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. These figures are misleading however since almost all of the travelers to the West Bank come only 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."
In 2013 Palestinian Authority Tourism minister Rula Ma'ay'ahas 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.
The Palestinian Authority and Israeli tourism ministries work together on tourism in the Palestinian territories in a Joint Committee. Israel administrates 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.
Entry to the occupied Palestinian territories is not difficult and only a valid international passport is required. Entry to Israel, however, can be problematic for Muslims, Arabs, or peace activists and this includes American citizens. These groups of tourists are subject to delay, interrogation, and rarely, denial of entry.
Tours to the occupied Palestinian territories are quite diverse although the greatest number, about 67%, is by religious Christians-even greater than Jewish visitors. Most come from North America and Europe and are concerned with the major religious and tourist sites but, spend very little time or money in Palestine. The territories do have significant Christian history and contain active Palestinian Christians. Commercial religious tours usually have flexibility to arrange meetings with actual Palestinian Christians and learn more about of the region and the people of the "Holy Land" if this service is requested. Many would-be pilgrims limit their time in this historic region because of exaggerated security concerns. 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." Recent evidence of the safety and hospitality of this contested region are the availability of many walking tours in the West Bank and a celebrity chef's visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza followed by his television show on the foods of the region. Comprehensive current information on traditional Palestine tourism, events, and accommodations is available online.
A much smaller but growing section of tourist groups are faith based religious pilgrims who visit the classical holy sites but expand their trips to learn and witness 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. More mainline religious organizations are including this type of experience with their traditional visits to the Holy Land including 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.
This historic area of the world with on-going controversy is also the destination of international peace activists from all possible backgrounds who travel to learn the facts on the ground regarding the political situation through close interaction with ordinary citizens and Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.Obviously these trips are not for the average tourist or the faint of heart although curious college students can join gray-haired clergy and academics here. All sides of the issues are presented fully with visits to orthodox settlers, students, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, and United Nations Officials. Time could be shared with an Israeli Kibbutz in the morning and a Palestinian refugee camp in the afternoon. Religious and historical visits are secondary to the primary goals to observe, learn the facts, and advocate for peace and justice. These tours may be one day only or a more comprehensive program of two weeks or more. Detailed information on many alternative tour possibilities is available.
- 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. Over 80% of tourists visiting the Palestinian territories go to Bethlehem, mostly for brief visits butto get the most out of your visit, it is best to stay overnight-accommodation and food are both cheaper here than what you get in Jerusalem" Tourism is expected to increase since being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July of 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 a 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
- Walking Tours - 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.
The tourist industry in the West Bank collapsed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, but has 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.
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 in principle for foreign tourism, which could provide a basis for the economy of Gaza. 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.
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 has been haphazard and unplanned. 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 are also increasingly imposing strict rules on dress and behaviour at beaches. There are some upmarket hotels such as Al Deira, which opened in 2000, though luxuries like the soaps and shampoos are smuggled from Egypt due to the Israeli blockade. Guests other than journalists and diplomats are 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.|