copyright © ATG (Alternative Tourism Group) Sverige
ATG Speach at ToDo! Award 2006
Ladies and Gentlemen:
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to
each and every one of you, and especially to those who
were involved in the decision to grant this exceptional
award to our organization Alternative Tourism Group
(ATG). Also, I would like to thank the “Studienkreis
für Tourismus und Entwicklung”
(Institute for Tourism and Development) for realising
the idea of the To Do Contest for more than 10 years now.
And the Swiss Foundation for Solidarity in Tourism and
the European Travel Insurance Corp. for the funding
of the To Do-Award and for creating thereby a platform
for sustainable tourism initiatives to present themselves
to a wider public and for providing the resources for their further development.
Tourism has the potential to establish a connection between the receiving society and the
outside world and to enable visitors to gain insight into the life and culture of the host
community. These social functions of tourism play an important role in Palestine, a place
where the people are isolated from the outside world because of 40 years of occupation and
where we are denied the right to build our own and independent nation. Alternative Tourism,
in particular, creates opportunities for human encounters in Palestine and therefore
contributes to a growing mutual understanding among Palestinians and visitors from all over the world.
It is clear, I think, that the liberation of the Palestinian people will come only with
the help of the global community. However, our experience has taught us that the
understanding of the situation on the ground is difficult without visiting Palestine
especially because the mainstream Western media has failed to expose the oppressive
situation in which Palestinians find themselves. The work of NGOs – from human
rights and advocacy groups to organizations like ATG – makes an important
contribution in exposing the true nature of the Israel/Palestine conflict to a broader
public. Only when people around the world come to see and understand the realities on
the ground – the occupation, the discrimination, the suffering, and the violence
that cause them – only when they have seen these realities, will they be driven
to go home and explain to their families, friends, and even governments what is happening
on the ground, and to take a stand against Israel’s unjust policies. Travel and tourism,
as we all know, are educational tools that are perhaps more powerful than any others.
In the case of Palestine , this kind of education has the potential to advance the
understanding of the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to contribute to the framing of a just solution.
It is a great honour to be here speaking before a group of individuals who are so passionate
and committed to making tourism a positive force for change in the world. However, I
think that it is important to recognize that, in the Palestinian context, this award
is much more than just an honour: it is a powerful tool that can help my people in our
struggle to live in peace and with dignity.
Of course, Palestine is so much more than the current situation has made it, and tourism
in Palestine should never be focused exclusively on the current political situation,
the Israeli occupation and its effects, presented in the mainstream media often in
distorted ways. For billions of people all around the world, Palestine is the holy
centre of their faith, while for others it remains one of the cradles of civilization.
It is in Palestine and its surrounds that many of the great religions of the world have
their origins. More than that, it is home to the descendents of the earliest practitioners
of those faiths. Our country is also the home of historical wonders and archaeological
treasures of remarkable importance to the history of all humankind.
As a result of this, the tourism potential in Palestine is truly remarkable. If only
Palestine was freed from the yoke of the occupation and given real economic and political
autonomy, the growth of the tourism industry could lead to great prosperity for Palestinian
communities. We saw that potential come incredibly close to becoming a reality in the
lead up to the year 2000 with the preparations for the Millennium. However, the Israeli
offensives that began in September of that year destroyed much of the investments of
several million dollars in tourism infrastructure of the preceding years, just a few months
before the height of the celebrations. This was devastating for many Palestinians,
especially in the Bethlehem area, who had invested both their money and their livelihoods
only to see their efforts and their futures crushed under the treads of Israeli tanks.
In fact, ATG’s research has shown that the Israeli army systematically
targeted tourism infrastructure during their invasions, shelling hotels, damaging historic
sites and harassing or even deporting visitors [to Palestine] before they are even able to enter the country.
This, I think, is a clear sign that understands that those who see the occupation with
their own eyes will turn decidedly against it, and even join my people’s struggle
for freedom. And it is with recognition like that which you have given us here today that
we will be able to overcome the many obstacles against us and to rebuild our tourism
industry according to a responsible tourism model. Through events like this conference,
people around the world will learn of our situation and decide to come and see it for themselves.
Our people are full of optimism and determination to achieve their goals and gain their
space on the world conscious. They are hopeful that the international community will not
forget them and will give them the chance to contribute to human kind and humanity. They
realize that ending the occupation and solving the conflict on the region by building a
just peace will give more opportunities for the people of the region to enjoy more
cooperation and work to the best of their children and the new generation. Solving the
conflict on a just way will give the chance for the visitors to encounter the people to
enjoy their cultures, their hopes, their stories, and their life.
When they do, ATG will be there to ensure that they experience all that Palestine has to offer.
Thank you very much.
9 March 2007 Berlin