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Religious tourism to Palestine at peak

Streets and avenues near the Church of the Nativity are illuminated with Christmas lights in Bethlehem, West Bank on December 11 2016 [Wisam Hashlamoun / Anadolu Agency]
Streets and avenues near the Church of the Nativity are illuminated with Christmas lights in Bethlehem, West Bank on 11 December 2016 [Wisam Hashlamoun / Anadolu Agency]

Tourists planning to spend Christmas in the holy city of Bethlehem have already booked every room in the city’s hotels, as pilgrims and tourists arrive in occupied Palestine from all over the world.

The Palestinian Tourism Minister, Rola Ma’ay’a, said in an interview with the Anadolu Agency that she expects the total number of tourists visiting Palestine in 2018 to exceed three million. The tourism industry in Palestine has been robustly growing in the last couple of years. In 2017, the growth rate for the first half of the year was 57.8 per cent.

Ma’ay’a said: “Most of the tourists arrive in Palestine for religious tourism owing to the fact that Palestine has many holy sites, both Islamic and Christian.”

Bethlehem receives the biggest share of tourists in Palestine during Christmas season between late November and early January. The minister added that: “Pilgrims heading to the Church of the Nativity should expect to queue for long.”

READ: Italy prepares to host conference for cities twinned with Bethlehem

Tourism to Palestine is, however, hindered by the Israeli occupation, Ma’ay’a stressed, noting that most of the Palestinian archaeology is located in “Area C” of the occupied West Bank, which is under full Israeli civil and military control as per the Oslo Accords. The minister added that many archaeological antiquities have been stolen by Israel.

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is surrounded by the eight-metre high concrete Separation Wall. This is just one of a number of restrictions on movement imposed by the occupation authorities against Palestinians in the West Bank and tourists wishing to visit the area, Ma’ay’a added.

UNESCO lists Hebron’s Old City, the Battir village of the southern West Bank and the Church of Nativity and Pilgrimage Route as world heritage sites.

READ: A Celebration of Palestinian Art & Culture

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