by Amelie Phillipson
Tourism in Israel is usually geared to the visit of Holy Sites by religious pilgrims, or to the image of beaches in Tel Aviv, Eilat or by the Dead Sea. However, travelers can also be curious about how people live, about how a country works, about what makes a certain place so different from any other in the world. For this, facilities accommodating a form of mass tourism are inadequate. In a country where freedom of expression and information are valued like in any other democracy, Green Olive Tours has had the opportunity to develop an alternative form of tourism that does not shy away from politics. Free discussion and viewing the issues on the ground are a big part of advancing democracy. Green Olive Tours was created in 2007 by Fred Schlomka to achieve this goal, and began by showing tourists a different vision of Jerusalem, bringing them at the heart of social and political issues. Today, it has expanded and become a collective offering tours ranging from three hours to twelve days, including many excursions to the West Bank, and the possibility for visitors to schedule specific private tours.
Alternative vision on very traditional tourist landmarks
There are few tour companies who offer a tour of the Old City that doesn’t go down the Via Dolorosa, or into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A Green Olive Tour guide will prefer to insist on discussing the history of the Old City, when it was occupied, by whom, and how. As well as some of the traditional landmarks, he will point to and explain a specific graffiti, and will explain why they are Israeli flags in the middle of the Muslim quarter. All the information is made as clear as possible by making sure it is complete and full of facts, historically and geographically speaking. Discussion is encouraged since the groups are always small, as opposed to many other groups you will see in the Old City. Points are made in order to help relate what is being shown to historical or political knowledge; for example a visit to the Jewish Quarter puts into perspective the relationship between politics and archeology, showing that archeology helps determine what belongs to whom. Green Olive Tours makes a point of giving its clients insights into the history of the people as well as political and social challenges faced today. Explanations are given through a social and historical point of view, not the religious or biblical side of things. The principal merit and originality of Green Olive Tours lies within the idea of presenting counter perspectives, counter point of views, as well as the facts on the ground, enabling each visitor to make up there own mind about what they see. The key is for the visitors to come and see everything for themselves.
A complete program on Palestinian life
Green Olive Tours runs trips to several cities and villages in the West Bank, as well as in Israel. Every part of each tour is carefully utilized, whether it is for the discovery of a local culture or whether it is a discussion about the political situation whilst being on the road. Tours in the West Bank give visitors an insight into difficulties that Palestinians face every day, but also the culture and history of the people, without omitting stops at some famous must-see locations such as the Dead Sea. Some tours also include visiting settlements and meeting settlers, which contributes to the necessity of diving into several perspectives. Therefore, visitors are introduced to all the different aspects of how people live there, negative as well as positive, and are shown the dynamics that bind people together within the context of an on-going conflict. The cultural experience is emphasized by the organization of home stays and of multi-day tours. This provides the enlightening opportunity to learn about the culture and the daily lives of the locals in Palestinian homes or in Bedouin homes. If Green Olive Tours stands out as an alternative Tour company, it doesn’t leave out those who can be considered regular tourists in the country, the pilgrims. Once again, these tours, as well as covering all the important religious sites, also include a close take on Christianity in the region, introducing the Pilgrims to local Christians, and always relating this to a social and political analysis.
Green Olive Tours constitutes a unique enterprise in Israel that offers the opportunity to take away a bit of the culture of the people met on the ground. This is as important for the locals as it is for the visitors, as the opportunity of learning from one another goes both ways. Local people learn a lot from visitors, who then go on to become ambassadors to their countries as much as they learn about the way people truly live in the area.