Tourism in the Palestinian territories
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. Most come for 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. Major travel guides write recently that "the West Bank is not the easiest place in which to travel but the effort is richly rewarded."
The Palestinian Authority and Israeli tourism ministries have attempted to work together on tourism in the Palestinian territories in a Joint Committee. Recent cooperation to share access to foreign tourists has not proven successful in Palestine for many reasons relating to the occupation.Israel controls the movement of tourists into the West Bank. Foreign tourism is largely restricted to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, following the August 2013 indefinite closing of the Rafah crossing located between Egypt and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip.. There is essentially no tourist flow to Gaza since 2005 because of the on-going Israeli military land 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.Entry to the occupied Palestinian territories requires a valid international passport
The tourist industry in the West Bank collapsed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, but recovered by the 1990s, especially after the Oslo Accords. The Second Intifada (2000-2006), resulted in a decline of 90% in the tourism industry, but since it has fully recovered, and in 2010, 4.6 million people visited the Palestinian territories, including 2.2 million from abroad
Tourism focuses on historical and biblical sites in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho, 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.NGOs including Open Bethlehem and the Alternative Tourism Group promote tourism to the West Bank.
Tourism between Egypt and Gaza was active before 1967, and Gaza was a resort with hotel casinos, but few tourists visited after the war. A recession in Israel in the mid-80s again reduced tourism in Gaza to almost none.
Before the second intifada, Gaza could be reached by tourists by taking a private taxi via the Erez crossing point, or via a flight to Gaza International Airport. Gaza City had few attractions aside from the Palestine Square bazaar and the beach area, which had hotels, restaurants, and a fishing market. Israeli Arabs visited beaches in Gaza, and there were popular nightclubs.
Today, about 67% of tours to the occupied Palestinian territories are by religious Christians, mostly from North America and Europe. They visit major religious and tourist sites related to Christian history. Commercial religious tours sometimes arrange meetings with Palestinian Christians. The U.S.Department of State urges Americans to maintain caution and avoid participating in street protests but also 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." There are many walking tours in the West Bank, and a celebrity chef's visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza was followed by a show devoted to the local cuisine.
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, and international peace/religious groups, including Christian, Muslim, and Jewish citizens. Religious organizations that offer this type of experience include the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and Friends of Sabeel North America. 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 or working with church-based neutral observers to monitor and record events as part of peace-keeping efforts between Israeli settlers and local Palestinians.
- 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. In the first 8 months of 2012 about 700,000 international tourists visited the city. Bethlehem was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2012.
- Church of the Nativity - A church built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a popular attraction sacred to both Christians and Muslims. 60,000 Christian pilgrims visited the Church of the Nativity during Christmas 2007,
- Shepherd's Field - Just outside of Beit Sahour, the field is said to be were Jesus's birth was announced to a group of shepherds.
- Manger Square - A city square in the center of Bethlehem that takes its name from the manger where Jesus was born.
- Solomon's Pools - A prominent site in the al-Khader area, named after King Solomon.
- Salesian Cremisan Monastery - A winery as well as an active Christian convent in the suburb of Beit Jala.
- 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. 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.
- 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
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. Hijazi Travel is your gate to discover Palestine on foot and offers you a first hand experience and a rare opportunity to go beyond the news headlines and stereotypes. We offer a platform where cultures and people meet creating more understanding, helping to build bridges leading to peace.
Zimmers and biblical attractions
Israeli settlers in the West Bank run vacation cabins called "zimmers" with special amenities for Orthodox Jews. A biblical tourist attraction in Alon, Genesis Land, 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.
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.
In 2001, the Palestinian Ministry of Environmental Affairs said that the beaches in Gaza were too polluted with sewage for safe beach tourism and that beach-side construction was haphazard and unplanned.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. 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. Following the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 there were expectations that tourism in Gaza could be developed. Hamas' vice police have imposed strict rules on dress and behaviour at beaches. Upmarket hotels such as Al Deira opened in 2000, with luxuries like soap and shampoo smuggled from Egypt due to the Israeli blockade. Guests other than journalists and diplomats were rare.
In 2010 Gaza experienced a building boom in the construction of for-profit recreational facilities, Some of the new amusement parks and restaurants are Hamas business ventures. 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.
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|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Palestinian Territories.|