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Palestine tourism poster, 1936

Tourism in the Palestinian territories refers to tourism in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 2010, 4.6 million people visited the Palestinian territories, compared to 2.6 million in 2009. Of that number, 2.2 million were foreign tourists while 2.7 million were domestic.[1] This number of international visits is misleading, however, since most tourists come for only a few hours or as part of a day trip itinerary. In the last quarter of 2012 over 150,000 guests stayed in West Bank hotels; 40% were European and 9% were from the United States and Canada.[2] Major travel guides write that "the West Bank is not the easiest place in which to travel but the effort is richly rewarded."[3]

The Palestinian Authority and Israeli tourism ministries have attempted to work together on tourism in the Palestinian territories in a Joint Committee.[4] Recent cooperation to share access to foreign tourists has not proven successful in Palestine for many reasons relating to the occupation.[5] Israel controls the movement of tourists into the West Bank.[6] Foreign tourism has been restricted to East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the August 2013 indefinite closing of the Rafah crossing located between Egypt and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip.[7] There is essentially no tourist flow to Gaza since 2005 because of the on-going Israeli military land, air, and sea blockade.

In 2013 Palestinian Authority Tourism minister Rula Ma'ay'a stated that her government aims to encourage international visits to Palestine, but the occupation is the main factor preventing the tourism sector from becoming a major income source to Palestinians.[8] There are no visa conditions imposed on foreign nationals other than those imposed by the visa policy of Israel. Access to Jerusalem and the West Bank is controlled by the Government of Israel and access to Gaza is controlled by Hamas.Entry to the occupied Palestinian territories requires only a valid international passport but entry to Israel may be denied for Palestinians or Arabic visitors including American citizens[9]

History[edit]

The tourist industry in the West Bank collapsed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, but recovered by the 1990s, especially after the Oslo Accords.[10] The Second Intifada (2000-2006), resulted in a decline of 90% in the tourism industry, but since it has partially recovered, and in 2010, 4.6 million people visited the Palestinian territories, including 2.2 million from abroad[1]

Tourism focuses on historical and biblical sites in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho,[10] and the economy of the latter is particularly dependent on tourism. In 2007 there were over 300,000 guests at Palestinian hotels, half in East Jerusalem.[11] NGOs including Open Bethlehem and the Alternative Tourism Group promote tourism to the West Bank.[6]

Tourism between Egypt and Gaza was active before the 1967 war, and Gaza was a resort with hotel casinos, but few tourists visited after the war.[12] A recession in Israel in the mid-80s again reduced tourism in Gaza to almost none.[13]

Before the second intifada, Gaza could be reached by tourists by taking a private taxi via the Erez crossing point from Israel, or via a flight to Gaza International Airport.There has been no airline use of this airport since 2002 following military damage. A small runway exists near the UNRWA Khan Younis refugee camp but this air strip is not serviceable due to the blockade. Gaza City attractions included the Palestine Square bazaar and the beach area, which had hotels, restaurants, and a fishing market.[14] Israeli Arabs and Jews visited beaches in Gaza, and there were popular nightclubs.[15]

Today, about 67% of tours to the occupied Palestinian territories are by religious Christians, mostly from North America and Europe. These modern day pilgrims visit major religious and tourist sites related to Biblical history. Many traditional religious tours are now arranging meetings with Palestinian Christians for personal interaction. The U.S. State Dept. points out that "Over three million foreign citizens, including hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens, safely visit Israel and the West Bank each year for study, tourism, and business."[16] There are many walking tours in the West Bank,[17] and a celebrity chef's recent visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza was followed by a show devoted to the local cuisine.[18]

A growing number of tourist groups visit the classical holy sites but expand their trips to learn about Palestinian culture, Biblical history, and social issues. Different views are presented through personal visits with Palestinians, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish citizens plus and international peace/religious organizations. Religious tours that offer this type of experience include the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program[19] and Friends of Sabeel North America.[20] Travelers are encouraged to return and make their church communities aware of all sides of the issues by sharing their personal experiences. A service component may be included in these tours such as assisting in the fall olive harvest[21] or working with church-based neutral observers to monitor and record events as part of peace-keeping efforts between Israeli settlers and local Palestinians.[22]

Major sites[edit]

