Bethlehem tourism officials accuse Israel of stealing tourists


Palestinian tourism officials said that by offering their groups day trips to the celebrated city of Jesus’ birth, Israeli tour operators are robbing their Palestinian counterparts of tourists who would spend a couple of nights in Bethlehem.

Yes, that is what we call capitalism. If you, meaning the Palestinian tour guides, did not use the opportunity to trash Israel and Jews, maybe you would get more business—just sayin!

The Palestinian Hotel Association accused Israel of preventing tourists from staying in the West Bank city by taking them on short excursions there instead rather than allowing them to book hotels and stay longer. This undermines their businesses, Palestinian hotel owners said.

But let’s be honest. Bethlehem is not the Jewish dominated town of David that it once was. It is not even the Arab-Christian dominated city of just a few decades ago. One of the tragedies of allowing the PLO to rule the West Bank, has been the exodus of Arab Christians from Bethlehem.

In 1950 the population was 86% Christian. Today it is under 10%! Imagine Vatican city’s Catholic population dwindling to under 10% because they are ruled by Muslims?That’s the situation in Bethlehem. Why would a Christian pilgrim want to spend the night there?

“It was very fast, but it was enough,” said a Brazilian woman before heading back to Jerusalem where the family would stay the night.

Less than one third of the annual three million tourists to Bethlehem spend a night there. Shop owners are also suffering. The organized tours don’t allow enough time for tourists to wander the city streets and visit the markets near the Church of the Nativity.

“It is not that far away, they just have to cross the square,” one shop owner lamented.

If the holidays don’t produce enough revenue from tourism, Palestinians hope Bethlehem’s famed street art can. World renowned graffiti artist, Banksy, just presented a new mural across from his hotel in keeping with the holidays. The “Scar of Bethlehem” shows a manger scene juxtaposed against damaged concrete blocks.

Bansky’s provocative art has become iconic around the world and a major draw in Bethlehem where he has depicted several controversial scenes on the concrete security barrier. In the West Bank it has served to attract an estimated 250,000 people to his establishment — the Walled Off Hotel — in the two years since it opened.

One of his famous pieces portrays Joseph and Miriam (Mary) unable to get into Bethlehem because of the security fence (which has all but ended suicide bombings in Israel!). As dumb as it sounds, there is some truth. He trying to connect it to the Palestinian plight—but of course, they were Jews, not Palestinians. Israeli Jews are forbidden to visit Bethlehem. I can’t go!  Joseph and Miriam would be excluded, not because of Israeli checkpoints, but because of their Jewishness!

Israel erected the fence in order to prevent terrorists from crossing through during the second intifada. Palestinians and their proponents, however, have labeled it an apartheid wall. Of course, the only reason it is there, is to prevent terrorism, and it has been amazingly affective.

This article originally appeared on Messiah’s Mandate and re-posted with permission.