July 20, 2024

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Isreal turns towns raided by Hamas into tourist sites

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For celebrities, politicians, influencers and others visiting Israel, no trip is complete without a visit to towns and villages near the border with Gaza.

This is a new kind of tourism that has emerged in the country in the months since a raid by Palestinian fighters on October 7.

Jerry Seinfeld, Elon Musk, Michael Douglas, former presidential candidate Nikki Haley, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are a few who have visited, at times posing for photos in front of burned-out homes.

For visiting dignitaries and VIPs, trips to Israel have long included stops at famous religious or cultural sites, such as the Western Wall, Masada, the Sea of Galilee or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.

The visits to the battered kibbutzim and border towns are the latest way to rebuild wobbly support with allies abroad.

The visits are also meant to revive the tourism sector hit hard by the war in Gaza. According to figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, around 180,000 tourists visited Israel in Q4 of 2023, down from 930,000 tourists in Q4 of 2022, indicating an 81.5% decline.

Hamas fighters killed around 1,200 people as they rampaged through southern Israel, and kidnapped around 250.

Health officials in Gaza say more than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war that followed.

Many of the kibbutzim and towns that experienced the worst destruction are closed to the public, accessible only via organized tours like those for dignitaries or celebrities, or by invitation from a resident.

Other parts of southern Israel are open to the public and encouraging visitors – both foreigners and Israelis from elsewhere.

The city of Sderot runs “resilience tours,” connecting groups with survivors who share their memories of Oct. 7 or highlight cultural or culinary offerings.

In contrast to the hardest-hit kibbutzim like Nir Oz, most of Sderot’s residents have returned.

South of Sderot, the site of the Nova music festival has become a pilgrimage site for hundreds of visitors per day.

Photos of victims are arranged around what had been the main stage.

Loved ones have left candles, sculptures, photos and other mementos.

In a eucalyptus grove near the site, an organization called “Triumph of the Spirit” offers virtual reality tours of three kibbutzim.

The tours are currently only open to soldiers on official educational visits, but an English version will be available in the coming weeks for international tourists.

Tourism accounts for about 3% of Israel’s economy and provides direct jobs to around 200,000 people. Fears of a regional escalation have dampened hopes of a revival for the sector in 2024.

By Africanews 

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