Hostels in Hostile Territory: Tourist Spaces of Transformative Dialogue in the Israeli-Palestinian Context

Hostels in Hostile Territory: Tourist Spaces of Transformative Dialogue in the Israeli-Palestinian Context

Jack Shepherd, Daniel Laven
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5053-3.ch012
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This chapter looks at the role youth hostels play in challenging some of the destructive narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian context, narratives revolving around Othering, and demonisation of the Other. To understand the role of hostels in this regard, the authors use the concept of transformative dialogue to demonstrate how hostels assist in the formation of partnerships between previously hostile groups, and also how hostels provide a tourism forum for self-expression and exposure to divergent narratives of space. The chapter is a comparative case study using qualitative data gathered at 14 hostels over a period of six years. The findings of the chapter stress the remarkable achievement of youth hostels in the region in challenging hegemonic discourses of separation and abjection, despite the enormous difficulty in doing so.
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The conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians has entered yet another decade. During the previous two, there has been little political will to reach a mutually satisfactory end to the conflict. The Israeli government appears more determined than ever to swallow the West Bank whole, supported by the current American administration and abetted by increasingly coy Arab states. The Palestinians, for their part, remain divided and struggle under the straightjacket of the occupation. One of the main reasons why the conflict has remained so intractable is due to the presence of two seemingly hegemonic opposing narratives of the region. These narratives are the product of over 70 years of enforced social distancing and are explored in a wide variety of texts (e.g. Masalha, 2019; Pappe, 2015; Said, 1979; Shavit, 2013). On the one hand, there is the Zionist narrative of the region, which excludes the presence of the Arab population in the historic land of Palestine. This has resulted in Arabs living in Israel being seen as an inconvenient reality, estranged from mainstream society, their parties ostracised in parliament and their status as citizens in Israel all but denied by the recent ‘Nation-State bill’1. In the West Bank, this same discourse leads to the continuation of the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’, which refers to the displacement of Palestinians in 1948 following the creation of the state of Israel. It also leads to increasing encroachment of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and the establishment of a military occupation in the West Bank, which restricts Palestinian mobility and ignores basic human rights (B’tselem, 2019). On the other hand, there is the Palestinian narrative of the region, which clings onto their ‘right of return’ to the houses and lands from which they were expelled in 1948 when the state of Israel was established. Although a right of all refugees as stipulated by the United Nations, the inability of Palestinian activist groups such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) to explain how this resettlement would work in practice, coupled with the violent rhetoric of Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, lead to serious doubts over Palestinian willingness to accept the presence of Jewish Israelis in the historic land of Palestine.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Nakba: The displacement of Palestinians in 1948 following the creation of the state of Israel.

Israeli Arab: The official Israeli government term for non-Jewish citizens of Arab/Palestinian origin.

Israeli Hostels Network (IHL): A network of independent youth hostels across Israel.

Oslo Accords: An agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 that aimed for mutual recognition of each other’s right for self-determination. It envisaged Israeli troop withdrawals from Palestinian areas. The Area system (A, B & C) are a product of these negotiations.

Green Line: The border that represents the boundaries of Israel pre-1967, before its occupation of the West Bank.

Dual-Narrative Tour: A tour around contested cities with two guides, one from each side in the conflict.

Area A: An area under the sole control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), as stipulated by the Oslo Accords of 1993. Area B is under joint Israel and Palestinian control and Area C is under Israeli control.

Palestinian Authority (PA): The representative government of Palestine established since the Oslo Accords in 1993.

Settlements: A term used to describe Israeli communities that are illegally constructed on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Hostels: Here, hostels are defined as cheap accommodation facilities for backpackers and other travelers, characterised by shared communal living spaces and dormitories.

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