Why was the PA hosting American Kabbalah tourists in Nablus?

Israel offers special treatment and protection for foreign tourists who suit its agenda while Palestinians face severe restrictions of movement at countless checkpoints. 

Magnus Johansson Maan Images

The message cut through the narrow passageways and abundant staircases of Nablus with remarkable speed on 11 August: a huge group of tourists was on their way to the city, and the governate was in desperate need of local, English-speaking tour guides to lead these invitees throughout Nablus. In exchange for 100 shekels (about $30), each guide was expected to lead his or her group through the Ottoman-era Old City as well as to religious sites such as Joseph’s Tomb and Bier Yacob church — and, most importantly, to refrain from political discussion of any kind throughout the day.

Official guests of the Palestinian Authority, the 1,200 students of the Kabbalah International Center in Los Angeles — wearing matching white t-shirts bearing Arabic, English, or Hebrew messages of peace — streamed into Nablus throughout the day and ended their visit in the downtown area where the visitors took part in the inaugural launch of “Peace and Freedom Day.” As part of this new Nablusi celebration, governor Jibril al-Bakri, his deputy Anan al-Ateera, and a number of other community officials spoke about the need for peace and statehood and then led the crowd in singing peace-related songs. While the Nablus governate was the official coordinator of the day, several of the roughly 100 Palestinian participants, including tour guides, organizers and volunteers, were quick to suggest that the invitation for the Jewish mysticism group came at the behest of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

The themes of peace and freedom were discussed without reference to their political context and were simply described as abstract concepts that Palestinians should have the right to enjoy. Ironically, the organizers’ emphasis that guides not discuss political issues with their groups was, in and of itself, an affront to Palestinian freedom. Further complicating the matter was the logistical impossibility of leading people through the Old City, which was a bastion of the resistance movement and bore a heavy civilian burden during both intifadas, without referencing politics.

Indeed, the physical appearance of Nablus’ Old City remains visibly altered as the result of years of Israeli invasions. Even today, the 1,000-year-old buildings of the Old City still bear the signs of invasions and the military’s devastation. In all likelihood, this blanket ban on discussing what really happens in Nablus under Israeli occupation sought to disguise the politics of the visiting Kabbalists themselves.

Thinly-veiled “gestures of peace and unity”

Browsing the event page for the Kabbalah International Center’s current trip is particularly telling. Labeled “Israel 2011 with Rav and Karen Berg,” their itinerary not only designates the West Bank cities of Hebron and Nablus as “Israeli,” but also refers to Nablus as “Shechem,” the Canaanite and biblical name most often appropriated by the Zionist movement to indicate that the city is part of the ancient territory of Samaria rather than modern Palestine. The group heralded its time in Nablus as “a day hosted by the Palestinian Authority in Shechem in a gesture of peace and unity,” and these themes were made the focus of the day, but one cannot help but wonder: if politics were made taboo and the group itself makes use of Zionist language, then whose idea of peace and unity was on the table?

A recent Ma’an News Agency article on the event, as well as governate representatives, referred to the participants as “international activists” attending a “peace rally,” but upon further inquiry, both claims appear highly suspect (“Hundreds of international activists at Nablus peace rally,” 12 August 2011).

While the official message of the visit may well have been “peace and freedom,” the cooperation between the PA and Israeli forces to ensure a sufficient security detail for the conspicuous caravan of 25 luxury buses — as well as the PA’s blatant disregard for the Kabbalist group’s own politics — emphasizes the PA’s continued normalization with Israel rather than any display of international unity with Palestinians. As so few Palestinians were actually present, aside from bemused onlookers, it is difficult to see with whom these internationals had hoped to express their solidarity.

The PA’s continued cooperation with Israel

More than anything, the “Peace and Freedom Day” visit raises many questions. Why would a group of 1,200 “activists” with a pre-scheduled visit to the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron, both of which are hotbeds of political activism against Israeli occupation and settler-colonialism, gain unfettered access to the occupied West Bank while international human rights activists, academics, professionals and even casual tourists are often forced to conceal any trips to the other side of Israel’s wall for fear of detention or deportation?

