Disaster tourism

Rally in Baltimore - May 2, 2015

Rally in Baltimore – May 2, 2015

Today I’m remembering the old Palestinian man in Rafah who chewed me out in 2004.

I was standing at the site in the southern Gaza Strip where a bulldozer, operated by an Israeli soldier, had rolled over a young American woman, Rachel Corrie, not once but twice. She had been standing in front of a Palestinian doctor’s home to protect it from demolition, but died when the driver of the bulldozer ignored her. I was taking pictures and smiling at the young children who gathered around me.

The old Palestinian man spoke rapidly in Arabic and I didn’t understand a word. My driver later paraphrased:

People come to Gaza to see our suffering. They cry big crocodile tears, take lots of pictures, and leave. Nothing changes here. You’re doing the same.

That was 10 years ago — and the catalyst for my commitment to learn and “do something” and not engage in disaster tourism.


Now I’m in Baltimore where Freddie Gray is killed in police custody, the Baltimore State Attorney charges six Baltimore police officers, and the Governor declares a State of Emergency in response to rioting.

National Guard in front of Baltimore City Hall

National Guard in front of Baltimore City Hall

Hundreds (thousands?) of National Guard are mulling all around the Inner Harbor and stationed at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Traffic is stopped as humvees come racing down Pratt Street led by police cars with their sirens on. Helicopters seem to be hovering over head morning, noon and night.


The eyes of the nation and the world are focused on what’s happening here, along with plenty of media from Fox News to the Croatia Public TV, and I’m again taking pictures. With mixed feelings.

The New Black Panthers

The New Black Panthers

Yesterday (May 2, 2015) at the Rally in Baltimore, I had a surreal feeling that it was staged for the picture-taking, the professional and social media, and the gawkers. Was I only a gawker?


I wanted to stand in solidarity with those who are calling for change. I purchased my “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt.

But I want to do more than stand and watch. I want to be part of changing the status quo.

That old Palestinian man in Rafah spoke the truth in 2004. I don’t think Freddie Gray’s family want to see disaster tourists descend on their grief. They want to see change.



Filed under People

4 responses to “Disaster tourism

  1. dwicjan

    Really torn on this Baltimore issue. Yes, a man died while in police custody. Does that mean rioting, burning, looting and harming police officers is justified. Wish I had a magic wand to fix all the wrongs.

  2. I wrote about the same thing here: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/753:disaster-tourism-honest-altruism-or-insensitive-voyeurism#. And I am feeling just the same after returning from Lebanon, where I spent time with both Palestinian and Syrian refugees. One of them told me when I left, “Please don’t be like the others. Come back.” I am taking that very seriously and will be expanding my focus to them, while remaining committed to Gaza.

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