Itineraries in Conflict: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Political Lives of Tourism
Itineraries in Conflict: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Political Lives of Tourism

Itineraries in Conflict: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Political Lives of Tourism

by Rebecca L. Stein


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In Itineraries in Conflict, Rebecca L. Stein argues that through tourist practices-acts of cultural consumption, routes and imaginary voyages to neighboring Arab countries, culinary desires-Israeli citizens are negotiating Israel's changing place in the contemporary Middle East. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research conducted throughout the last decade, Stein analyzes the divergent meanings that Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel have attached to tourist cultures, and she considers their resonance with histories of travel in Israel, its Occupied Territories, and pre-1948 Palestine. Stein contends that tourism's cultural performances, spaces, souvenirs, and maps have provided Israelis in varying social locations with a set of malleable tools to contend with the political changes of the last decade, including the rise and fall of a Middle East Peace Process (the Oslo Process), globalization, neoliberal reform, and a second Palestinian uprising in 2000. Combining vivid ethnographic detail, postcolonial theory, and readings of Israeli and Palestinian popular texts, Stein considers a broad range of Israeli leisure cultures of the Oslo period, particularly the Jewish desires for Arab things, landscapes, and people that regional diplomacy catalyzed.

About the Author:
Rebecca L. Stein is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women's Studies at Duke University. She is a co-editor of Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture, also published by Duke University Press

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822342519
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 08/26/2008
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Rebecca L. Stein is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at Duke University. She is a co-editor of Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture, also published by Duke University Press.

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Israelis, Palestinians, and the Political Lives of Tourism
By Rebecca L. Stein


Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4251-9

Chapter One

Regional Routes

Israeli Tourists in the New Middle East

In the summer of 1994, several days before Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan, one of Israel's most popular newspapers documented the "first" Israeli visit to Petra. This prominent article, featured in the newspaper's front section, recounted the clandestine voyage of two Israelis who had illegally crossed into Jordan with their European passports. "I Got to the Red Rock!" the headline proclaimed. A first-person narrative described the travelers' mounting anticipation as they neared Petra in a taxi, their fear of detection by the Jordanian authorities, and thrilling arrival at a site with mythic status in the Israeli popular imagination. "And then it happened. Suddenly, between the crevices of the giant stones, 100 meters from us, [we caught our] first glimpse of the red structures hewn in rock. Tears came to our eyes.... 'Photograph me,' we said to each other in the same breath."

Israeli voyages into neighboring Arab countries received extensive coverage in mainstream Israeli newspapers of the 1990s. This wasn't for reasons of human interest alone. The figure of the Israeli tourist and the grammar of a tourist imagination were crucial tools by which the Israeli media represented the Oslo process to mass publics. That is, stories about tourism were important vehicles of translation. While the intricacies of diplomacy could be difficult to convey in popular vocabularies, tales of leisure travel were not. The highly legible figure of the tourist was deployed to illustrate the effects of regional reconfiguration. This mobile figure, crossing borders made porous by diplomatic advances and economic liberalization, was offered to Israeli readers as Oslo's allegory.

In this chapter I discuss dominant Israeli imaginations of the Oslo process as enunciated through tourist stories in the national media. For the state and private sector, Oslo was thought to hold tremendous promise. Israeli market analysts argued that diplomatic and economic agreements with the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states would enable Israel's integration into global economies. State officials trumpeted Oslo's value as a security arrangement by which the Palestinian Authority would participate in the work of the Israeli occupation. Yet for many Jewish Israeli publics, particularly those on the political right, regional reconfiguration was an anxious prospect that threatened the integrity of the nation-state, challenging normative institutions. Stories about tourism echoed these conflicting Israeli responses to the Oslo process. They illustrated both popular Israeli fantasies and fears about the course of regional reconfiguration.

Two stories were particularly ubiquitous in the Israeli media of this period. The first was an iconic tale of first contact, in which the Jewish Israeli traveler was cast as a heroic discoverer of the Arab Middle East. The second was a phobic narrative about incoming Arab tourists from neighboring countries whose itineraries required vigilant regulation by the Israeli state and Jewish public. While the former celebrated the new forms of Israeli mobility through the region that Oslo had generated, the latter contended with its threatening flows of Arab persons, cultures, and things. Citizenship was supremely at stake in these stories. In both accounts, the identity of the tourist was harnessed to that of the citizen, although in variable ways. Stories about Israeli travel into the Arab Middle East figured good Israeli tourists as good Israeli citizens in highly normative terms. That is, despite the diverse populations of Israelis traveling throughout the Middle East during this period, Israeli tourists were perpetually cast as Jewish citizens of European descent (Ashkenazim), a move consistent with the Ashkenazi bias of the popular media. Stories about incoming Arabs had an opposing logic. These travelers were marked as tourists only when differentiated clearly from potential Israeli citizens. The designator was a comforting one. It reassured readers that these traveling subjects were temporary visitors who did not seek residence in the Jewish state, therein threatening national demographics.

