Project Tiyul-Rihla (“Trip” in Hebrew and Arabic) is a joint initiative that brings Israelis and Palestinians together to learn about each other. We take our participants on educational tours to sites of historical and cultural importance—alternating between areas under Israeli and Palestinian authority. We strongly believe that in order to fully understand the present political situation and to begin to think about changing the future, Israelis and Palestinians first need to learn about the past and the history of the other.
With the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000 and the eruption of the Second Intifada, Israeli and Palestinian societies began growing further apart. Many new physical barriers (walls, fences, check points, the requirement of entry permits) as well as ideological barriers (problematic education, incitement, distorted media coverage, anti-normalization trends) further inhibited contact between them. The long conflict and failed peace talks weakened the peace movement and led many to become skeptical or indifferent about the prospect of peace.
By now, Israelis and Palestinians have become so estranged that neither do they understand the history, culture and incentives of the other, nor do they understand that they themselves are being misunderstood. When the two sides do meet, dialogue is usually stunted by the generic discourse of blame and guilt, threat and victimhood. Often times as well, even when they think they agree Israelis and Palestinians do not realize that the terms they use may not carry the same weight or significance for the other side. These typical conversations about the conflict rarely address the deeper context behind it thus rendering many discussions about peace premature, if not misleading and counterproductive.
We aim to reintroduce Palestinians and Israelis to each other on a deeper level than most encounters offer by teaching each side the history of the other. In order to really understand a person, what they believe in and what motivates them, you have to first understand where they come from and how their history affects their personal narrative. Since our groups are mixed with Israeli and Palestinian participants, we all as a group learn history together—this way, Palestinian participants are around to correct a misconception that an Israeli may have, and vice versa.
Over the course of a multi-day trip, we take a group of Israelis and Palestinians to explore the land and visit important historical and modern sites. The destinations of our trips alternate between areas under Israeli and Palestinian authority. Each day, we visit at least one site of Jewish, Muslim and Arab importance. The tours touch upon history, heritage, and narrative. While our trip is apolitical, the sites are chosen to encourage conversation and thus we allocate substantial time for group discussion. We also encourage participants to continue these conversations during their free time—on the bus, in the hotel, or out at dinner.
Why we are unique
While there are many programs that regularly take Israelis and/or foreigners to the Palestinian territories, and occasionally Palestinians into Israel, we are not aware of any program that aims to expose, and somewhat rectify, fundamental gaps in understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. Our trips focus on understanding history and offer the missing educational component that is necessary in fostering a more informed and balanced dialogue.
Since we deliberately seek to avoid politics and instead focus on education, history and site seeing, we appeal to a much wider range of people than is usually the case with similar programs. Many of our participants are not typical ‘dialogue’ participants and the variety of political views and professional backgrounds represented in the group enriches the encounter for everyone and allow better samples of our respective societies to familiarize themselves with one another.