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Danish business on stolen land

Last Thursday, one of Denmark's biggest newspapers, Politiken, published an article which described the occupied Palestinian territories as part of Israel. Despite the picturesque nomenclature on the Dead Sea and the surrounding area, the trip which was the focus of the piece was actually to the illegal Israeli settlement of Mitze Shalem on the occupied West Bank.

This is a very serious mistake used, in fact, by several Danish companies. It has grave repercussions for the future of an independent Palestine in that it legitimises an Israeli narrative that the international community condemns in law, and a project that is not recognised as legal.

A recent report by DanWatch, a Danish investigative journalism group, revealed unethical and outright illegal marketing of a territory held in the grip of Israeli apartheid. Danish travel agencies advertise trips to the occupied territories and label them as "Israel", which is against the Danish Marketing Act, say the experts. Seven travel agencies in Denmark are in breach of this law according to DanWatch's Tourism on stolen land.

Three out of seven travel agencies in the report offer trips to the illegal settlements built on Palestinian and Syrian land, which are marketed as being within Israel's borders. In a move designed, no doubt, to make the itinerary sound more exotic, the settlements are referred to loosely as "kibbutzes". According to Tikva Travel in its sales material for "Agricultural Travelling Israel", tourists can "drive to Katzrin, where you can visit the vineyard, dairy farms and apple orchards"; in reality they are taken onto the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, beyond Israel's internationally recognised borders, says DanWatch.

The areas in question have a history of conflict, bloodshed and ongoing human rights abuses; using "settler-only" roads to get to the "kibbutzes", the tourists won't witness the enduring apartheid applied by Israel across Palestinian territory. They may not even understand the intellectual and historical whitewashing found in several "recordings" and "national" museums placed by Israel on the occupied land. The issue lies in Israel's need to push its own narrative which seeks to legitimise the uprooting of the Palestinians from their historic land; destroying their olive trees, a symbol of their existence; and planting pine trees in their place, thus making the soil unsuitable for the olives to grow again. Homes and land are destroyed as Israel re-writes history and erases Palestinian existence.

According to one expert in international relations, Associate Professor Ole Wæver, the travel agencies' marketing can be problematic beyond deceptive brochures. They participate actively in promoting the Israeli narrative, he explained to DanWatch, and in doing so contradict the interpretation of, among other bodies, the UN General Assembly and the Danish parliament.

Furthermore, the current tourism discourse about Israel ignores the fatalities and long-standing conflict, oppression and internal discrimination faced by Palestinians and Mizrahi (Arab) Jews who are citizens of the state. It is reported widely in the media and academia that they are treated as "second-class citizens" by the Ashkenazi (white, European/American) Jews. According to DanWatch, the misleading marketing by travel agencies help the Israeli government to maintain the unjust status quo of "project" Israel.

"If Israel succeeds in its attempts to reframe important aspects of the political and historical reality of the occupation," said Ole Wæver, "this could make the occupation and annexation of Palestinian territories invisible and, in the long term, prevent a peaceful solution."

Following the DanWatch investigation, two of the travel agencies, Unitas and Tikva, have apparently corrected their error, which was, it seems, made in ignorance. They may also reassess their cooperation with Israeli agencies and companies.

On offering so-called "Kibbutz" accommodation, Unitas's Klaus Bow Østergaard said, "Unfortunately, there are not many other accommodation options in some areas other than these kibbutzim." Mette White Hansen of Tikva Travel responded to DanWatch by saying that it will now "insert a link to Wikipedia in our mentions of city trips to Jerusalem and round trips, so that people can seek more information if they wish."

Of course, the agencies should have sought out such information in advance of publishing inaccurate material about travelling in the occupied Palestinian territories. Control of representation and history is a powerful tool in the hands of the occupier. Companies (and governments) should reflect on the ethics of implying legitimacy and recognition of Israel's occupation and thereby contributing to the modern day apartheid in occupied Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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