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Today: Sep 24, 2017

Draft bill to restrict work of Palestinian tourist guides

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Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, JCSER, shed light on an Israeli draft bill which was presented to the Israeli Knesset that will put more restrictions and more obstacles on work of Palestinian tourist guides.

The bill was presented to the Israeli parliament by the Israeli Association of Israeli Tourist Guides requesting barring Palestinians guides who are not loyal to Israel, from operating in it.

The draft was enlisted on the Knesset agenda on March 8, 2010 by Knesset members Gideon Ezra (Kadima); Uri Ariel (United Torah Judaism); Danny Danon, Karmel Sham (Likud) and Avraham Michael (Shas).

The draft reads: "This amendment has been crystallized following an intensive action by the Association of Tourist Guides in the Knesset through their participating with the strategic team of Nir Klayner."

According to information available to JCSER, the amendment will help solving the problem of "the unlicensed tourist guides" in accordance with Instructions of Tourist Service of 1976. Presenters of the draft accused Palestinian tourist guides of distorting the picture of Israel because they "lack proper rehabilitation and for their failure to market Israel in a proper way."

According to the draft, in Israel there are valuable tourist sites and in many cases a disagreement appears over how to present them to the tourists from historical, religious and civilized aspects."

It added, "The city of Jerusalem with its many historical sites raises argument since some of Jerusalem residents like those residing in East Jerusalem have dual affiliation. On one hand, they vote for the Palestinian National Authority and in many cases adopt anti Israeli positions in front the tourist group whom they guide. Therefore, in order to guarantee the exposure of tourists to the Israeli national view, I suggest that travel agencies and any agency that organizes tourist tours to hire a guide holding the Israeli citizenship who is loyal to the state of Israel. The need to protect national interest and presenting Israel in a proper way is stronger than any other interest."

The draft stipulates the following:-

- It is prohibited for any person to play the role of a tourist guide, receive payment for operating as a tourist guide, or offer services of a tourist guide if he is not holding a valid permit in accordance with regulations of this law (in this provision licensed tourist guide).

- It is prohibited for any person who offer services of a travel agency or any other commission that organizes tours in Israel for foreign tourist groups that comprise of less than 11 persons, except if he holds a valid permit for guiding and should be of the Israeli nationality.

- Without harming instruction of provision 3 paragraph c, every tourist tour for foreign tourists who are travelling in more than one vehicle should be accompanied by a tourist guide who holds Israeli citizenship for each vehicle.

The suggestion of the bill came in conjunction with the mounting sufferings of Palestinian tourist guides from Israeli Tourism Police. Also, there are harassments suffered by Palestinian owners of souvenirs shops.

One of the veteran Palestinian tourist guides who resides in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mount of Olives, reported to JCSER, "I have been working as tourist guide since 30 years, however, I never saw racist practices and forging of historical facts in regards to Jerusalem and holy sites, yet in the last ten years, Israeli tourist guides began to counterfeit the facts." He mentioned some lies such as:

- The Umayyad invented the story of Israa and Mirage for economic reasons to bring tourists to Jerusalem to improve its economy.

- The Ottomans closed al-Rahmeh Gate before 400 years to prohibit profits Issa and Elias from entering the Old City during the Day of Judgment because the profits fears passing in cemeteries.

- Moslems were responsible for the demolition of the Temple.

- The construction of the Temple took place before al-Aqsa Mosque.

- The Seven Arches on Mount of Olives and Cliff Hotel in Abu Dis were built with stones of the Jewish cemetery.

- The Christians suffers of oppression by the Palestinian Authority and for the reason they are emigrating from the country.

- The Moslems demolished the Church of Last Supper at Mount Zion and the Ottomans built a mosque in its place.

However, among the sufferings of Palestinian tourist guides, the following:

1. Israeli tourist guides incite the foreign tourists who hire Palestinian guides by alleging that Arabs are terrorists, shepherds and thieves. Such incitements took place in the mid 90's when they urge a British foreign company to stop dealing with Palestinian guides.

2. In one incident, an Israeli Russian female guide tried to attack her Palestinian colleagues after claiming that they forge the history, and that they are shepherds.

3. Most Palestinian guides are threatened with complaints against them to the Israeli Tourism Police which always issue them warnings to abstain from forging history and addressing political issues, etc.

4. Israeli police always ask for verbal reports about the citizenship of the tourists whom they are guiding. Palestinian tourists always feel that they are being watched by their Jewish colleagues.

5. Racist tourism appears only in Jerusalem.

In regards to the mounting phenomenon of racism by Israeli tourist guides and the Israeli government, several tourist offices began to fear hiring Palestinian guides on claims that they forge history. Meanwhile, Palestinian owners of souvenir shops suffer of recession because of incitement against them by Tourism police and Israeli tourist guides.

On his part, Baker Muhammad Maher Abu al-Hawah, 46, told JCSER's Research and Documentation Unit, "I have been selling souvenir since 25 years. And since 1983, I have been subjected to harassments of the Tourism Police because I refused to cooperate with the Israeli intelligence. Two years ago I was sent to prison for seven month on claims of attacking a police force while on mission, although the charges were groundless, because the police in fact assaulted me while I was sitting inside my car near the Seven Arches Hotel. Since 2003, I was banned from selling to tourists after the authorities cancelled my permit.

Few years ago, JCSER, sent a letter of protest to Israeli Ministry of Tourism against the policy towards the Palestinian tourist guides, particularly the incitement of Israeli tourist guides against their Palestinian colleagues, in addition to the systemic forge of historical facts regarding the Holy City in addition to the history of Arabs and Moslems.