USAID, Spanish Government Supporting Anti-Israel Tourism Group?

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem.

The involvement of USAID with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism is more tenuous, though. Another pamphlet on the website includes the USAID logo and the ministry’s logo, implying that the project was a collaboration between the two organizations.

The ministry also claims that USAID facilitated its involvement in an international tourism conference last October. “This activity came as part of the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ membership at the Adventure Travel Trade Association and part of the support provided by the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) project funded by the USAID,” says the website.

USAID’s own website says that it “supported Palestinian representation at the World Religious Tourism Expo,” though it doesn’t clarify who the representation was.

I’ve called USAID for comment, but as of now, they have been unable to get in touch with officials at their West Bank office, which is closed until after the holiday weekend. We’ll update this story as soon as more information arises.