Israeli Jewish tour guides are discouraged by the Israeli military administration from entering the West Bank to lead tours, so our Jerusalem tour operator (Daat/ARZAWorld Travel) engaged for us a Palestinian company “Beyond Borders Tours” and its founder, Rami Nafez Nazzal, to lead us.
Rami lives in East Jerusalem, carries a U.S. Passport, and is world-traveled due to numerous academic appointments, when he was young, of his distinguished professor parents Drs. Nafez and Laila Nazzal.
He was educated at the Anglican International School in West Jerusalem and later earned degrees in Business Management and Tourism from the University of Utah in 2003. From there Rami moved to Boston where he lived happily for seven years. But when his father told him that it was time for him to return home to East Jerusalem, he did so. Rami explained that when a Palestinian father makes such a “request,” the son complies whether he wants to or not.
When Rami returned to Jerusalem he founded “Beyond Borders Tours.” His facility with English and Arabic has gained him entry into many worlds. He is keenly intelligent, articulate and eloquent, good-humored and affable. His company grew.
Rami is also a journalist and regularly reports for Time Magazine, the New York Times, Reuters, and Der Spiegel on important stories related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His deep knowledge of the reality of Palestinian society enables his readers and those he guides to peer through a raw and authentic lens into the often difficult political and emotional terrain in both Palestine and Israel.
Rami was candid and honest with us, especially about the Palestinian predicament. He shared insights into Palestinian Muslim society, culture and family life and into the political, economic and social cross-currents that define so much of the life for Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank.
When Rami introduced himself to our group he shared his personal story as the son of academic parents. His first positive experience with a Jew wasn’t in Israel. Rather, it came in a close family friendship with the late Rabbi Leonard Beerman of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, who was my own childhood rabbi.
Leonard had told me about his and his wife Joan’s friends, Rami’s father and mother. As a child, Rami remembers spending time in the Los Angeles Beerman home. At the age of ten he first met Rabbi Beerman and couldn’t believe that Leonard was actually a rabbi not only because he didn’t appear Haredi, but because Leonard’s open heart to the aspirations of the Palestinian people, his principles, politics, and values were so unlike that of the Israeli Orthodox rabbis Rami observed in Jerusalem’s Old City.
I shared with Rami that Rabbi Beerman was among my most important rabbinic role models, and though Leonard and I didn’t always agree (e.g., unlike Leonard, I am not a pacifist), I loved and respected him for his principled life and remarkable rabbinic career, and I was touched by his pride in me which he shared so generously in his last few years of life.
Rami Nafez Nazzal is one of the very bright lights that my synagogue leadership tour encountered this past week in Israel and the West Bank. I recommend that anyone traveling to Israel also plan on spending time with Rami. You will not regret doing so. You can reach him through his website at www.beyondborderstours.com.