Christmas is approaching and pilgrims have been undeterred from visiting the narrow streets of Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus. They visit against a backdrop of protests that have broken out over the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
In the West Bank town revered as Jesus’s birthplace, hotels are at full capacity for Christmas despite simmering Israeli-Palestinian tensions over President Donald Trump’s labeling of nearby Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“We have not witnessed any cancellation since the Trump announcement and are 100 percent booked for Christmas Eve,” said Palestinian Tourism Ministry public relations director Jeries Qumsieh.
Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement on Jerusalem outraged the Palestinians, who claim the sacred city’s eastern sector — home to sites holy to the three monotheistic religions — for a future capital. It sparked demonstrations across the broader Muslim world as well.
The United Nations General Assembly is to vote Thursday on a resolution critical of the step after the U.S. vetoed a similar one in the Security Council earlier this week.
The Palestinian Authority is anticipating a record 2.7 million tourists this year, a jump from 2.2 million in 2016.
Qumsieh attributed the rise to active marketing in Islamic countries like Indonesia and Turkey as well as cultural draws such as street artist Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, which faces the 26-foot-high concrete security barrier, topped with barbed wire, that Israel built along and inside the West Bank.
Walled Off Hotel
Qumsieh said interest in the three-story guesthouse, where rooms have a view of the graffiti art that covers that section of the barrier, drove up tourism numbers. The hotel addressed Trump’s Jerusalem move on its website’s homepage.
“Ever since President Trump’s announcement about moving the U.S. embassy, there has been potential for unrest in the region,” it says. “The situation is currently perfectly fine.”
Italian Mario Ricci, 38, is visiting Bethlehem for the first time this year. He said he didn’t fear for his safety, but regretted that friction had been aggravated by the U.S. declaration.
“I chose Christmastime to be here because I wanted to live and feel the Christmas spirit,” he said. “It’s sad what’s happening in this part of the world. This is the city of peace, and what Trump did is only going to ignite the region and not bring peace.”
Qumsieh said the ministry worries that if tensions aren’t defused, tourism may suffer. In past years, violence with Israel has had a drastic impact on visits to the region.
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.
Photo credit: Palestinian protesters stand on a Donald Trump banner during a protest in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Dec. 20. Hotels in town have high occupancy despite the tension. Nasser Shiyoukhi / Associated Press