More than 60,000 Palestinians are expected to visit Israel as tourists by
the end of 2011, at least twice as many as last year, a defense official
Israel is planning to double the number of permits issued to Palestinians
this year, due to the improved security in the West Bank, the source said.
However, if the situation deteriorates in September following the
Palestinians' UN bid for statehood, it will be harder to issue permits, he
The permits are not usually issued to individuals or families, but mainly
to schools and summer camps wishing to take children to visit beaches
and mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel.
In 2010 28,000 Palestinians were given permits to visit Israel. The
permits are granted specifically for touring, as opposed to other permits
given for employment, medical treatment or prisoner visitation.
"We want Palestinians, especially young ones, to see another kind of
Israeli, not only soldiers and settlers. Anything that can help them blow
off steam and relax. Perhaps instead of demonstrating in September
they'll go to the beach," the source said.
Most of the Palestinians visit Arab and mixed towns such as Haifa,
Jaffa and Acre, among other things, because of their beaches. "For
many of these youngsters, this is the first visit to the beach," says an
Israeli guide of West Bank groups.
Another popular destination is the Ramat Gan Safari, which has prepared
Arab-language tours to accommodate the numerous Palestinian visitors.
"They see things differently from Israeli children. They've never seen wild
animals like those in the safari," says Adam Yakobi, one of the safari
guides who works with Palestinian groups.
"In addition to ecologic explanations, we try to convey a message of
coexistence, between animals and human beings, and among people as
well. Politics does not come into it. It's a completely different atmosphere
and they're engrossed in looking at the animals," he said.