News / Middle East

Arab Uprisings Not Hurting Tourism in Holy Land

Catholic pilgrims pray at the entrance of the Grotto at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem (file photo)
Catholic pilgrims pray at the entrance of the Grotto at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem (file photo)
Meredith Buel

The uprisings in Egypt and the Arab world do not seem to be hurting tourism in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.  In fact, in some cases, merchants say the unrest may be driving more visitors to holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank, which have been relatively peaceful in recent years.  

In the past, many tourists visiting the Holy Land from Europe, Russia, Africa and the United States have started their tours in Egypt and then traveled from the Sinai Peninsula to sacred sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But businessmen like Makram al-Arja, who owns the well-known Everest hotel in Beit Jala overlooking Bethlehem, say political unrest in Egypt has led to a sharp increase in tourists heading directly to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

"Now what has happened in the time since the protests started in Egypt, all the people, they have already registered in the hotels in Egypt," said al-Arja. "But they are afraid to stay in Egypt.  From this way they start to move directly to us and to find more rooms and hotels in the Bethlehem area and Jerusalem.

Although the month of February, falling between Christmas and Easter, is generally a low season for tourism in the Holy Land, large groups of pilgrims have been visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is built over the site where tradition says Jesus Christ was born.

Business appears to be brisk at souvenir shops on Manger Square.

Music from a Polish folk singer Eleni Tzoka lures a group of Christian pilgrims from Poland into the Nativity Store, where owner Epiphany Victor Tabash uses a calculator to add up the cost of the keepsakes the tourists buy to take home.

"This is Palestine, you are in Palestine," said Tabash. "Forty-eight plus 30 is 78 dollars."

Father Larry Niese, a Catholic priest, is leading his flock of more than 50 tourists from the United States through the Church of the Nativity.

He says while some members of his congregation were worried about reports of sometimes violent uprisings in the Middle East, everyone decided to proceed with the journey.

"There is a concern, but nobody backed out on coming to the trip because we figured that if it was not going to be safe, the [U.S.] State Department would let us know," said Father Niese.

A short distance away from Bethlehem, the narrow alleys of Jerusalem’s walled Old City are congested with thousands of tourists visiting shops and holy sites.

Abramhi Howsah has owned a souvenir store in the Old City for 40 years and he is concerned that if uprisings in the Arab world continue, tourists may stay away from the region.

"Maybe some people from the West, you understand, from the [United] States or Europe, they are worried to come to the Middle East," said Howsah. "When they hear there is a problem in one place in the Middle East, so I think they are worried to come here.  But, I think there is nothing to worry about."

Back in Bethlehem, where the Muslim call to prayer wafts over the mostly Christian tourists in Manger Square, the atmosphere is peaceful and calm.

U.S. pilgrim Peggy Barljen says she had some concerns about safety, but they evaporated during her trip to Bethlehem.

"We were very happy we could come to Palestine and see the Church of the Nativity because it is so beautiful," said Barljen.

So at least for now, the sometimes violent uprisings in the Arab world do not appear to be having an impact on tourism in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In a normal year, the tourist season starts to build toward the Easter holiday in April, and merchants hope that what some are calling an awakening in the Arab world will not stop pilgrims from coming to the Holy Land.

 

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs