x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Israeli politicians push to ban Palestinian tour guides

Palestinians could be prohibited from giving organised tours of Jerusalem if eight Israeli legislators have their way.

Many Palestinian guides in Jerusalem often offer views to tourists that contradict that of Israel. Above, the Al Aqsa mosque complex.
Many Palestinian guides in Jerusalem often offer views to tourists that contradict that of Israel. Above, the Al Aqsa mosque complex.

JERUSALEM // Palestinians could be prohibited from giving organised tours of Jerusalem if eight Israeli politicians have their way.

The members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, are sponsoring a bill that would require guides of groups larger than 11 people or those who use more than one vehicle to be Israeli citizens.

The bill would affect many tour guides in East Jerusalem, an area populated primarily by Palestinians who lack citizenship but do hold a special residential status in the city. Israel annexed East Jerusalem following the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, a move the international community does not recognise.

"These residents often present anti-Israeli positions to groups of tourists that they guide," said the text of the bill, which was first reported on Tuesday by the Israeli daily Haaretz.

"To ensure foreign tourists are exposed to the national Israeli viewpoint, we suggest ruling that travel agencies, and any organisation providing tours for foreign tourists, ensure that the groups are accompanied by a tour guide who is an Israeli citizen and has institutional loyalty to the State of Israel."

The bill is reportedly on hold because Gideon Ezra, a sponsor in the Knesset, feared damaging the latest Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The talks are in danger of collapse over the issue of illegal Jewish settlements.

This comes as Israel hosted a tourism conference in Jerusalem for members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) yesterday.

Some Jerusalem tour operators were incensed about the bill, calling both the OECD conference and proposed legislation against them examples of Israel's attempts to dominate East Jerusalem. Many of the estimated 300 licensed Palestinian guides in the city offer views to tourists that counter the official Israeli narrative of the conflict.

"It's clear that Israel has no limits, no one is questioning what it's doing," said Jawad Siyam, the director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre. His organisation gives tours of the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan, which is prone to violence between the area's 55,000 Palestinian residents and dozens of Jewish settlers who are moving in.

"Its laws are racist and against the Palestinian majority in this part of the city."

Palestinian leaders, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, have called on OECD members to boycott the gathering.

Saab Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator over a peace settlement, said on Tuesday that by "hosting the OECD conference in Jerusalem, Israel seeks de facto recognition of its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem".

Although the Israeli tourism minister, Stas Misezhnikov, said on Tuesday that he was not aware of OECD members heeding the boycott call, both the UK and Spain did not attend because of what they described, respectively, as financial and scheduling problems.

Ghassan Khatib, the director of the Government Media Centre, which is part of the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank, said he believed that the two countries had indeed effectively boycotted the session, adding that "we believe Israel is manipulating this meeting to legitimise its control over Jerusalem".

hnaylor@thenational.ae