Tourism, I argue, was a crucial player on Oslo's political stage. As a market, it was both a product and progenitor of Israel's integration into regional economies. As a field of representational practices, it was an important tool by which Israelis contended with the status of the nation-state in a regional age. In part, then, I am suggesting that the figure of the tourist can be read as a surrogate, an image that stood in for something else. This is not to discount tourism's material importance in the Oslo process, but to suggest that its significance as a body of signs in the popular print media exceeded the terms of political economy. Stories about tourism tried to stabilize the nation-state at this moment of geopolitical flux, to consolidate the borders around normative national culture even as Israel's territorial borders were becoming porous in new ways. These narratives reasserted the prevailing terms of national intelligibility, insisting on Israel's Jewish and European identity amid a regionalizing process that threatened Israel with Arabization, or so some Israelis feared. They provided a popular grammar for understanding the Oslo process even as they grappled uncertainly with maps and meanings of Israel in a newly regional age.

The New Middle East

Diplomatic negotiations between Israel and neighboring Arab states have been openly pursued since the 1967 War. Nonetheless, the Oslo Accords of 1993 were celebrated in the Israeli and international media as the first significant breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian talks. The Accords stipulated mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the beginning of Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. Signed by Yasser Arafat in an attempt to secure his regime in a time of crisis, the Oslo Accords reconfigured the terms of Israeli power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through a new partnership with the Palestinian Authority. They offered the Palestinians the symbolic trappings of statehood, such as postage stamps, passports, and uniformed immigration officers. However, the Palestinian governing entity and its territorial borders remained "legally subordinate to the authority of the [Israeli] military government." In its Occupied Territories, Israel remained in control of land, security, the economy, and all matters pertaining to the Jewish settlements. Oslo offered Israel the economic and political gains of an internationally recognized rapprochement with the Palestinian people without requiring significant territorial or political compromise.

For Israel, Oslo's economic yield was substantial. Peace with the Palestinians paved the way for Jordan and Israel to sign the Washington Declaration in July 1994, thereby ending the official state of war between the two countries. Following the dismantling of the Arab boycott, Israel increased its trade with North African countries, particularly Morocco and Tunisia, and opened trade offices in Qatar and Oman. The Israeli private sector pursued joint ventures with Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinians in such matters as tourism, transportation, water, and the environment. Israel had been largely ignored by European and Asian multinationals prior to the 1990s, yet this changed following the dismantling of the Arab boycott's secondary and tertiary tiers banning third-party dealings with the Jewish state. Total foreign investment in Israel increased to $19.6 billion in the first two years after the Oslo Accords, and several U.S. high-tech corporations, including Intel and Microsoft, announced major new investments in the country, made possible in part by a large workforce of Russian immigrants trained in science and technology. Israeli companies also began to work through regional channels, as the example of the Israeli textile industry illustrates. In the 1990s, raw cotton was being purchased in Egypt, sent to Turkey for spinning and weaving, to Israel for designing, to Jordan for sewing and packaging, and finally shipped for sale in the United States. Israeli capital was also flowing to Asia as never before, as Israeli companies explored markets in Malaysia, India, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Government ministers described Israel as the future "Singapore of the region," a hub between Asia and Europe. Although the Israeli state and private sector described such trends in the language of regionalization and globalization, trumpeting Oslo's economic benefits on both sides of the Israeli border, such characterizations tended to obscure the highly uneven economic landscape that Oslo was generating. Short of economic regionalization in any comprehensive terms, Oslo enabled the Israeli private sector to mine the Arab Middle East for new markets, sites of production, and labor pools in ways that tended to fortify the pre-Oslo balance of regional power.

For the Israeli state, economic growth and liberalization depended on concurrent processes of containment, chiefly of its occupied Palestinian territories. The policy of military closure was foremost among Israeli containment strategies, by which the West Bank and Gaza Strip were effectively sealed from each other, the Jerusalem area, and Israel proper. At the same time, the state dramatically reduced the number of work permits granted to Palestinians for labor inside Israel, defending such policies in the language of security. Due to a history of Palestinian dependence on the Israeli economy, closure and visa restrictions produced high rates of unemployment in the Occupied Territories, vastly reduced levels of Palestinian trade and production, and heightened poverty. In keeping with the terms of the Oslo Accords, Israel maintained control over the perimeters of Palestinian areas and prevented Palestinian access to Israeli markets while ensuring Israeli access to Palestinian ones.

