Tourism Politics — Arabs Who Lie And Arabs Who Don’t Have To
Official Arab tourist sites want to attract your tourist dollars into their economies. That is legitimate. Except when it is not. Buyer beware.
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Backpackers support village and small town economies and those with money to spend on 5-star hotels, fancy restaurants and high-end shops support city economies. Political profit comes from the positive public relations engendered by positive tourism experiences among other things. Competition for tourist traffic, therefore, is intense and many governments have tourism ministries to bring professionalism to both their advertising campaigns and industry management. Sometimes they lie.
National image, now called “branding”, is fundamental for international relations in the areas of trade agreements, appealing to foreign investors, garnering support in international organizations and attracting students to its institutes of higher learning as well as skilled workers. According to Keith Dinnie, author of the book, Nation Branding: Concepts, Issues and Practice:
Much of nation-branding strategy constitutes an effort to embrace both the past heritage and present living culture, so outdated images do not obscure consumer perceptions from what vibrant modern societies. . . . Nation branding can also help erase misconceptions about a country and allow the country to reposition itself more favorably with regard to target audiences.” (page 6)
Tourism ministries are actively engaged in nation branding. And perhaps Dinnie should have added that nation branding can also help erase historical truths and replace it with dubious narratives.
Perhaps the most cynical tourism re-branding gimmick is a recently released set of videos trying to entice internationals with money to Syria. For example, this one showing a few sites untouched by the destruction of war (or using pre-war footage?) backed up by the music from “Game of Thrones”:
Huffington Post UK provided the antidote:
Nation Branding in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority
Even countries ruled by colonialists who took over indigenous lands from indigenous peoples advertise indigenous sacred sites, traditions, or handicrafts as part of their tourism advertisement strategies. Canada does this openly.
What they do not do is try to peddle immigrants or the descendants of the original colonialists as descendants of the indigenous peoples. And they do not deny the connection of First Nations peoples to the land.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), on the other hand, is trying to do both these things: They deny the connection of the Jews to the land of Israel; and they claim that they, descendants of colonialist Arabs who conquered the land, are actually the indigenous peoples here whose presence pre-dates that of the Jews. (H/T to Israellycool for bringing the tourism website to our attention.)
The problem is not that the PA claims that the region has a “history that envelops more than one million years” because it does, just like the rest of planet Earth. The problem is in its presentation. Let us compare the historical record presented by the PA (and Jordan) with that presented by two of our other Arab neighbours: Egypt and Lebanon.
Egypt never suggests that the biggest tourist attractions, the Sphinx and the pyramids, were constructed by the Arabs who now rule the country. Clearly, the Egyptians of the Pharoanic Era were not Arabs and the Egyptian government does not make claims that they were. It does not appear that Egypt feels any need to justify its existence as an Arab country by making such claims. (UPDATE 25 Jan 2018: The new version of the website claims that Egyptians are not Arabs. DNA results apparently show that the 95% Arab majority of the population, are only 17% Arab genetically. This makes their membership in the Arab League (AL) confusing since one criterion for membership in the AL is that the population is Arab.)
Similarly, Lebanon does not shy away from listing, and then describing in detail, the Arab conquest of the region that later became known as Lebanon, in no way suggesting that Arabs are descendants of the original inhabitants of the land. There are a multitude of tourist sites related to all epochs and Lebanon does not feel it must rewrite history to justify its existence as an Arab country. Such a deceptive strategy just does not form any part of Lebanon’s nation branding efforts.
According to the official tourism website, Jordan has had a fascinating history and there are many archaeological sites worth visiting. The website refers to ancient peoples who predated the modern Jordanian without making it seem like the latter are descendants of the former. There is some acknowledgement of Christians and churches, and reference to sites mentioned in the Bible (ours, apparently). Clearly, Hebrew tribes lived on lands that now fall within the modern state of Jordan, but it seems that the Jordanians prefer to bite their tongues rather than mention that Israelites trod on their soil:
First mentioned by name in the Bible, the Kings’ Highway was the route that Moses wished to follow as he led his people north through the land of Edom, which today is in southern Jordan.
The official tourism website of the PA goes even further than that of Jordan in wiping out any hint of Jewish history in the region. First of all, reading the description of places to see, you get the feeling that there was a clear line from prehistoric man to the modern Palestinian Arab. For example, in talking about ancient Jericho, we are informed that:
The earliest remains belong to the Natufian culture (10th–8th millennia BC), and consist of flint tools, which attests to the presence of a hunting Natufian camp near the spring. The remains of the early Neolithic settlement are represented by a small settlement, with round houses built of mud brick and surrounded by a wall and a round tower, representing the earliest preserved piece of a fortification system.
The city of ancient Jericho played a major role between the Early Bronze Age and Middle Bronze Age (3200–1550 BC). It was mentioned in historical sources [The Jewish Bible] and a recent find has the name appear on a scarab from the second millennium BC.
. . . The expedition uncovered more architectural remains, including a mosaic floor, which was found during bulldozing work, and a series of buildings that date to the early Roman, Byzantine-Umayyad, Medieval, and Ottoman periods.
Contrast this list with those on the Egyptian and Lebanese sites that specifically name the Arab/Islamic conquest and if you do not know that the Umayyads were Arabs, you might miss that altogether in the PA recounting of historical eras.
Secondly, all religious sites are claimed to be Christian and Muslim sites with no reference to the fact that before they were either of these, many of them were Jewish, such as Jacob’s Well and The Cave of the Patriarchs. According to the Palestinian Arab “narrative”, Jerusalem, of course, has nothing to do with Judaism so no need to mention Jews or Har HaBayit (The Temple) or the Wailing Wall or the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, etc.
When contrasting the Jordanian and PA treatment of their historical sites with that of Egypt and Lebanon, it appears that both lack confidence in the legitimacy of their claims to be sovereign states and therefore must downplay (in the first case) and totally eliminate (in the second case) any possible connection of sacred sites to the Jews (in the second case) and even the fact that Jews set foot on the land (in the first case). Nation branding for the PA (and Jordan), therefore, requires a new narrative that deletes historical facts from global consciousness. But we knew that, anyway, from watching the shenanigans at UNESCO.
Now the question remains: What national branding strategy does Israel have for our Biblical sites in Judea and Samaria?