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Attorney Challenges Israel’s Tourism Ministry Over Palestinian Work Permits

Certified guides from the Bethlehem area of the West Bank are unable to obtain permits to guide tours across the Green Line. Israeli attorney Raanan Carmon calls this “plain discrimination” and “unfair.”

He was surprised to learn that, after extensive training and with no criminal background, the Palestinian guides are unable to visit Jerusalem for even one day.

Carmon told The Media Line that, apart from the recent COVID-19 travel restrictions, Christian tourism is rapidly growing. He thinks it would be good for Christian tourists to have the opportunity to be guided by Christians and Muslims from Bethlehem, and in particular, by these 37 guides, who he says are highly professional and academic men and women.

He interviewed all 37 guides from Bethlehem and came away impressed. They all speak at least two languages, and many speak third and fourth languages, including French, Spanish, Russian, Indonesian, and German.

Carmon said that he does not see any political angle in the guides’ fight for permits. They simply want to work and grow their careers, he said.

Tourists visit the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. (Crystal Dunlap/The Media Line)

One of the guides, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Media Line about the extensive certification process each is required to follow under the Palestinian Authority. After completing three to four years of higher education, another two years of tourism studies are required before taking the licensing test. There are only up to about 150 licensed tour guides in the general category, the source said.

The appeal to allow the Palestinian guides to work in Israel, which was submitted to Israel’s Tourism Ministry, the legal adviser to the Civil Administration, and the District Coordination and Liaison Office, is based on the 1994 Paris Protocol signed by Israel and the PLO, the source explained.

In the Paris Protocol, officially called the Protocol on Economic Relations, the sides agreed to equal access to tourist sites for licensed guides and companies.

Carmon estimates that 50 Palestinian tour guides and 7,000 Israeli guides are permitted to stay with their tour groups through all areas of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Without the proper permit, tour guides must stay on their respective sides of the Green Line. An appeal for more than 50 permits per year for Palestinian guides was denied in June 2020 by Israel’s Tourism Ministry.

The appeal process began months before the first COVID-19 lockdown and continued into the summer of 2020.

Lydia Weitzman, foreign press adviser to the Tourism Ministry, responded to an inquiry from The Media Line saying: “As incoming tourism slowly returns to routine, the Israel Ministry of Tourism is working with the Israel Police and the Israel Defense Forces in order to facilitate the required permits for Palestinian licensed tour guides to guide in Israel. It is expected that this process will be completed within the near future.”

In a letter to Carmon, the ministry cited the decline in tourism during the pandemic as one of the reasons for the denial. The ministry invited him to reapply when the “circumstances change.”

Carmon believes that if the case progresses to Israel’s Supreme Court, the 37 guides will prevail.

Crystal Dunlap is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.