Most recently, the Israeli government denied entry to hundreds of “flytilla” activists at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv simply because they declared their true destination was the occupied West Bank. In contrast, these student-guests of the PA in “Shechem” were not only welcomed with open arms by Israeli and Palestinian officials alike, they were provided with a full security escort by Palestinian security forces during their visit to Palestinian Authority-administered areas of the West Bank. Even though the group visited Hebron and Nablus, it viewed both as part of Israel, which appears to have made all the difference for navigating the Israeli government’s often arbitrary entrance requirements.

The Israeli government and its forces have actively helped, rather than impeded, the group’s visit, casting further doubt on the motivations of Nablus’ Kabbalist guests. This is in sharp contrast to its typical treatment of Palestinian, international and Israeli activists, who are more likely to face checkpoints, detention, tear gas or worse. It stands to reason that despite the declarations of the PA, these students were not activists at all — especially not in the eyes of the Israeli government.

Furthermore, at a time when the PA is facing an intense financial crisis, shouldering the costs of such a seemingly absurd event raises further questions about the PA’s governance decisions. A little more than a month before its impending United Nations statehood declaration, the PA has proven once again that it does not have the interests of the average Palestinian at heart. In fact, the PA has shown that it values continued cooperation with Israel and the international community more than it does peace or freedom for the Palestinian people.

Michelle Gyeney is researching the policy incoherence of development practice in Palestine and writes from the West Bank.




As a long-time student of the Kabbalah Centre and a participant in the peace rally at Nablus, I'd like to make clear that our devotion to peace is sincere and rooted in our spiritual commitments. The Centre has long sponsored Palestinian-Israeli dialogue, and has run camps for children from both communities for years. Our director, Karen Berg, recently delivered a joint keynote at a peace conference with Jehan Sadat, widow of the late Egyptian president.

In Nablus, we talked with the locals and walked the streets, respecting Ramadan and the sensibilities of our hosts. Contrary to the article's assertion, our guides did discuss politics, specifically the upcoming vote on Palestinian statehood in the UN -- something that was mentioned repeatedly at the rally. (The Kabbalah Centre takes no political position on statehood for Palestine.)

We use terms like Shechem because it connects to our spiritual heritage. Our intention is not to assert a Jewish claim to Nablus, merely to remind our participants of the region's ancient significance.

In 2010, our group made a midnight visit to Joseph's tomb in Nablus under heavy IDF guard and a mandatory local curfew. We never saw the community in which this patriarch rests; many of us felt uncomfortable with what had been a heavy-handed entry into the city. Hence our eagerness to come in this year as guests, to listen and dialogue. And we did far more of both than this article implies.

Speaking only for myself, and not on behalf of the Centre, I am immensely grateful to the people of Nablus and our hosts. Far from being "bemused onlookers", the many Palestinians we met last Thursday were welcoming, kind, engaged and deeply interested. The curiosity and respect was mutual and sincere. And mutual sympathy can and must be part of the way forward.


It's all well and good that your centre preaches peace and all but it also re-enforced the need for all "tourist groups" visiting the west bank to be in the good graces of the Occupation force, the IDF.
Why shouldn't someone who wishes to visit tourist spots in the occupied west bank declare that openly without having to prove that they do not support Palestinian independence?
By utilising the oppressive system in place you have already taken a side in the political conflict and try as you might to tell yourself that "we have no political position on Palestinian statehood" you have already supported the status-quo of denying Palestinians statehood.


Kudos to the PA for welcoming the 1,200 American tourists. This sort of cooperation bodes well for peace in the middle east. Keep in mind the arrival of tourists is an economic for everybody - Palistinians and Israelis alike. We need more shared tourism. Rather than been exploitative, as suggested by this article, hiring local tour guides should be understood for its positive impact.


I am a Palestinian citizen from Nablus and was at downtown on Thursday when the 25 buses arrived with tourists. Few things I would like to mention:

  1. The people of Nablus were surprised by the visit but were very happy. The people of Nablus always welcome people from all over the world whether they were Jewish, Christians, Muslims, Hindu…etc.
  2. The tourist sang a song for peace at downtown while raising all world flags as well as Palestinian flags which was wonderful for us.
  3. Tourist enjoyed a day with Palestinians at Nablus so there was a dialogue and interaction; and trust me Palestinians and tourists talked about everything including politics.
  4. My friend was a guide with the group (I believe he told me that there were more than 50 Palestinian guides joined the tourists) and told me also that he was happy and got more than 100 shekels.
  5. In Nablus we have a university which ranks # 1 in Palestine and #5 in the Middle East, literarily there are thousands of students speak multiple languages including English, so I don’t think there is a problem to find locals speak English, French, German and even Chinese.
  6. So, according to what I have seen and heard I would suggest the kabalah Students and others to come back to Nablus at anytime. Nablus always welcomes its visitors.