Christmas Eve 2006 in Manger Square in Bethlehem.
Old City of Nablus
  • Bethlehem -second only to Jerusalem in importance as a tourist destination, it is the birthplace of Jesus as described in the Gospels of the New Testament.Although Christians once had been 85% of the population in 1947, their numbers have declined to about 40% by 2005. Bethlehem also has significance as a Jewish religious site since King David was born here and the Matriarch Rachael is buried in Bethlehem. Tourism is Bethlehem's main industry and there are over 30 hotels. One travel guide points out that "to get the most out of your visit it's best to stay overnight-accommodation and food are both cheaper here than what you'll get in Jerusalem"[3] In the first 8 months of 2012 about 700,000 international tourists visited the city.[23][24] Bethlehem was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2012.
  • Jericho - The Biblical city is believed to be one of the oldest in the world. With its proximity to the Dead Sea, Jericho is the most popular destination among Palestinian tourists.[7] Tourism increased by nearly 42.3% in the first three quarters of 2008 as crossing between areas under PA control and Israel became less restricted.[27]
  • Hebron - A holy city in Judaism and Islamic tradition, and the place where the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs is located. According to the tradition, this is the burial place of the great patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah). It was also the capital of the Kingdom of Israel before King David moved it to Jerusalem.
  • Nablus - Nablus is considered the commercial capital of the West Bank. It is known for its old city and its furniture trade.
  • Ramallah - Administrative and cultural capital of the West Bank, Ramallah is known for its religiously relaxed atmosphere and the cafes along its main streets.
  • Jenin - 4000-year-old city in the north West Bank

Walking tours[edit]

In 2012, a Dutch diplomat published a book of 25 walking tours in the West Bank. A group of walkers founded by the diplomat then numbered over 200 and organized walks nearly every weekend.[28]

Zimmers and biblical attractions[edit]

Israeli settlers in the West Bank run vacation cabins called "zimmers" with special amenities for Orthodox Jews.[29] A biblical tourist attraction in Alon, Genesis Land,[30] is visited by Jews, Christians and Muslims, who take part in building Bible-era tents, herding sheep and goats, and drawing water from a well. One of the zimmers is called Abraham's Tent.[31]

Gaza[edit]

Gaza park, 2012

Despite the fact that tourism in Gaza has not been possible since about 2005, the land has great potential when political stability, peace, and removal of the military blockade occur.

The climate of the Gaza Strip (an average temperature of 26 °C in August) and its 75 km of coastline make it ideal for foreign tourism, which could provide a basis for the economy of Gaza.[32]

A sea view from the Al Deira hotel in 2009

The current situation remains dire in the face of strict Israeli blockade of the land, sea, and air plus the inability of the Gazans to repair their water and sewage treatment facilities.[33] The Palestinian National Authority identified the Jabalya/Beit Lahya, Gaza City, Nezarim/Wadi Gazi, and Rafah/Khan Yunis beach areas as having potential for the development of beach tourism in 2001.[34] Following the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 there were expectations that tourism in Gaza could be developed.[15][35][36] In 2010 Hamas' vice police imposed rules on dress and behavior at beaches.[37] A few Upmarket hotels such as Al Deira opened in 2000, but required luxuries like soap and shampoo needed to be smuggled from Egypt due to the Israeli blockade. Guests were rare but some journalists enjoyed their visits [38]

In 2010 Gaza experienced a brief building boom in the construction of for-profit recreational facilities,[39][40] Some of the new amusement parks and restaurants are Hamas business ventures.[39][41] Among the many new leisure facilities in Gaza are the Crazy Water Park, the Al-Bustan resort (Gaza), and the Bisan City tourist village. Among the many new restaurants are the Roots Club, the Faisal Equestrian Club and the new restaurant at the Gaza Museum of Archaeology which also features a high-end boutique hotel.[42]

The 2014 summary and statistics from the United Nations humanitarian agency, UNRWA, offers a detailed assessment of Gaza: "The tightened blockade, imposed following the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, has decimated lives and livelihoods, resulting in the impoverishment and de-development of a highly skilled and well-educated society. Despite adjustments made to the blockade by the Government of Israel in June 2010, restrictions on imports and exports continue to severely hamper recovery and reconstruction."[43]

Israeli resorts[edit]

