Creating new perspectives since 2009

Scratching the surface of the 'City of Peace'

December 19, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Bethlehem is waiting with baited breath for the promised influx of Christmas tourists. The city’s economy is dependent on tourism for up to 70% of its income yet this year’s Israeli attacks on Gaza and wider political turmoil in the Middle East have hit the industry hard.

In the week before Christmas, tourists are beginning to arrive in the city but the streets are far from busy with international visitors. The majority of those who can be seen are in large groups with Israeli tour guides.

Over recent years Israeli tour guides are again bringing groups in to the city. The Palestinian Authority hoped this would bring a reciprocal allowance from Israel to let Palestinian tour guides from the West Bank take groups inside Jerusalem although this hope has proved to be misplaced. As young, mainly female Israeli tour guides take large groups in to the Church of the Nativity, local Palestinian guides stand outside complaining of their regular work being ‘stolen’ by Israeli agencies. Palestinian businessmen are also saying the Israeli guides take tourists in to the church before whisking them back on to their buses and away from the city so little if any benefit is felt by the Palestinian economy.

Away from the church, daily life goes on under occupation. Few tourists will visit the rest of the Bethlehem district and learn about today’s realities for the nearly 200,000 Palestinians living in the area.

According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), only 13% of land in the Bethlehem district is today under full or even partial control of the Palestinian Authority. 35 Israeli colonies – including both ‘settlements’ and ‘settlement outposts’ – are built on Bethlehem’s land, and 64 square kilometres have been annexed by the Apartheid Wall.

Bethlehem aspires to live up to its label as the ‘City of Peace’ – but today, both peace and justice are denied in this microcosm of a wider Israeli colonial control that dominates life across all areas of Palestine.

[widgetkit id=506]