Tourism on stolen land

29. Jan 2015

Danish travel agencies advertise trips to occupied territories as “to Israel”. This is against the Danish Marketing Act, says expert.

According to a new report by Danwatch, seven Danish travel agencies are in breach of the country’s Marketing Act when they advertise their trips to occupied territories as “to Israel”.
The Dead Sea, Bethlehem, and beer breweries in the Golan Heights are not destinations widely associated with military occupation. Nonetheless, they are pieces of the complex puzzle that is the Israel-Palestine conflict and of its long-standing history of human rights violations and war crimes.

A number of tourist destinations in the region are advertised largely as Israeli destinations by the Danish travel companies despite being located on occupied territories.
The agency Tikva Travel writes in their sales material for “Agricultural Travelling Israel” that tourists can “drive to Katzrin, where you can visit the vineyard, dairy farms and apple orchards”. However, it is not made clear to the tourists that they will find themselves in an illegal settlement on the Syrian Golan Heights, beyond Israel’s internationally recognised borders.

In breach of the Danish Marketing Act

According to the General Clause §1 of the Danish Marketing Practices Act, tour operators must “exercise good marketing practices, taking into account consumers, traders and public interests.”
According to Associate Professor in Property and Consumer Law at Aarhus University, Anne-Dorte Bruun Nielsen, the paragraph is one of several prohibitions in the Marketing Act, which the companies are in breach of:
“That of Israel and the occupied territories is a special situation, as it is not a case of domestic political circumstances but of one country occupying another, with all the consequences that follow. . It is documented that both the Danish Government and the UN have a clear position on how one should deal with this reality.
From an ethical standpoint, the travel agencies in question are not handling this properly,” she says and adds:
“This is particularly offensive in the case of those travel agencies which directly and explicitly say they comply with ethical standards and are committed to looking after the local population’s interests. As a consumer, I would feel outright deceived.”

Marketing promotes the Israeli position

During the length of the conflict, Israel has occupied a number of areas, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Palestinian West Bank among others, which the international community does not recognise as under Israeli rule. Therefore, the travel agencies’ marketing can be a problematic production beyond deceptive marketing, according to Associate Professor and expert in International Relations, Ole Wæver:
“A political and moral problem of this incorrect marketing is that the travel companies participate in promoting the Israeli narrative about the conflict, which is contrary to the interpretation of, among other bodies, the UN General Assembly and the Danish parliament”, he states.
“If Israel succeeded in attempts to reframe important aspects of the political and historical reality of the occupation, this could make the occupation and annexation of Palestinian territories invisible and, in the long term, prevent a peaceful solution.”

Settlements and kibbutzim

The travel agencies featured in the report ‘Tourism on stolen land’ organise trips to destinations in the West Bank, which is Israeli occupied territory; the historical site of Qumran, managed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority; Israeli settlements in the Syrian Golan Heights; and also Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which situation is described by the international community as one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the Middle East.

Travel company Unitas describes the settlements to DanWatch as kibbutzim:
“On our individual travel packages, we also offer kibbutz stays, and here I can read from your description that we do not clearly describe that ’this kibbutz is an illegal settlement’. The information will of course be corrected  –  because unfortunately there are not many other accommodation options in some areas other than these kibbutzim”, says Klaus Boe Østergaard from Unitas.

Some of the travel companies which are less discerning in their marketing choices for trips to conflict areas will now change the wording of their material. Tikva Travel answers Danwatch’s request by stating that the agency had not considered the dilemma before, but now wants to rectify some of the travel descriptions:
“Following your mail, we will insert a link to Wikipedia in our mentions of city trips to Jerusalem and round trips, so people can seek more information if they wish. We will also update the description of round trips accordingly and insert a link to the  Wikipedia on of the mention of Katzrin, if necessary with a parenthesis ’(located in the annexed Golan Heights)’ says Mette White Hansen of Tikva Travel to Danwatch.