Israelis and Palestinians show tourists how people can live in peace
Israel’s continued stability and growth may fall primarily on the unlikely shoulders of people like Tsipi Segal.
Ms. Segal is neither a politician nor a diplomat — she’s a tour guide.
Amid growing regional instability, with many Israelis feeling increasingly alone and misunderstood in the world, the country’s global image often is filtered through the grinding standoff with the Palestinians — shaped more by sensational YouTube videos and media coverage than reality. Fighting those misconceptions is what Ms. Segal does — one tour group at a time.
“The most important thing to convey to the people is that, on a daily basis, [Israelis and Palestinians] live together, and we earn our daily bread together,” said Ms. Segal, an Israeli Christian, born and raised in Jerusalem.
Ms. Segal’s grandparents immigrated to the Jerusalem area from Greece and Russia shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Both of her parents fought for Israeli independence in the years after World War II.
She vividly remembers pausing from her studies at the Hebrew University and putting her wedding engagement on hold 40 years ago to fight in the Yom Kippur War. Of her 10 closest friends, only three came back from the war alive.
Still, Ms. Segal feels that the true fight of her life is debunking the many misconceptions about her beloved Israel.
“Bringing pilgrims here is one of the main steps for continued peace. It’s not a joke,” Ms. Segal said.
As she loaded her American tourists onto a bus one recent morning, Ms. Segal smiled at the Palestinian tour bus driver, Hazzam, and asked about his son’s wedding planning. The two shared a quick laugh. A moment passed, and she asked how his wife had been doing since her recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
Tourism is a significant part of Israel’s economy, and it serves as a unifying tool among Israelis and Palestinians.
“If you put fear in people, then pilgrims will not come here, and I will not be able to work with Hazzam, and then what will happen is that we will not see that we are so much alike,” said Ms. Segal. “Only when you cut off that connection is fear and hostility built up.”
Over the past 30 years, Ms. Segal has guided thousands of people from around the world through the Holy Land. Religion plays a huge part in the tours, reflecting the important role it has played throughout Jewish history.
Last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh praised terrorist attacks in the West Bank and encouraged Arabs and Muslims to “prepare for the Great al-Aksa Intifada,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
Mr. Haniyeh also condemned a recent incident in which a Jew openly prayed and took out an Israeli flag on the Temple Mount, an area under Muslim authority but deemed sacred by Jews and Muslims alike.
Despite the violent religious and political conflicts, social peace and civic order somehow survive.
Last week, one of the Christian tourists traveling with Ms. Segal left his tablet computer at a store in Jericho. The Palestinian store owner posted a message on Facebook from the device, alerting all of the tourist’s friends about the location of his tablet. Because of the Palestinian man’s generosity, the tourist was able to retrieve his tablet within a day.
Ahmed Sayyed, a computer scientist and part-time chef at the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem, was born to a Christian mother and Muslim father, and he doesn’t believe that makes him unusual in Israel.
“You’ll never see Orthodox Jews and Muslims eating and shopping in the same area on TV or on the news, but it happens every day here in Jerusalem,” Mr. Sayyed said.
“People are people. Humanity everywhere is the same,” said Gamal Jordan, a Palestinian street vendor in the Palestinian area of Jericho.
“When you’re born, you don’t have the label or religion. The people give it to you,” said Mr. Jordan. “The people use religion to reinforce the problems. But the religion doesn’t make the problems.”
Although Mr. Jordan wants peace, he does not like the Palestinian situation in Israel.
Ms. Segal sympathizes with him. “A unified state is crucial for us. It’s life or death. But on the other hand, I see the Palestinian issue,” she said.
She believes it is merely a matter of time before Palestinians have a separate state. President Obama said this year that he thought a two-state solution was “still possible.”
Many Western leaders and global politicians have concerns for the Palestinian people and are working to make sure that the chaos and turmoil in other Middle Eastern nations don’t seep into Israeli life and politics.
Still, many Israelis are not expecting salvation from an outside source.
“The U.S. has to deal with their own problems,” said Ms. Segal. “The politicians are not going to solve the problem; it has to come from the people.”