- Itineraries in Conflict: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Political Lives of Tourism
Itineraries in Conflict stands out as a superb, original study that addresses aspects of Israeli cultural experience and practice rarely examined by scholars while offering some challenging, thought-provoking conclusions. Drawing on fieldwork spanning a decade, cultural anthropologist Rebecca Stein seeks to invert common understandings of the territorial dimensions of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reveal how geopolitics and the tensions within the Zionist project are embedded in everyday practices of tourism, travel, leisure, and consumption.
In a series of readable, well-crafted chapters, Stein layers a recounting of contemporary developments and telling first-person ethnographic vignettes with capsules of historical background that contextualize the action while revealing the underlying tensions that define what is being said and left unsaid. The text is framed by the rise and decline of the Oslo peace process (1993–2000) and explores how shifts in Israel's diplomatic and security relations redefined the terms of Israeli leisure practices. Stein builds her case inductively by reading everyday details, activities, and speech to identify the terms of what she calls "national intelligibility," which refers to protocols of recognition that regulate and filter perceptions and specify what subjects can be recognized. In short, she argues that only when the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan helped normalize Israel's position within the Arab world did Jewish Israelis begin to recognize, consume, and "desire" places, cultural tourist experiences, and foods associated with Israel's own (Palestinian) Arab community. At the same time, Stein is critical of the very limited and contingent nature of the protocols of national intelligibility that only recognized de-contextualized and seemingly apolitical experiences that functioned to shore up rather than challenge what Stein views as aspects of Zionist nationalist mythology.
Chapter 1 recounts how Israeli tourism was transformed by the rise of what Shimon Peres dubbed the "New Middle East" and the Israel-Jordan treaty that permitted Israelis to freely visit Jordan. Stein argues that the mainstream Israeli press related the experiences of Jewish Israelis visiting Arab locales in terms of "first contact" narratives emphasizing notions of a geographic and cultural divide between a homogenous Israeli nation-state and the Arab world at a moment of increasing anxiety about more open borders. Illustrating her point with historical photos, Stein observes that such narratives required ignoring and suppressing historical traces of Yishuv-era Jewish travel to Arab [End Page 160] lands and the cultural ties Israel has with these places though its own Arab Palestinians and Jews of Arab origin.
Chapters 2 and 3 consider the mid-1990s rise of Jewish Israeli interest in "ethnic" tourism within the Palestinian towns and villages of the Galilee. She views the practice as representing "a recalibration of the terms of [Palestinian] symbolic inclusion within the [Israeli] nation-state" (p. 46). Noting that state officials who promoted ethnic tourism and most Israelis drawn to it viewed themselves as enacting peace and coexistence, Stein highlights its limits, as "[m]ost Jewish Israeli clients sought Arab culture stripped of recognizable Palestinian histories and sentiments" (p. 48). More critically Stein interlaces her ethnographic account of Israeli tourists, tourism planners, and government officials with historical and contextualizing details about the Palestinian locales and communities visited. Stein argues that the experience of ethnic tourism naturalized the rural, isolated, and underdeveloped characteristics of these communities, which can be understood as, in part, legacies of previous Israeli state policies of neglect, repression, and dispossession that the new era of peaceful coexistence sought to bury. What I found particularly fascinating in Stein's account is how efforts to present more "authentic" tourist experiences—consisting of home-cooked meals, private musical performances, and picturesque village landscapes—only functioned to enhance this effect. They helped associate Palestinian spaces with "interiority" and worked to "fix Palestinians in space" where they seem naturally rooted, thus mollifying Jewish Israeli fears about the accommodation required for coexistence.
Chapter 4 provides a contrast by exploring the simultaneous proliferation and popularity of...