Sunday, December 25, 2005

On Bethlehem

Both of the following stories are in today's edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Story #1:
In 2002, Israel began building a 25-foot concrete wall around the city, severing it from Jerusalem and the northern West Bank. Today, the streets of Bethlehem are quiet. Once-thriving shops are virtually empty. Only a handful of tourists joins the local population of 30,000 Christian and Muslim Palestinians.
Story #2:
In the first eight months of 2005, 160,000 tourists traveled between the cities. Tourism officials expect that 30,000 of the 80,000 Christian tourists arriving in Israel for Christmas will make the crossing to Bethlehem to visit Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto venerated by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus.

After years of decline, tourism in Israel is on the rise, according to Arthur Frommer.
Most articles about Bethlehem mention the Israeli security barrier between that town and Jerusalem, but they fail to mention why that barrier was built. If it wasn't for terrorism, there would be no barrier. Isn't it probable that the increase in tourism is due to the decrease in violence that can be attributed to the barrier being in place?

Might there be even more tourists if not for acts like this:
A group of Fatah gunmen on Tuesday [Dec. 20] stormed the Bethlehem Municipality building on Manger Square, demanding money and jobs in the Palestinian Authority's security forces. The attackers left the building 90 minutes later after receiving assurances from PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that their demands would be met.

The attack enraged many residents, who accused the PA security forces of failing to impose law and order on the eve of Christmas. Mayor Victor Batarseh and other local leaders expressed outrage at the attack, describing it as a "severe blow" to tourism and the credibility of the PA.