Thank you


عندما تكون ذا اصل يهودي بعض النظر عن اية فوارق مع اسرائيل فان اسرائيل بالمجمل تعمل على استقطاب هذا الاصل ، فلس غريب انت تسمح اسرائيل لهؤلاء المجموعة بالدخول والتمتع في داخلها وليس هناك ادنى شك بان هؤلاء لن يفتوهوا باي عبارة تحمل ذا طابع سياسي او ناقد لدولة الاحتلال ، واسرائيل تحاول مع كل فوج من السياح بعض النظر عن طبيعة دياناتهم او بلدانهم او ذا اصول عرقية مخلتفة بان تضمن ان يحصل هؤلاء السياح على القدر الكافي من الوعي بان اسرائيل ذات سيادة على اراضيها بما فيها منطقة يهودا والسامرة وعلى قدر اكبر من المعلومات التي تشير الى ان اسرائيل بلد سياحي بكل ما تحمله السياحة من معنى سواء بالمعنى الديني او الاقتصادي او الاستجمامي ، فلذلك تحرص كل الحرص على ان يكون مع اي وفد سياحي دليل من داخل اسرائيل لتعبئة الوفد بالمعلومات التي تريدها اسرائيل وتكون في اشد الحرص عندما ينتقل الوفد الى مناطق السلطة الفلسطينية التي مازالت تعبرها منطقة يهودا والسامرة في عدم تلقي اي معلومات مضللة او منددة بسياسة الاحتلال لذلك تقتصر الامور فقط في مناطق دينية مثل بيت ساحور اوالامور المتعلقة بالكنيسة ، وممكن اريحا لكن تكون هذة الزيارة خاطفة ومتخصرة ، فلا يسطيع الوفد من التكلم مع الناس العاديين او حتى من رؤية ما يحدث على ارض الواقع .
ومع زيارة هذا الوفد الى مدينة نابلس فلا يسع السلطة الفلسطينية الا ان تتقبل هذا الوفد بكل رحابة صدر وبإيعاز من اسرائيل على استقبال هذا الوفد وتقديم ما هو مضمون لسلامة هذا الوفد سواء كان عن السلامة الامنية او عن السلامة الفكرية وهنا يتجلى الامر بان السلطة الفلسطينة لا تعبء في المواطن الفلسطيني الذي اثقلته هموم الحياه اليومية بعد تخطيط مسبق من قبل اسرائيل ودول العالم فتراه الان لا يستطيع ان يفكر بما هو ابعد من مقدار انفه ، فلا عجب ان لا ترى هناك اي مؤاشرات على حتى التنديد بما هو حاصل او بما تقوم به السطلة الفلسطينية .


لست ادري ، لكن اعلم كل العلم ان استعمال الكلمات العبرية هي ذات طابع يعكس فكرة ان هذة المنطقة هي ذات طابع اسرائيلي وليس فلسطيني مما يعني في النهاية طمس للهوية الفلسطينية وكذلك تغيب للتارخ المشهود لهذة المنطقة ، ومع استعمال هذة الكلمات لا يسع السلطة او الفلسطيني الا ان يتقبل ما يكتب او يستعمل لحالة الضعف التي تعتريه سواء كان هذا الضعف في وسائل الاعلام او في المؤسسات التي يحاول فياض جاهدا ان يريها النور او في المؤسسات التعليمية وغيرها كثير ....
بعض الدلائل
# اذا كنت من مناهضي دولة الاحتلال او بسياستها فانت ممنوع من الدوخل بصفتك مصدر خطر وازعاج على تلك الدولة الوديعة .
# السلطة اضعف واوهن من بيت العنكبوت ، تتخبط في ظلماتها لاتعرف اين المخرج الذي لازالت تبحث عنه منذ مايقارب عقدين من الزمن .
# اضطهاد المواطن الفلسطيني سواء كان قبل اسرائيل او من قبل السطلة جعل المواطن يرضى بكل شيء ويتقبل كل ما يحصل معه بدم بارد وكأن هذا فقط يحصل في السودان او في جزر القمر او في المريخ،فلا عجب ان نراه صامتا او بالاحرى" ماكل خرة وساكت" .


