University of Texas at Austin | Austin, Texas, USA
Tourism Under Occupation: Post-Oslo Fragmentation and the Labor of Narration
Taking seriously the question of what kinds of politics are possible in a context of statelessness, exile, and settler-colonial occupation, and attending to creative modes of resistance and collaborative activism, this paper explores how Palestinian organizers have turned to tourism, despite the limitations of tourism as a vehicle for activism, as a strategy for garnering international support in their struggle for self-determination. I situate the turn to this organizing strategy in the historical context of the Oslo Accords, which fragmented the West Bank and simultaneously enabled unforeseen possibilities for commercial tourism in Palestine. Following the itineraries of organizers in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and inside Israel as they reject the borders and checkpoints crafted to divide them, I describe how Palestinian guides and organizers collectively use tourism to expose histories of expulsion and imagine a decolonized future for Palestine.
Specifically, my paper stresses the cultural work of tour guiding, the incorporation of multiple kinds of performance, and the daily labor of narration that makes up the work that solidarity tour guides do in Palestine. First, I trace the way in which the Oslo Accords, and the attendant establishment of the Palestinian Authority and its Ministry of Tourism, both changed the parameters of what was possible in terms of Palestinian-led tourism in the West Bank and also ushered in a period of expanding settlements, orchestrated fragmentation of Palestinian land, and the sedimentation of an aid-based Palestinian economy. I examine how and when an influx of tourists in the West Bank become part of the landscape, especially in places like Beit Sahour and Bethlehem, and I demonstrate how the growth of solidarity tourism in Palestine, and particularly its contemporary iteration, is both a product and a critique of the Oslo Accords. Then, drawing from interviews with Palestinian guides and organizers who have been in the business of showcasing the occupation since the first intifada, I detail the daily practices of solidarity tour guiding in Palestine and explore how Palestinian organizers are attempting to use tourism to shape and reshape the political imaginary available to them. I focus particularly on how Palestinian guides and organizers envision their work, how they have seen the landscape of their labor change dramatically in the past two decades, and why they have chosen to dedicate their energy to solidarity tourism, even when its movement-building effects and capacities are sometimes negligible, often shot through with contradictions, and almost invariably not immediately discernible. In this way, taking the political and cultural work of solidarity tourism in Palestine as its subject, this paper details the daily labor of Palestinian tour guides in both narrating and negotiating the constricts of colonial rule at the same time that it raises larger questions about the possibilities of tourism in a context in which tourism itself is under occupation.