Israeli tourism banks on peaceful ties with Palestine

Published on : Wednesday, November 13, 2013

download (3)Tourism is a significant part of Israel’s economy, and it serves as a unifying tool among Israeli and Palestinians.For example, Israel’s stability and growth may fall primarily on the unlikely shoulders of people like Tsipi Segal. Ms. Segal is neither a politician nor a diplomat — she’s just a tour guide.

Amid growing regional instability, with many Israelis feeling increasingly lonely and misunderstood in the world, the country’s global image often is filtered through the grinding standoff with the Palestinians — shaped more by sensational YouTube videos and media coverage than reality. Fighting those misconceptions is what Ms. Segal does — one tour group at a time.

“The most important thing to convey to the people is that, on a daily basis, (Israelis and Palestinians) live together, and we earn our daily bread together,” said Ms. Segal, an Israeli Christian, born and raised in Jerusalem.Ms. Segal feels that the true fight of her life is debunking the many misconceptions about her beloved Israel.

“Bringing pilgrims here is one of the main steps for continued peace. It’s not a joke,” Ms. Segal said.As she loaded her American tourists onto a bus one recent morning, Ms. Segal smiled at the Palestinian tour bus driver, Hazzam, and asked about his son’s wedding planning. The two shared a quick laugh. A moment passed, and she asked how his wife had been doing since her recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

“If you put fear in people, then pilgrims will not come here, and I will not be able to work with Hazzam, and then what will happen is that we will not see that we are so much alike,” said Ms. Segal. “Only when you cut off that connection is fear and hostility built up.”
Over the past 30 years, Ms. Segal has guided thousands of people from around the world through the Holy Land. Religion plays a huge part in the tours, reflecting the important role it has played throughout Jewish history.Despite the violent religious and political conflicts, social peace and civic order somehow survive.


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