Before the Israeli evacuation of Gaza, resorts in Israeli settlements included the Palm Beach Hotel in Neve Dekalim.[44] It closed in 2002 due to the second intifada.[45]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b M'aan (26 September 2011). "PCBS: Marked increase in West Bank tourism in 2010". M'aan. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  2. ^ http://www.travel-impact-newswire.com/2013/03/europeans-dominate-visitor-arrivals-to-palestine-in-2012/#story3
  3. ^ a b Israel and the Palestinian Territories. p254. Lonely Planet Publications. 2012
  4. ^ Enz, Cathy A. (2009). Hospitality Strategic Management: Concepts and Cases (2 ed.). John Wiley and Sons. p. 273. ISBN 0-470-08359-X. 
  5. ^ http://english.pnn.ps/index.php/national/3396-destination-palestine-tourisms-denied-potential Dec. 18, 2012 Retrieved March 7,2014accessed
  6. ^ a b Kaufman, David; Marisa S. Katz (16 April 2006). "In the West Bank, Politics and Tourism Remain Bound Together Inextricably". New York Times. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  7. ^ a b http://www.timesofisrael.com/egypt-shutters-gaza-border-crossing-indefinitely/
  8. ^ http://english.wafa.ps/index.php?action=detail&id=22622
  9. ^ http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov/border-crossings.html
  10. ^ a b "Palestinian autonomous areas". Europa World Year Book 2. Taylor & Francis Group. 2004. p. 3327. 
  11. ^ a b Ferziger, Jonathan (15 May 2008). "Palestinians Pitch Holy Land Holidays as Rockets Sail". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  12. ^ UPI (9 February 1969). "Feeling Of Resort Now Gone From Gaza Strip". Palm Beach Daily News. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  13. ^ Abed, George T. (1988). The Palestinian economy: studies in development under prolonged occupation. Routledge. p. 113. ISBN 0-415-00471-3. 
  14. ^ Winter, Dave (1999). "Gaza Strip". Israel handbook: with the Palestinian Authority areas. Footprint Travel Guides. ISBN 1-900949-48-2. 
  15. ^ a b Peraino, Kevin (26 September 2005). "On The Beach". Newsweek. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  16. ^ U.S. Dept. of State(June 2013) International Travel Information: Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_6010.html
  17. ^ Szepesi, Stefan(2012) Walking Palestine- 25 Journeys into the West Bank. Interlink Books. ISBN 978-1-56656-860-9
  18. ^ Anthony Bourdain :Parts Unknown. Season 2 episode 1, CNN Sept. 15, 2013 http://edition.cnn.com/video/shows/anthony-bourdain-parts-unknown/season-2/jerusalem/index.html
  19. ^ Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. www.pcusa.org/mosaicofpeace
  20. ^ Friends of Sabeel-North America. http://www.fosna.org/content/conferences-and-trips
  21. ^ http://www.ifpb.org/ Interfaith Peace-Builders
  22. ^ Christian Peacemaker Teams. http://www.cpt.org/participate/delegation
  23. ^ http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/portals/_pcbs/PressRelease/Press_En_TourWD2012E.pdf
  24. ^ Mitnick, Joshua (26 December 2008). "Calm brings record tourism to Bethlehem". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  25. ^ a b c d Kaufman, David; Katz, Marisa S. (April 16, 2006). "In the West Bank, Politics and Tourism Remain Bound Together Inextricably". The New York Times. Retrieved July 4, 2010. 
  26. ^ a b c Thomas, Amelia; Kohn, Michael; Raphael, Miriam; Raz, Dan Savery (2010). Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-74104-456-0. 
  27. ^ Bethlehem visitor numbers soar in 2008 says Israel, ENI News
  28. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (19 March 2012). "Hills, olive groves … and a ferris wheel: hikers find the unexpected in Palestine". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  29. ^ Eldad, Karni (21 April 2010). "Settlers set up West Bank tourism ventures". Haaretz. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  30. ^ Aisenberg, Lydia (31 July 2008). "Visiting the Patriarchs". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  31. ^ Israel Settlers set up West Bank tourism ventures
  32. ^ Cohen, Saul B. (1994). Clive H. Schofield, Richard N. Schofield, ed. The Middle East and North Africa. Gaza viability. Routledge. pp. 121–2. ISBN 0-415-08839-9. 
  33. ^ http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/5D4CBD90BC8A8D4F85257C30005F790D
  34. ^ Ministry of Environmental Affairs, ed. (December 2001). Assessment of land based pollution sources. Palestinian National Authority. 
  35. ^ Lazaroff, Tovah (7 August 2005). "Dishing up dreams on the Gaza beach". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 5 July 2010. [dead link]
  36. ^ McGreal, Chris (3 May 2005). "Gaza dreams of life after the Israelis: Fate of abandoned settler homes undecided as Palestinians plan tourist paradise". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  37. ^ Heyer, Hazel (9 July 2009). "Forbidden love on Gaza beach". eTurboNews. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  38. ^ McGirk, Tim (1 July 2009). "The Gaza Strip's Diamond in the Rough". Time. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  39. ^ a b "As the Israeli blockade eases, Gaza goes shopping", Donald Macintyre, 26 July 2010, The Independent.
  40. ^ "New Gaza Leisure Projects Focus on Fun Not Hardship" August 2, 2010, Reuters, New York Times.
  41. ^ [1]"Hamas commercial ventures thrive in Gaza's besieged economy," Mai Yaghi, Agence France Presse (AFP), July 26, 2010, Daily Star.
  42. ^ "Al-Mathaf a Proud Tribute to Gaza's Past and Future," Sami Abdel-Shafi, August 2010, This Week in Palestine.
  43. ^ http://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/gaza-strip
  44. ^ Greenberg, Joel (18 December 1994). "The Palm Beach Hotel: Another of Gaza's Many Anomalies". New York Times. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  45. ^ Mitnick, Joshua (24 June 2005). "The Last Holdouts?". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 

External links[edit]

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