Interview with Husni Abdel Wahed

Ambassador of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to the Kingdom of Spain

Husni Abdel Wahed         

Ambassador of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to the Kingdom of Spain

Palestine, meeting point of three continents, increases its tourism offer

Husni Abdel Wahed was born 61 years ago in a refugee camp in Jericho. He holds a diploma in Social Sciences from the Academy of Gornabania (Bulgaria) and a degree in Journalism from the University of Havana. Advisor to the Education Department of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). 

His political career began in the Europe department of the General Directorate for Palestinians in the Diaspora of the Palestinian Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. He then became head of the Latin America department of the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. 

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) or simply the Palestinian Authority, whose official name is the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is an autonomous administrative organisation that has governed the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank on a transitional basis since 1994. In January 2013, it officially adopted the name State of Palestine.

To gain a satisfactory understanding of these concepts, diplomat Husni Abdel Wahed gave Tourism and Society Think Tank a wide-ranging interview with correspondent Carmen Chamorro García.

Palestine is a country with an unparalleled history, with a rich cultural and historical heritage. Where is the focus of your institution's work to position your country for tourism?

Historically, tourism has been the most important economic sector, along with agriculture and the service sector, until the Israeli occupation. There are different types of tourism: historical, religious and gastronomic. It is an open place, favoured by the surrounding area as a summer resort due to its climate. It is small but variable in its tourist offer.

The constant historical discoveries and religious tourism are two great tourist resources. In these two fields, what are your main objectives?

We are interested in the development of tourism, even if it comes up against the obstacles of political reality. The most attractive is religious tourism, given that Palestine is a holy place and the cradle of three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. International relations have allowed us to develop tourism, and we have made significant progress. The Bethlehem 2000 Foundation programme enabled us to celebrate the new millennium, involving many sectors of the Palestinian economy, where business support has been instrumental. We intend to use the energy of the market to strengthen social projects. We have made progress, as I say, but it can always be set back by military developments.

What are the main milestones for domestic tourism in the short and medium term?

Improving both local and foreign supply requires investment in infrastructure and professional training. We are working on this. We participate in international tourism fairs, where we disseminate what we have in the best conditions. We are interested in reaching both religious and secular audiences. 

The immediate future and the great challenge is to increase hotel capacity in Palestine; to expand the offer outside Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which are the most visited cities. Our desire is to reach a peaceful solution that requires the will of the occupying force and the efforts of the international community, which is currently looking to other conflicts. 

Palestine has undergone major changes. What are the main lines of work of your country's tourism policy?

Palestine is a Muslim, Christian and Jewish country. It is the cradle of the three religions. Throughout history, all three have coexisted, but with the occupation, this situation has undergone major changes. We have an attractive and varied offer from a cultural, gastronomic, natural and coastal point of view.... and we want to increase it towards the cities of Ramla, Nablus (Mount Gerizim) and Hebron (Cave of the Patriarchs, Ibrahim Mosque).

What can Palestine contribute to the tourism offer that can be found in the geographical area where cultures, history, religions, etc. come together?

Indeed, Palestine is a meeting place of the ancient world, where Africa, Europe and Asia converge. Throughout our history, it has been the site of conquests and invasions by the powers of each era, in order to guarantee the passage of their troops and trade caravans. 

They left their cultural traces in the ethnic composition of our people. Palestine absorbs citizens of African, European and Asian origin and we are all Palestinians along with the descendants of the Arab Kannadaeans. But if there is consensus, there is segregation and exclusion, and this phenomenon is unfortunately reproduced in Palestine.

Let's talk about the national tourism industry, where does it stand and what is your institution's relationship with tourism professionals and entrepreneurs?

It is a country, (despite being subject to political tensions and conflicts), whose tourism destination has great potential. We have a very high cultural and educational level. We have excellent professionals in all fields. 

I am very proud to be a pioneer in this area at Third World and regional level. The highest levels of education and culture in the third world, as I said. This facilitates high business qualifications to compete with anyone. Foreign direct investment amounts to a total of 3.116 billion Usd in December 2022, compared to 2.997 billion Usd at the same date of the previous year.

Let's talk about the digitalisation of the tourism industry. Do you think the national industry is ready to make the technological leap?

We are at an optimal moment, but subject to the problems of the Israeli occupation. Hopefully we can continue at this level, without forgetting that every time we manage to make progress, some unexpected event occurs, such as the recent attack on Jenin. 

Tourism requires stability and security, both of which are a product of the Israeli occupation and constant attempt to usurp the cultural values of the Palestinian people. It is unfortunate that tourists are unable to access tourist attractions in Palestine easily and without fear. Both the private and public sectors remain vigilant in attracting more and more tourists.

Let's talk about the citizens of your country; many tourists who have visited Palestine speak of great kindness and respect, how would you define the citizen in general?

Very sociable, generous and hospitable. These are characteristics that are part of our culture and tradition. Palestinians stand out for being welcoming. This is the impression that everyone who comes to Palestine has.

Peace in tourism is very important. Do you consider Palestine a safe destination, and why?

Security is a relative concept. To date, there have been no incidents involving tourists. There have been no mishaps and we try to take care of them, to provide them with all the security and comfort we can.

Regarding the gastronomy of a millenary country like Palestine, what flavours or experiences are not to be missed?

Our gastronomy is common to our brotherly peoples. The crescent countries (Syrians, Jordanians, Palestinians and Lebanese) share a taste for the same products, especially lamb, vegetables and olive oil. 

Cooking styles vary according to the region. The style of cooking and the ingredients used depend on the climate and location of the particular region, as well as on traditions.  

Rice and Kibbeh variations are common in the Galilee. 

The West Bank is mainly dedicated to heavier meals and uses pita bread, rice and lamb meat.

On the coasts, fish, other seafood, and lentils are very typical. The cuisine of Gaza is a variation on the cuisine of the Levant.

Finally, and outside the traditional tourist circuits, what do you consider essential to visit or do in Palestine?

Each place has its own charm. It is a journey full of mystery in cultural, natural and archaeological richness. Hebron, Ramla, Nabron and the Dead Sea are essential places to visit. Now the focus is shifting to these new destinations.

When would you like a visit, a fam press, or better yet, when could we hold an International Tourism and Society Think Tank meeting in your country?

We are willing and welcome to do so at your convenience. I recommend that we hold a meeting in the autumn months. It could also be in April or May 2024. Jericho is the hottest place in the world, but Madrid is hotter than Jericho.

Author: Carmen Chamorro

Directive of the CIP/ACPE/Diploma in International Relations by the SEI/ member of ADESYD

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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