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Palestinians turn a profit on the occupation

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

“Come and see the settlers, 50 shekels from my roof!” This is the offer increasingly made to tourists who visit the divided West Bank city of Hebron. Islam and other Palestinian youths like him are turning occupation into opportunity.

They are self-appointed conflict “tour guides” – a makeshift experience that patterns tours given by groups like the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, which monitors the effects of the occupation. Paying visitors are taken up a dark narrow staircase onto a rooftop. Here, the bullet hole in the water tank or the charred house wall where settlers set fire are pointed out. Downstairs, the tea usually offered with traditional Arabic hospitality comes with a donation box.

It is easy for guides to show the face of the occupation: It lies next door. Hebron is home to more than 500 Jewish religious settlers, protected by the Israeli army and 165,000 Palestinians. The old city is a maze of barriers, closed roads, razor wire, and checkpoints separating the Army-controlled areas from those of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Many locals object to the tours. “That’s bad. It is bad. I don’t like the idea of selling my story,” says Zleikha, who lives on the dividing line. The PA has deemed such tours illegal.

But conflict tourism is too lucrative to give up easily. Ibrahim used to conduct illegal tours. Now he owns a shop and his income has fallen from $700 to $220.

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