Enchanting scenery, without Palestinians

Israeli and foreign activists help Palestinian villagers rebuild their destroyed homes in the South Hebron Hills. (Mamoun Wazwaz, Maan Images)

Zafrir Rinat, Haaretz, Jul 8, 2007

This article was originally published by Haaretz and is republished with permission.

The Israeli establishment has fostered the repression of the everyday reality the occupation has created in the territories, and this repression has generated a cognitive dissonance that allows many to overlook the injustices and oppression done in their name. This disregard is particularly comfortable for those who do not cross the Green Line. But there are those who foster this dissonance for Israelis who choose to tour the land of settlements and fences. This is done by refashioning the landscape and nature for the visitors.

Here is a current, typical example in which institutional entities like Hakeren Hakayemet (the Jewish National Fund) and the Tourism Ministry are partners. These entities, in collaboration with the Mount Hebron Regional Council, recently published a booklet entitled “This is in our nature – 25 years in Mount Hebron and the Yatir region.” The booklet blurs the distinction between the two regions and presents them as a contiguous unit, while the Yatir region is mainly located within the Green Line.

Anyone not closely familiar with the Mount Hebron region could easily believe that the booklet is inviting readers to visit an area that is a stimulating combination of Tuscany, Crete and western Turkey. It includes agriculture that develops boutique wines and fine olive oil, enchanting and tranquil springs and, of course, there are remains of Jewish culture in every corner. There is amazing desert landscape and even cherry orchards. “From every corner and every place, nature peeks in its full glory and the ancient landscape surrounds from every direction,” writes the head of the Mount Hebron Regional Council, Zvika Bar-Hai.

Another publication, about the Gush Etzion area, was recently distributed with the Teva Hadvarim magazine and included the following: “We hurtle in off-road vehicles through the enchanting spaces of the Judean Desert to the Dead Sea. We’ll ride on bicycles through green fields and vineyards. We’ll visit the ancient Cremisan Monastery on Mount Gilo and, for dessert, we’ll visit boutique wineries that have recently grown in the region. Finally, the readers are invited to participate in the Cherry Festival.”

In these publications, there is no separation wall, no bypass roads. There are no roadblocks set up next to almost every Palestinian village, limiting the residents’ freedom of movement to the point of feeling suffocated. There are no ridges that have been harmed to make way for settlements that look like fortified and alienated suburbs. There are no cave dwellers who have been banished from their homes on Mount Hebron, and no pupils who cannot go to school because their settler neighbors constantly harass them. No Palestinian communities appear on the map published in the booklet about the Hebron region.

Of course, there is no mention of the fact that the territory is full of unauthorized outposts, or that the land was taken from Palestinians in creative ways. (During a visit to the area, I heard settlers tell a representative of a government body, in a matter-of-fact tone, how they took over agricultural land from a Palestinian who lives outside Judea and Samaria.) To the credit of the Gush Etzion publication, it should be noted that it mentions the distress of the Palestinian village Wadi Fukin – which is slated to be encircled by the separation fence – and the urban, ultra-Orthodox settlement of Upper Beitar, whose expanding neighborhoods “do not benefit, to state it mildly, the villages.”

The daily Palestinian nightmare gives way and disappears for the benefit of publications that realize the dreams of the Israeli hiker. Now, in addition to the transportation and security infrastructure that allows the Israeli tourist to avoid encountering nearly any Palestinians and only see their communities from afar, there is a marketing and publishing infrastructure. Awaiting the hiker, for the most part, is good food, amazing scenery and spectacular sunrises. The only thing that remains for Israeli hikers is simply to come, to forget all their troubles – and particularly those of the Palestinians.



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