“Palestinians Invade the Lebanon”: The Political Economy of Mandate-Era Tourism

By Andrea L. Stanton
Submitted to Session P2019 (Crossing Over: Negotiating Levantine Borders During the Mandate and After, 2009 Annual Meeting
The Levant;
This paper examines the evolution of Palestinian tourism to Lebanon during the Mandate period, from a ‘mixed’ practice to one largely limited to Arab Palestinians. It describes how this tourism was integrated into governmental, business, and nationalist discourses of state relations, economic impact, and identity. Further, it analyzes the impact of this integration and its impact on broader developments occurring within and between Lebanon and Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s.

By the time that the English-language, pro-Zionist Palestine Post began publishing in December 1932, tourism from Palestine to Lebanon had been deeply integrated into the political, social, and economic workings of the two Mandate states. A “Council for the Development of Travel” gave subventions to Lebanese towns and villages to make infrastructural improvements to encourage tourism, and Lebanese and Palestinian travel agents advertised package trips to Aley, Bhamdoun, and other summer resort areas in the Palestine Post and other newspapers. These investments seem to indicate that Lebanon’s physical beauty brought economic benefits to its private and public sector alike.

Yet as the mandate wore on, economic became increasingly intertwined with political concerns, on both sides of the national border, because so many Palestinian tourists were Jewish immigrants. By 1935, the Zionist press and community leaders had begun echoing the calls from enterprising businessmen in Egypt and elsewhere around the region to create new resorts at home. Recognizing Lebanon’s success, they hoped to develop the “Judean hills” and other spots for tourism so that “Palestinians will not have to go across the border”. Keeping Jewish tourism domestic would benefit the country economically, but it would also, they hoped, encourage Palestinian Jews to develop a stronger national affiliation with Palestine’s land.

By 1938, and perhaps in recognition of the fact that trans-border tourism continued, commentators suggested another approach: that Palestinian Jews make use of their economic clout in Lebanon by pressing for warmer relations and an end to Lebanon’s support of the Arab boycott. World War II’s intervention hastened what might have been a natural decline: between political tensions with Vichy Lebanon, petrol restrictions, and travel pass requirements, trans-border tourism from all communities suffered. But by 1945, the “Social and Personal” columns alone make clear that the only Palestinians traveling to Lebanon for holidays were Arab.