and then the Palestinian guard asked the Israeli musician “how about you”. The Israel musician replied that he was in a state of ecstasy.
During the intermission in the Ramallah auditorium Barenboim said to the large crowd. “It has been said of us that we are an orchestra of peace, that may be a complement, but, this concert will not bring .peace. Understanding, tolerance, courage and the curiosity to listen to the narrative of the other - that is our goal.
The lives of the two people are so intertwined, so the fate of the one is necessarily the fate of the other. There are two peoples here. Not only one — both have tradition, culture and history. Both of us live in this land, and either we kill each other over it, or we share it between us”
This was a fantastic opportunity to create
stories of success for people on both sides of the political divide and that
should be encouraged further.
Here, there are two incisive statements “The fate of the one is necessarily the fate of the other” and “We share the land between us” These two statements are so pertinent and so true also for the future of tourism in the Holy Land.
Last week at the weekly general audience in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI greeted Israelis and Palestinians who were in Rome to participate in the “Education for Peace” seminar.
There is a culture of peace that is beginning to build, and I think this is a very important momentum that has to me maintained and strengthened because we’ve always been stigmatized by the culture of violence.
In the end I would like to quote something that is somewhat of a play on the Song of Songs
“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? No one is a stranger in Jerusalem. Each must sing his own song.”
The Sufis, the mystical branch of Islam, insisted that when you had encountered God, you were neither a Jew a Christian, or a Muslim. You are at home equally in a synagogue, a church or a mosque because all rightly guided religion comes from God. Once a person has come in touch with the divine, one has left these man-made distinctions behind.
With that spirit I for one would welcome the faithful to their spiritual homeland and yes with that spirit they are not strangers in Jerusalem and yes with that spirit they can sing their own song in Jerusalem in praise of our collective and one God.
WAL SALAAM ALAIKUM WA RAHAMAT ALLAH WA BARAKATUHU