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Israel’s Counterterrorism Tour: Brilliant Marketing Scheme or Grim Exploitation?

Today we read about two strange phenomena in foreign travel – “slum tourism” and “counter-terrorism tourism.” Slum tourism, as it’s called in the Times, gives do-gooders and adventure-minded tourists the chance to visit impoverished neighborhoods in places like Brazil and India, offering them a more “real” perspective on life in other countries. "Counter-terrorism tours," however, as described by Slate, are aimed at police officers who come to Israel to see the country’s strategies for fighting terrorists firsthand. While both of these travel trends raise ethical questions, they also evoke a reluctant sense of admiration at the business brains behind the tours, and their ability to capitalize on taboo subjects with a “when life gives you lemons” mentality. There’s something about the counter-terrorism tours that seems uniquely Israeli: Who else would see the business potential in even the grimmest circumstances? From a detached perspective, it’s difficult to deny the marketing genius behind these tours. As the article in Slate succinctly notes, “What can a country do when its tourist industry is eclipsed by terrorism? The answer, it seems, is to market terrorism to tourists.” But the ethical questions still remain, shedding light on the issues at the core of both tours. They share the same basic premise: Outsiders viewing frightening situations in a brief and controlled way, then returning to their safe, comfortable lives. While slum tourism at least claims to offer some kind of improvement or humanitarian aid in exchange for its presence in the neighborhoods, counter-terrorism tours exploit a culture of violence without asking any of the obvious questions. How successful are Israel’s counter-terrorism efforts, really? What are the consequences of prolonged violence? What does this mean for people like the citizens of Sderot, for whom violence is an ever-present aspect of their lives? Ultimately, ignoring these questions trivializes the plights of those affected by terrorism and war, and turns their suffering into a commodity.

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