Monday, December 23, 2013

  • Monday, December 23, 2013
  • Elder of Ziyon
From AFP:
After a decade of unrest, Bethlehem has seen a surge in visits to Christ's traditional birthplace, raising hopes of a tourism bonanza in the West Bank town despite Israel's separation barrier.

The Palestinian territories' top tourist destination is a victim of the barrier which cuts off the town from nearby Jerusalem, just 10 kilometres (six miles) away.

Israel began work on its sprawling barrier -- dubbed the "apartheid wall" by Palestinians -- in 2002 at the height of the second intifada, or uprising.

It defends the construction as a crucial protective measure, pointing to a drop in attacks inside Israel as proof of its success.

Palestinian tourism minister Rola Maayah sees the barrier as a key obstacle to encouraging visitors to the town.

"Bethlehem, one of our main tourist attractions is circled by 27 settlements. As a result, we are surrounded by high walls, fences and menacing checkpoints which put tourists off," Maayah said.

"We could develop tourism, attract people from all over the world, but it's not possible because of the Israeli occupation," she added.
Does anyone notice a complete disconnect between the first paragraph and the other ones quoted here?
Between 2011 and 2012, more than two million people visited the town. The record crowds brought much-needed revenues after a tough decade for tourism during the second intifada.

"There was a significant jump in tourism in Palestine in 2012 with an 18 percent rise in the number of visitors," Maayah said. A little over half of these were foreigners.
So tourism to Bethlehem has reached record numbers - but the key parts of the article are about how Bethlehem cannot attract tourists.

The Washington Post has a similar article:
Tourist visits are up this year, to about 1.6 million visitors, Palestinians officials say. Most visitors come by charter bus, however, and linger just long enough to peer into the grotto at the Church of the Nativity where Jesus is said to have been born. Few stop to buy a string of rosary beads, or enjoy a plate of hummus. Almost all spend the night at hotels inside Israel, which competes with Bethlehem for tourism dollars.

“We don’t benefit from the buying power of these tourists,” said Fayrouz Khoury, deputy director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Yesterday COGAT spokesperson Guy Inbar told me that Bethlehem hotels are booked solid this week - you cannot find a room in Bethlehem if you tried.

Obviously tourists can reach Bethlehem any time they want, separation barrier or not. Articles like these routinely uncritically quote anti-Israel officials without pointing out the obvious - the facts belie the accusations and Israel is not doing anything to stop religious tourists from visiting and staying in Bethlehem.

(h/t Anne, Joel B)

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