The fall-out from the Hamas-Israel war in Gaza extends to the West Bank, where Christmas in Bethlehem normally would be packed with visitors. It is all but empty this year.
Bethlehem is just five miles south of Jerusalem. In the past it has been easy for visitors to travel between the two cities. Not this year.
According to the travel trade publication Travel and Tour World, hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops in Bethlehem are all but vacant this year, and some have closed entirely.
The lack of tourism also is likely the same in Nazareth, two hours north of Bethlehem, also in the West Bank, close to the Israeli city of Haifa.
Joey Canavati, owner of the Bethlehem’s Alexander Hotel, said that they have no guests.
This is the worst Christmas ever, he said, with no Christmas tree, no joy, no Christmas spirit. His family has lived and worked in Bethlehem for four generations.
Tourists and pilgrims simply have deserted the birthplace of Jesus – and not just this year – the magazine reports cancellations for next year also.
Bethlehem is heavily reliant for income and jobs on visitors from all over the world who come to see the Church of the Nativity.
Souvenir shops around the city’s Manger Square, are quiet and almost empty, and many are shuttered.
It is a large paved space in front of the Church of the Nativity that usually serves as a focal point for Christmas celebrations.
Personal Notes of Visits to Bethlehem & Nazareth
I have visited both cities in the last few years – Bethlehem and Nazareth – and was impressed by the ecumenical spirit in both.
However, I can’t tell you if this was genuine by the taxi drivers, tour guides, souvenir shop owners and hotel front desks, or just good business sense.
Signs everywhere in both cities were in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
Shops sold Christian, Muslim and Jewish souvenirs.
Many merchants were fluent beyond Arabic and Hebrew, including English, German, French and Spanish, reflecting their most important tourist trade.
I was also impressed by the respect everybody showed in revered Christian heritage sites such as the Church of the Nativity, including non-Christians like me, a Jewish American who lost family in the Holocaust.
Let’s all hope there is peace on earth and goodwill to men, and that tourism returns to these two world heritage cities in the Mideast, important for both their historic and religious significance.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and author of guidebooks and smartphone apps – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter currently serves as President of the International Motor Press Assn. (IMPA), a former Board Member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and a current member of the North American Travel Journalists Assn. (NATJA) and the North American Snowsports Journalists Assn. (NASJA).
Contact me at email@example.com.
Copyright (C) Evelyn Kanter