Intrepid Guide Takes You to Territories

Fred Schlomka Gives Tourists Rare Glimpse of Palestinian Life

Not in Kansas Anymore: Tour guide Fred Schlomka takes tourists to refugee camps and West Bank towns to expose a rare glimpse of Palestinian life under occupation.
sunita staneslow
Not in Kansas Anymore: Tour guide Fred Schlomka takes tourists to refugee camps and West Bank towns to expose a rare glimpse of Palestinian life under occupation.

By William Sutcliffe

Published December 16, 2011, issue of December 23, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

In 2000, after stints in Israel and America, Fred, Sunita and the couple’s children finally made aliyah. Schlomka’s work in Israel soon took on a political bent. For two years he was the operations manager of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and for another two years he was behind a project attempting to build mixed Arab/Jewish communities in Israel. When his work in nongovernmental organizations led to him conducting tours of the West Bank for activists, journalists and diplomats, he decided to set up a company offering this service on a more formal basis, giving tourists the opportunity to see places that other Israeli tour companies actively discouraged them from visiting. “You have to see it to understand it,” he said.

What becomes clear when you are in the hands of one of Schlomka’s guides is that just to see what is happening in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, an outsider needs expert assistance. Negotiating checkpoints and segregated roads is complex enough, but even harder to penetrate is the cosmetic veneer placed around the structures of occupation, which make it easy for Israelis not to see what is happening under their noses. Land banks, tree planting, carefully routed roads and even aesthetic stone cladding mean that with an Israeli number plate, you can drive to settlements deep inside the West Bank without feeling that you have left the suburban sprawl of the major Israeli cities. The separation barrier, that 25-foot edifice of concrete that is a daily feature of life for so many Palestinians, is all but invisible.

Only under the guidance of someone like Schlomka is one likely to see both sides of the Occupied Territory, and to see firsthand the astonishing contrasts that abide so close together. I spent one night with the Feldstein family in the comfortable and prosperous settlement of Efrat, being told that it’s not a problem living close to the separation barrier because “we had walls like that along the freeway in New Jersey, and we called them sound barriers.” Two days later, I was in the Palestinian village of Beit Ummar, where an army roadblock had sealed the entrance to the village, a funeral had been tear gassed the previous day and, one night earlier in the week, settler youths had raided the town, burning three cars.

A week in the hands of Green Olive Tours provides a degree of insight into the occupation that no amount of reading could ever provide. For those with less time to spare, any one of the company’s scheduled half-day tours will provide a fascinating antidote to the usual narrative. Schlomka may not be a popular man at the Israeli Tourism Ministry, but he is adamant that the only way to understand is to see, and as long as he is taking people into the West Bank, he is doing good work. Schlomka’s passion for understanding and cross-cultural communication is indeed hard to resist; coming from a man with his blighted past, one could go so far as to call it inspirational.

William Sutcliffe is the author of five novels, most recently “Whatever Makes You Happy” (2008, Bloomsbury USA)


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.