The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is complicated, unclear and confusing for both tourists and pilgrims. The mainstream media does not necessarily provide people with unbiased information that would help in creating a clear image of this part of the world.
Imagine that an average person decides to visit the Holy Land. Firstly, he/she has to buy a flight ticket. When one scrolls down the options of airport names on the airlines website looking for Palestine, one cannot find anything as there is no functioning airport in the OPT. The only options left are either Amman in Jordan or Tel Aviv in Israel.
Furthermore since the OPT is under the Israeli occupation, all passage of peoples in and out of the Territories is controlled by Israel. This means that the only officials that one will encounter on the border with Jordan or at the checkpoints are Israelis.
Eventually, one buys the ticket to Israel. Upon arrival at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv he/she is subject to quite invasive and interfering Israeli control. One should never dare say that he/she is planning to go to the West Bank as it may cause, in the best scenario, some delay (see another article). Afterwards, most tourists direct their steps towards a must-see city, namely Jerusalem, and usually from there go on a day trip to Bethlehem. Since the line between the State of Israel and the West Bank is not clearly demarcated and checkpoints are located inside the West Bank rather than on the internationally recognized border, tourists might not even realize that Bethlehem is not in Israel. At the end of the day, the city where Jesus’ birth took place is a stone’s throw away, merely 10 km, from Jerusalem.
Consequently, people tend to get confused and many ask themselves: ‘Where is this Palestine that people talk about?’
The results of the survey conducted in front of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem of 50 respondents from 22 different countries and from different age groups seem to confirm the confusion and unawareness of tourists to the Holy Land. When asked which ‘country’ Bethlehem is in, a portion of the respondents seemed visibly hesitant and did not really like the question:
‘What country? Is that a tricky question? I don’t want to answer that survey again’ – one respondent stated.
Clearly, the question was problematic and not straightforward. While the majority of the respondents (76%) realized that they are in Palestine, the remainder (26%) believed that they are still in Israel. Some of them were fully convinced that their answer was correct:
‘In Palestine, ha ha [laughter], no, in Israel of course’
‘My husband thinks it’s not in Israel, but it is definitely in Israel’
For the Palestinian people, the fact that one in four people call their homeland Israel is undoubtedly sad. But when one looks at maps provided by any national park, hostels, hotels, and information centres in Israel, neither West Bank nor Gaza is marked on them. Therefore, it is understandable that people get confused.
The respondents were also asked about their opinion on the levels of security and their feelings on their trip to Bethlehem before coming here. The majority (66%) stated that they were not worried and they did not expect it to be dangerous. Still, the remainder (34%) claimed the opposite: they were worried and thought it would be dangerous to visit Bethlehem. When asked, if they feel safe, 88% of the respondents answered positively, while 12% either skipped this question or said that they had not spent enough time in the place to ascertain that.
‘If I had known we would come to Palestine, I wouldn’t have come. I would be too scared. The media shows it in this way. But now, when I am here, I feel very safe and I am glad I came’ – one respondent travelling on an organized tour stated
Not everyone has time and is interested enough to follow the news from the alternative sources. The majority rely on the mainstream media which clearly fails to provide a real picture of the current situation in the OPT. As a result, stereotypes and wrong images are created.
 The word ‘country’ is put in brackets as Palestine is not a recognized state. The correct term is the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Yet, in spoken language the OPT is referred to as Palestine.