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Monday Dec. 27, 2010 4:29 PM (EST+7)
Politics mars record year for Holy Land tourism

Read more: Bethlehem, Christmas, shepherd, checkpoint, barrier, wall, livelyhood, tourism

RAMALLAH, 27 December (JMCC) - Record levels of tourists gathered to enjoy the Christmas lights surrounding the manger of Bethlehem’s nativity scene this Christmas. Despite the increase in visitors, the city’s tourism industry remains marred by the political situation say locals and tour guides.

If you are a Christian from Nigeria you want to see the place where Jesus was born, says Ajiboye Bola excitedly. All you were reading in the Bible, you see that it was real.

It was very important to come here for historical purposes, for our culture, says Paul Shackner from Florida.

Israel's tourism ministry says 2010 has been a record year.

It expects 3.4 million tourists, including 2.4 million Christians, to have visited the country by the end of December. According to officials, half the Christians arriving in Israel also travel to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli Deputy Director General of Tourism, Raphael Ben Hur, insists his ministry doesn't do politics and stresses the economic benefits of co-operation with the Palestinian Authority.

Israel is still monopolising tourism for its benefits and putting a lot of pressure on our side says Khaloud Daibes Palestinian tourism minister.

We don't have any dispute when it comes to the pilgrims in the Holy Land because this is a bridge of peace, he says.

With all due respect to the politicians, I want to tell you it's very difficult to divide the Holy Land. You can't say to a guest, 'Come to Jerusalem and don't come to Bethlehem'.

However, Israel's security concerns mean that most tourists must enter the Palestinian city of Bethlehem from Jerusalem, crossing an Israeli checkpoint and passing the eight-metre high separation wall which surrounds the town.

Some two million visitors are expected to make the trip to the West Bank in 2010, and Palestinian officials say the role of politics should not be downplayed.

There are a lot of issues which are very rooted in the political conflict, says Palestinian tourism minister, Khaloud Daibes.

The occupation cannot be beautified. Israel is still monopolising tourism for its benefits and putting a lot of pressure on our side.

Read more at the BBC…






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