Visiting the Palestinian narrative requires more than a visit

Sam Bahour
13 min readSep 20, 2022

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” ― T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Artist Franz Krausz (Publisher — Tourist Development Association of Palestine, 1936) — Source: Library of Congress — Prints and Photographs Division. (A 2015 article on this poster by Rochelle Davis and Dan Walsh was published by the Institute for Palestine Studies)

A heated argument is taking place about the morality, benefit, and value of traveling to Palestine to witness firsthand what Palestinians are facing in the context of prolonged Israeli military occupation. Assuming these travelers are well-intentioned and want to see Israel’s military occupation for what it is, what they get in the best case is a brief glimpse of the Palestinians’ current reality. They will not come close to learning in any depth about the full lived experience of Palestinians, let alone acquiring a comprehensive understanding of the Palestinian narrative.

By force or otherwise and over several generations, Israel has succeeded beyond its founders’ wildest dreams and in broad daylight to fragment the Palestinian community geographically, socially, economically, and politically. For an authentic engagement with the Palestinian narrative, one would need to also visit Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Denmark, Germany, the US, the UK, Canada, Chile, Brazil, and Venezuela, to name just a few. Visitors would also need to spend some time visiting Israeli prisons to meet a growing number of Palestinian political prisoners being detained, hundreds without charge, and some for 10, 20, 30 years or more.

A full understanding of what Palestinians have been put through since the founding of Israel and what they are facing today in each of their fragmented places of existence would be unbearable for the average person, mentally and emotionally. Indeed, a full comprehension of what they face is also more than what most of today’s traumatized generation of Palestinians are willing to consciously entertain as they endeavor somehow to carve a meaningful life in a cruel and demeaning reality.

“Ethical tourism” to Apartheid

This debate on “ethical tourism” to Palestine/Israel is most apparent in Jewish communities around the world and, in particular, in the American Jewish world. American columnist, journalist, and political commentator Peter Beinart recently hosted me on a panel about this very topic, The Ethics of Organized Travel between the River and the Sea.