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Selling Israeli Policy Military Tours Offered to Western TouristsBy Amanda Mueller Special to Salem-News.com
The tours promoting Israeli military policy does not include a single Palestinian voice on the conflict.
(NEW ORLEANS PNN) - For eight days at the end of October, Western tourists can participate in a tour labeled the “Ultimate Mission” hosted by the Israeli right-wing group Shurat HaDin (Israel Law Center).
For 2,795 USD, plus airfare and a required donation of at least 500 dollars to the group that sells itself as one of human rights, participants spend eight days traveling to Israeli army bases, listening to lectures by military officials, observing checkpoints, traveling to the Lebanese and Gaza boundary areas, meeting with former secret service Mossad agents, observing military court, inspecting the Wall, and meeting with current Israeli policy makers.
Part of the plan to generate Western support for the Israelis includes extensive lectures and tours on what some perceive as the most pertinent current issues: the Wall, checkpoints, and military court. Tourists are given a view of a checkpoint and invited to observe military forces at work. They then move on to a visit of the Wall on one side of Qalqilia, a district that is surrounded and cut-off from its lands.
Intending to sell to tourists on the notion that checkpoints and the Wall have been successful in upholding Israeli security, the group also visits a trial at a military court marketed as “observe a security trial of a Hamas terrorist.” While Palestinian friends and family are barred from the courts, access is granted to the tour, with a briefing on procedure by one of the military judges.
The tour takes place at Ofar, the prison built on Ramallah lands, where if Palestinian family and friends are able to attend even a first appearance trial, only two per political prisoner are allowed, leaving many waiting outside the military base fence to hear news of their loved ones.
The only conversations that tour participants have with Palestinians are during lectures with those alleged to be collaborating with the Israeli military.
The subjects of discriminatory legal practices, violations of human rights, harassments at checkpoints, night raids, destruction or property, and bulldozing of homes are not mentioned. Although Shurat HaDin claims to have no affiliation with political or governmental groups, it is clear that the Israeli government supports and endorses these tours by allowing Westerners this type of access.
A past participant of the Ultimate Mission tour, Melissa Reed commented, “Through the lectures we participated in, the tour tried to create a victimization of Israel, while boasting about military efforts. I was disappointed by how unbalanced the tour was, not offering a single Palestinian voice on the conflict right now. There is definitely an agenda.”
Reed is an anti-terrorism task force officer in the United States. She was a participant on the tour at the request of her employer. Having received a partial itinerary before leaving, she had anticipated an entirely different trip.
”It is clear that this tour is created to generate support for the Israeli military and aimed towards Americans and especially American Jews. Being on an anti-terrorism task force, the shock and awe that Israel presented on this tour didn’t have the same results on me as it did on the average forty-something American not exposed to military and political operations,” Reed stated.
She started receiving pro-Zionist mailing shortly after her trip home.
Shurat HaDin’s first tour came in 2003 as a response to an Israeli tourism slump. It had 74 participants. In receiving the required minimum donation of 500 USD per participant, the group made at least 37,000 dollars from one tour alone. By 2006, there have been eleven tours, averaging 50 participants each. Numbers were not made available for the amount of total tours since 2003, nor the amount of money received from these tours.
The center is located in Tel-Aviv and was founded by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner. Claimed to be modeled by the American non-profit organization, Southern Poverty Law Center, Shurat HaDin focuses on defense litigation of Israeli soldiers and officials, as well as pursuing legal action to bankrupt so-called terrorist organizations. On their website, they boast they are responsible for an up to 60 percent drop in “terrorist activity” in Gaza. Although they claim to have no governmental or religious affiliations, statements made by Darshan-Leitner in the press and the itinerary for the Ultimate Mission suggest strong military, governmental, and religious ties. It was Darshan-Leitner and Shurat HaDin that called for the revocation of press credentials for French TV newsman Charles Enderlin over the al-Dura affair in 2000, taking the issue to court in 2008 and losing.
Shurat HaDin hosts multiple Ultimate Mission tours a year, making large amounts of money for their organization by using fear to sell discriminatory Israeli policy to unsuspecting tourists.
Edited by: Elias Farhud
Source: PNN – Palestine News Network
Amanda Mueller is an independent journalist located in New Orleans, LA
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