I found the Palestinian people to be warm, friendly, loving and dignified. They were wonderful hosts and our mission was not political. It was spiritual. To share Light, Friendship, Blessings and unconditional sharing with our Muslim brothers. Kabbalah teaches that we are all children of Abraham -- brothers and sisters -- and until I learn to put the needs of others ahead of my own, there cannot be peace. This is what Kabbalah teaches me to strive to do each day. We believe all pain and suffering is caused by spiritual darkness, and Kabbalah brings the Light of the one Creator (not politics) to a situation with the hope that will remove the darkness in people's lives. Our hope is to remove darkness and pain from the lives of our Palestinian brothers and all people in the world as we are all one body of humanity. The only enemy is my own ego, and selfishness. If the whole world realized that each diverse group of people are really one body of humanity, the same way the human body contains diverse and different organs like hearts, livers and kidneys, but all working together in unity, there would be peace all over the world. Our only wish is unity for all people. Finally, my children during the visit and Palestinian children were waving and blowing kisses to one another. Perhaps we should allow the children to run the world. :)


Politics will never bring solutions. Politics is about self interest, never about helping the other side. Spirituality and Kabbalah however, are about putting the needs, interests and desires of the other side ahead of your own interests. Its about caring unconditionally. Until we start caring about our neighbors and our "enemies" interest over are own, there can never be true peace. The change must come from people. Individual people. Not governments. Governments are about politics and self interest. Spiritual Israelites (not Jews or Israelites, but the people of the book) and spiritual Muslims have the power to embrace one another and care for one another. When we reach a critical mass of individual people sharing, and caring and rising above politics and instead looking at the heart and soul of each individual, then the world will change. We have all been tricked, Christians, Israelites and Muslims by the ego, which Kabbalah explains is the negative force called "The Satan." Satan refers to self interest. We don't realize that we are all brothers and sisters and he is the only enemy. Kabbalah teaches that my own ego and selfishness IS what Kabbalah calls "the Satan." If i remove my ego and start caring and sharing, then i ignite Light and a spark of Divinity inside my neighbor. That is the path to peace and that was the purpose of our visit to Nablus. No politics. Only spiritual sharing and allowing the Light of the One Creator to bless and shine upon all people, regardless of religion. The way the wonderful Palestinian people interacted with the Kabbalah students is proof that the people can unite if we rise above politics and start treating people with the dignity, freedom and love that they deserve.


Their is nothing ancient or mystical or indeed Jewish about how Kabalah has entered Nablus. They used the backup of Israeli tanks, airforce, and army without asking the population to invite them. Since this first visit caused some of these so called peaceniks some grief they came with a bit of cash the second time and paid off the Palestinian authority to help them hold a "peace rally" in the town adorned with peace shirts and peace songs. Yep, because of the Israeli occupation and closure, the residents can use whatever cash they can get, but it appears these type of visitors show how out of tune they are with the real requirements of peace and justice.


I am a student of Kabbalah and was present at the peace march. Once we passed the main checkpoint into Nablus, there was not one Israeli soldier (or tanks or airfoce) accompanying us. The only security we had was provided by the PA and they were ALL palestinian soldiers. Our guide was Palestinian and worked in a bank. He definitely made statements that were political in nature, so the above assertions are plain misinformed. We were greeted by the governor and vice governor of Nablus who delivered a warm welcome from Mahmoud Abbas. There was a huge banner welcoming kabbalah students to Nablus, and we were given Palestinian flags to wave. It is truely a shame that some of the commenters on this article are taking the intent and spirit of this visit for peace, unity and human dignity in the exact opposite way it was intended. If you open your mind to people who are coming to visit you with love in the heart towards other human beings, this could begin the process that could bring about a peaceful, dignified and prosperous existance for all in the middle east.


As one of the participants in the visit to Nablus I was very moved by the 2 way dialogue that took place between (us) the visitors and our very gracious and dignified hosts (the residents of Nablus).
This event was a very powerful seed to "the inevitable world peace" that will eventually come about when enough people all over the world will become open to relate to one another as equal parts of the 7.5 billion people family that we all belong to.
We are all ... the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve and that truly makes everyone around us "our brother and sister".
It was a true pleasure to get a chance to interact with a part of my family that I would have never met, if not for the relentless efforts of the PA and the visionary directors of the Kabbalah Centre.