By Alan Skorski
Anyone who drives from Ben-Gurion Airport to Yerushalayim or other roads that pass the “Palestinian-controlled territory” known as AreaÂ A can’t help but see the big red signs displayed in three languages that state, “The Entrance for Israeli Citizens Is ForbiddenÂ .Â .Â .” Like a kid, when I’m told I can’t do something, I do everything I can to see what it is “they” don’t want me to see.
On my recent trip to Israel, besides my One Israel Fund tour, I signed up with Abraham Tours, which offers tours primarily for Europeans and non-Jewish Americans to visit parts of AreaÂ A. On my first tour, I went to Hebron on the “dual-narrative tour.” There were ten of us, and I was the only Jew besides the tour guide, who parted with us as we went with the Palestinian guide to the Palestinian side.
First, we had to pass by Israeli soldiers who asked if any of us are Jewish. I was advised by the Jewish guide to be ambiguous, so I answered, “We are all good.” This is an Israeli security issue, not Palestinian “apartheid” at this point. Israeli soldiers don’t want to have to come and get us in hostile territory if there is a conflict.
The first stop was the spot where Baruch Goldstein killed 29 praying Muslims. From there the tour was cleverly crafted to paint the Palestinians suffering under the thumb of Israeli occupation. At the end of the Palestinian tour, I was sure my group had bought the Palestinian narrative and wouldn’t even bother listening to the Israeli perspective from the Jewish guide. To my great surprise, those on the tour who came in understanding the conflict–seven out of the ten–understood that they were being fed cleverly crafted talking points and were not the least bit persuaded by the narrative. I heard one Texas couple say, “I didn’t buy any of his BS.” By the end of the tour, even those who came in sympathetic to the Palestinian side left frustrated because seeds of doubt were created in their heads after meeting with and talking to Israelis who live on the other side.
My trip to Ramallah, Yericho, and Bethlehem was different. On this trip, there was only one narrative, and it was Palestinian, with no Israeli soldiers nearby in case I got into trouble. First, let me dispel the myth that Palestinians are living in poverty or their every move is being monitored or hindered by Israel. Ramallah is bustling with commerce. It looked like 13th Avenue in Boro Park on steroids. Stores were busy, restaurants had lines, and I was told that on weekends it’s much busier.
We saw beautiful homes that were owned by the “middle class.” On the way out of Ramallah, the tour guide pointed to “refugee camps.” When I asked why there are refugee camps amongst the busy shopping areas and beautiful homes, I was told that the refugee complexes had been there for a long time and the residents didn’t want to leave. They are employed and not living as we would think, as “poor refugees.”
Yericho, where I was also the only Jew for miles, was rich with history–where Yehoshua traveled. They referred to him as a prophet with no mention that he was Jewish leading the Hebrews to Israel. There were mansions and gambling casinos. No evidence of living “under the occupation.”
Bethlehem was a little more interesting. After visiting holy Christian sites, we walked to the wall that separates Israel from Bethlehem’s AreaÂ A. The wall is full of anti-Israel graffiti from one end to the other. As my group moved on, I lagged behind to read the signs and graffiti. After a few minutes, I saw the group turning the corner so I walked faster to catch up to them. When I got to the top of the hill, the group was not there, so I walked faster along the wall to try to catch up. At that point, I realized I was alone, with no one who would or could help me.
I posted on Facebook that I was lost from my group, so that just in case I didn’t make it back, there would be a record that I was in “Bethlehem, Palestine” according to Facebook. I started to run back along the wall to try to trace my steps back. During my trek, I kept passing groups of Palestinian men. I started running back, but did my best not to look scared so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. Even wearing a hat, I am still recognizable as having Jewish features, and this is not how I wanted things to end for me. After about 10 minutes, I found my group, and all I could think of was saying “Baruch Hashem” and bentching Gomel when I got back.
On my next trip, I plan to take another tour with this group to the Jenin refugee camps. Yes, I’m still a kid inside.
Alan Skorski is the author of “Israel Betrayed: How the Democrats, J Street, and the Jewish left have undermined Israel,” available at www.israelbetrayed.com. The book has been endorsed by Allen West, David Horowitz, and Congressmen Steve King and Trent Franks.