Interview with Rami Kassis
von Simon Tielesch und Johannes Krug
With Rami Kassis, who is working with the Alternative Tourism Group, Palestine, we were talking about tourism, pilgrimages and the situation of Christian Palestinians in the Holy Land. He was sharing with us his dreams and concrete experiences of resistance to injustice. The interview was conducted in Frankfurt in the context of the Oikotree General meeting from 31st of October to 5th of November.
Simon&Johannes: Rami, what are you dreaming of?
Rami: I’m dreaming like any other human being. I’m dreaming of dignity, freedom, respect, of all people living in equality. My dream is to raise my children in a safe atmosphere in a safe country with no violence.
In which way is ATG a part of this dream, what is the scope? Could you share a little bit about the idea of ATG?
ATG is a palestinian organisation founded in 1995. It’s real name is Alternatice Justice Tourism Palestine and it was an idea of palestinian people. For the last 20/ 30 years it was very hard for us to enter tourism industry in israel. You may ask why? The first reason is an economic reason. The israelian government does not want us to benefit from ressources, like heritage sites and other culture places. Second they don’t want to facilitate any action between local palestinian people and vistors. This encounter might have a bad result for them, because people would get to know the other side of the story.
Knowing this and many other factors, some people tried to establish a tourism center with a different kind of tourism. A tourism that is based on human encounter, cultural human awareness to advocate justice and peace in the Holy Land. In this sense tourism is used as a tool for sensitisation of people.
In which way can tourism contribute to this dream, of having a just and fair society?
Tourism is a booming industry in our country. Due to the importance of Palestine and the Holy Land, millions of people are coming or dreaming of coming to this place. There they want to have a cultural exchange.
But they are not only ignoring our existence, but they are as well harming our culture, our people in many ways. They are exploiting our areas and posing many social political and economic problems for the local comunities. A person who comes to Israel, without having any contact to local Palestinians, will be much more in favour of the israeli point of view! And this is harming us!
The ATG is a church based organisiation. What is the impact on spirituality? As christian we have to get engaged? Why?
Actually, you know, if we want to talk about the huge number of visitors, in general more than 60 % of the pilgrims are christians. Around 3 million people come to visit the Holy Land every year, around 2 million define themselves as coming on a spiritual journey to the Holy Land. Because of their own ignorance, they are coming on a more comercial trip with no spiritual experience, which is harming the local palestinians. Looking for the historical sites only, they are simply ignoring the existence of christians, who are still living in this land.
So out of this context, ATG is trying to promote pilgrimages of transformation, based on human encounter. This is why we get engaged in many programs, to encourage tourists and pilgrims to more responsibility. We’ve also established the code of conduct/ ethics, which are guidelines for christian pilgrims who are planing a trip to the Holy Land. There is also a whole theology of pilgrimage, which works on the spiritual dimension.
Did you also take part in a pilgrimage once in your life? Are you interested?
I’m interested. But see, being conected with the local comunity, this is my pilgrimage. Once I went to Brasil to meet local people, who were very poor. This was my pilgrimage: to try to support them. Everyone can define pilgrimage in the way he_she likes.
We were taking about spirituality and faith experiences. Where is the link to jewish groups? How to mix up with all this?
For me as a palestinian I don’t have problems with israel people. My only problem is the occupation of israel, which doesn’t respect me as a palestinian. But there are also many groups in Israel working with us against the occupation. ATG is often organising meetings with those groups. There are human rights groups, activist groups, also faith based groups, like „rabbis for human rights“.
What about islamic groups?
Actually, we have never divided people by their faith, we have beeen working with all people (muslims, jews, christians). In the place where I live there is a muslim majority and christian minority.
What are your expectations for this ecumenical movement and the Oikotree Global Forum in general?
The goal of ATG is having a wide network with other groups – also on a global level. We want to be connected with other movements and struggle in the world, too. For us this participatin is important, because it’s a possibility to get to know different movements in the world. It is important that to feel solidarity from outside, as well as it is very significant for us to get solidarity for our palestinian issue. This is mutual solidarity.
This monday we were talking about social movements in germany, especially the education strike movement. What would be a way where you can give us some advice for our struggles and where is the point were we might join your struggle?
We have learned as palestinian that it needs a long time and that collective effort and work has to be done. And this is not only taking place in Palestine, but everywhere in our world. So my advice for you is to keep united, to try to reach your goal by struggle. If you believe in this whole global justice struggle, it is also part of your daily life, your local struggle. If you are fighting in your comunity, you can’t be blind to the struggles worldwide. You cannot close your eyes then to what is happening in Palestine, Columbia or India. Therefore we have to work together. If I’m against the occupation in Palestine, I have to be sensitive to these struggles in Columbia. Our struggle is a global one, there will be no success without this view!
Where can you join our struggle concretely? I wish that people who come to Palestine, show fairness and give the palestinian people respect. I wish they try to understand the reality, to be on the line of the justice and against the injustice!
Is there a personal story of resistance you would like to share with us?
As ATG there are many stories. More than 1000 people already came to Palestine. For them this trip was life changing. If solidarity to the palestinian peopleis encreasing, this is kind of the fruit of our work, too. We saw that when the war in Gaza started, there were so many people involved in protests in all over the world, showing solidarity! With actions like this you see that you are not alone, you see that there are many people behind us, who are willing to contribute to peace and justice in Palestine.
If you are interested in the work of the ATG and you would like to read some of their texts or even you are planning to visit the Holy Land, then the following homepages might be very helpful to you.