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Dubai residents join 'alternative tourism'

08/05/2009 11:59 PM

Dubai: A group of Dubai residents has joined the growing global movement of ethical, "alternative tourism" to Palestine to see the brutality of the Israeli occupation first hand.

Lesley Fair went to Palestine last summer to see for herself the reality of the Israeli occupation there. This summer, she was part of a group of 24 "alternative tourists" in Palestine, 15 of whom came from Dubai.

Watch video: Dubai alternative tourists visit Palestine

This new industry has slowly been growing since it started in the 1990s as it has attracted mostly Western tourists who are fed up of what they see as selective coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict by the Western media.

While the number of Dubai residents choosing to make the journey is growing, Fair says with the right amount of awareness more Dubai residents could be joining the group, which she and fellow tourists hope to make an annual event.

Fair's loosely organised group's objective is to learn about the plight of Palestinians first hand, help the Palestinian economy, and talk about the difficulties faced by Palestinians when they are back.

"And of course, to have a little bit of fun," she says.

The group carefully chooses the hotels, guest houses and businesses it frequents to ensure that Palestinians living under occupation are those that benefit, and not anyone complicit in Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

"We even decided to move out of a hotel in [occupied] Jerusalem that was hosting a group of Christian Zionists," says Fair.

Fair had a diverse group of 15 to 66 year olds of mostly Western women which also included Palestinians citizens of Western countries who were the first in their families to visit their ancestral homeland, their villages and former homes.

The trip included visits to Jenin, where the group lived in the Cinema Jenin guest house, intended for foreign volunteers who helped reopen the facility that was closed during the First Intifada.

They also travelled to Haifa, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Occupied Jerusalem.

Fair admits she had her own preconceptions of how Palestine would be but insists it is not as "scary" as it is shown to be by Western media. Her interest in Palestine was triggered by anecdotal stories from Arab friends and colleagues, but it was not until she moved to Dubai five years ago she learned more about the plight of the Palestinians then finally decided to see Palestine for herself.

Fair said she was initially surprised at the lack of Arabs who showed an interest in going to Palestine, but said she understood many could not, given the official state of war between many Arab states and Israel.

"Anyone who can go should go though," she said.

Western expatriates in the UAE who can go, she said, "have no idea what's going on in Palestine", but acknowledged given Dubai's cosmopolitan nature, it is difficult for expatriates to hear or learn about Arab and Middle Eastern issues.

Asked how visiting Palestine changed her view on the conflict and on Israelis, Fair said she felt sorry for Israelis "who don't see what their government is doing. People there have their heads buried in the sand& I also sympathise with the Palestinians, but I shouldn't because that makes a mockery of their cause," she said.

When in Shaikh Jarrah the group came across a Palestinian woman living in a tent.

"The 45-year-old woman had been dragged out of her home by Israeli authorities with her hands tied behind her back as her five-year-old daughter watched," she said.

Her husband, she added, was pushed into an alley by the occupation forces during the eviction and suffered a heart attack which led to his death a week later. A Jewish family now lives in their former home.

Fair said the Jerusalem she longs to see is that of the pre-Zionism days, "when Muslims, Chirstians and Jews lived together - that is what many Palestinians there want".

The families in Jerusalem welcomed the tourists into their homes and tents.

"They cried and begged us to tell their story to the world".

That, she said, was precisely what she was going to do.

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