The fundamentalist Islamic Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority is promising $50,000 to dress up Bethlehem, Jesus' traditional birthplace for the Christmas holiday, more than twice the amount spent in previous year.I really take issue with the idea that the separation barrier/wall/fence is what is discouraging tourists from Bethlehem in droves. It’s not the fence but the need for the fence that discourages tourists. Its time for the Palestinian Authority to understand what they term the glorious resistance to the Israeli “occupation” is keeping tourists away.
Yet even the extra cash - if Hamas pays up - may not be enough to bring Christmas cheer to Bethlehem, hit hard by the last six years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. The biblical town is now walled in by Israel's West Bank separation barrier, poverty is deepening and Christians are leaving Bethlehem in droves.
Palestinian Tourism Minister Joudeh Morkos has modest expectations. Last year, only about 2,500 foreign visitors came on Christmas, but he's counting on the usual busloads of Christians from Arab towns in Israel to boost turnout. Before the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, Bethlehem drew more than 90,000 pilgrims a month.
With just two weeks until Christmas, Bethlehem is only sparsely decorated. Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh, a churchgoing Catholic from a leftist party, said Saturday he won't start decorating until he has the money in hand. A few neon stars are nailed to storefronts on the main streets. The only decoration on the Lutheran Christmas Church in a busy market area is spray-painted graffiti below the pointed steeple that reads "Islamic Jihad" - a Muslim militant group.
It really doesn’t matter how holy a religious site may be but what risks one has to assume to visit. If I have to risk kidnapping or sniper attacks; I’d rather just not visit. If you’re a Christian, the Vatican represents better value for your life without the risks.
I’ll be visiting Israel next year with my daughter but I have no intention to go anywhere near the West Bank. It may not keep us safe from terror attacks but why enter into the valley of the belly of the beast needlessly? It’s a shame too, because I would have liked to have gone to Hevron, but if I have to choose between consigning our safety to the Israeli security forces or rely on the good will of the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority’s ability to keep law and order; I vote for the Jews.