This period also witnessed numerous changes within the nation-state that compounded the sense of political transformation. During the tenure of the Rabin-led Labor administration, many minority populations were recognized by the state in relatively unprecedented ways, including Ethiopian Jews, gays and lesbians, and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Jews of North African and Middle Eastern descent (Mizrahim) gained greater political power and popular visibility, culminating in a major parliamentary victory at the decade's end. Israel's Christian population grew substantially following the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union, as did Israel's population of blue-collar foreign workers, imported to supplant the Palestinian workforce from the Occupied Territories. By the turn of the millennium, these legal and illegal laborers composed one-sixth of metropolitan Tel Aviv, living in its impoverished peripheries. Birthrates in Israel's Arab community were also rising, and right-wing demographers warned of an Arab majority in the combined area of Israel and Palestine by the early decades of the twenty-first century. When coupled with the pace of regional integration, these social trends generated considerable anxiety. Some Jewish Israelis, particularly those on the political right, feared for the very future of the Jewish state.

Oslo's Routes

Oslo's effect on the tourism sector, both in Israel and the broader Middle East, was equally substantial. This sector was the locus of some of the most significant joint national projects of this period, and these were projected to expand considerably in the context of a comprehensive regional peace settlement. In 1995, Israeli state and private representatives began to coordinate joint marketing of tourism packages with Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco. Concurrently, Israel and Jordan embarked on a series of joint developments, including coordinated airport facilities in Aqaba and Eilat, a "Peace Road" connecting Haifa and Irbid, and a Dead Sea recreational park spanning the border. Spurred by the consumer confidence that Oslo had generated, the number of incoming visitors to Israel peaked at 2.2 million in 1995, generating $3.1 billion in revenue. Some analysts predicted a 250 percent increase in Israeli sector earnings as a result of regional marketing, air links between Israel and Asia, newly opened and eased border crossings, and political stability.

The itineraries of Israeli travelers were also in flux during this period, as diplomatic and economic agreements made the Arab Middle East both newly available and attractive. Jordan was the first new Israeli destination in the region. Some sixty thousand Israelis visited in the months following the peace treaty with Jordan, and one hundred thousand would visit annually over the course of the next three years, making the route between Israel and Jordan a locus of tourism industry advertising and investment (see figure 4). Israeli tourism to Morocco increased following low-level diplomatic relations with Rabat in 1994, as did Israeli travel to Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. The imaginations of Israeli armchair travelers were also being rerouted as a new set of regional sites became available as objects of popular fantasy. While talks between Israel and Syria progressed in 1995, the Hebrew press began to prepare its readers for their future trips to Damascus, Beirut, and Tunis, describing the local food, historic sites, and codes of propriety in the idiom of the tourist guide. At the same time, Israeli tourist agencies prepared their clients for travel across a Middle East without borders. Galilee Tours solicited potential clients with an imaginary map of the region, illustrating the Israeli tourist who moved effortlessly through the Arab Middle East without territorial impediments or political obstacles. Such maps represented a substantial shift in dominant Israeli imaginations of regional geography. Prior to Oslo, Israel's very proximity to its Arab neighbors had been largely viewed as a measure of threat. In the 1990s, these proximities were being revalued, indeed, celebrated, in tourist terms. Israelis were being encouraged to view the Middle East as a unified geography of leisure.

The Israeli Ministry of Tourism was even more expansive in its future vision, imagining a region in which the differences between nation-states would be replaced by the transnational flows of a liberalized economy. State literatures designed for foreign investors spoke of Jewish-Israelis traveling freely to Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Syria, and "Muslims com[ing] by the thousands to Israel" to pray in Jerusalem. Maps issued Figure 4. Peace and Tourism. Depicts Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordanian King Hussein signing the Washington by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism illustrated the Middle East as a single field of tourist opportunities, interrupted only by the occasional topographical obstacles (see maps 2 and 3). Beaches, ski resorts, and nature reserves were sketched as recreational spaces that spanned borders. At the same time, the state told a story of unconstrained mobility for all regional actors, regardless of their provenance:

We [i.e., the Israeli state] envision the emergence of a network of regional contacts. It will begin with ... highways, flight paths, and seaways, water pipelines and electricity grids spread out in a web uniting us from east to west and from north to south.... Inhabitants of the region will live a life of freedom-freedom from obstacles, ostracism, and political coercion, free from the threat of violence and terror. They will be free to travel and to trade, to develop joint ventures and to utilize together the potential of the region, to the benefit of all.


Excerpted from ITINERARIES IN CONFLICT by Rebecca L. Stein Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: Itineraries and Intelligibilities....................1
1. Regional Routes: Israeli Tourists in the New Middle East....................19
2. Consumer Coexistence: Enjoying the Arabs Within....................45
3. Scalar Fantasies: The Israeli State and the Production of Palestinian Space....................71
4. Culinary Patriotism: Ethnic Restaurants and Melancholic Citizenship....................97
5. Of Cafés and Terror....................129
Postscript: Oslo's Ghosts....................149

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