Palestinian hoteliers and tourism officials in the West Bank City of Bethlehem say the violence escalation between Israel and Hamas has led to a drop in tourism revenues.
Elias al-Arja, Head of the Arab Association for Hotels, says tourists cancelation percentage has already exceeded 40 percent of next month’s bookings, including during Christmas, usually the busiest time of the year.
“We were hoping that we would have 10 to 20 group bookings every day, but in the last four days we have not had any bookings. On the contrary, five to six groups have cancelled. I think the cancellation percentage has already reached 40-50 percent of next month’s bookings and until the end of November,” Arja told Reuters.
He said the tourism industry was the “oil” running the Palestinian economy.
Bethlehem has experienced relative calm in the past two to three years following years of violence which reached its peak around 2005.
During the height of the Palestinian uprising against Israel, many tourists avoided the town.
Tourists near the Church of Nativity, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, said they felt safe and their trip was not affected by the current escalation.
“From Italy, from our country, we received a lot of text (messages) and calls to hear about how we were, (whether) we were fine or not. We said yes of course we are fine so maybe people are more scared in Italy than here,” said Pier, a tourist form Italy.
But one of the owners of Bethlehem’s many souvenir shops told Reuters that many tourist groups have cancelled their visit to the holy land due to the Israeli offensive in Gaza and Hamas rocket attacks which targeted the far-away centers of Israeli commerce and government -- Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
“Of course there are always many questions as there are always problems in Gaza but now the troubles have reached Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and are not only in Gaza. For this reason many companies have cancelled group booking to the Holy Land in general, not just to Bethlehem,” said Maher Canawati, owner of a souvenirs shop.
Elsewhere, in Jerusalem, tourists ventured the holy city, a day after a militant rocket from Gaza hit Jerusalem for the first time.
“(I am) really not afraid, I am travelling with my wife, she was a little bit apprehensive but overall everything seems calm, people are going about their normal life and (it’s) just a beautiful day,” said a tourist named Josh.
Along the Tel Aviv beachfront, volleyball games came to an abrupt halt and people crouched when sirens sounded. But the Iron Dome, deployed only hours earlier near the city, destroyed the incoming projectile in mid-air.
The Palestinian militant organization Hamas and Israel are sinking deeper into days of bloody fighting since last Wednesday (November 14).
Officials in Gaza said 38 Palestinians, half of them civilians including eight children and a pregnant woman, had been killed in Gaza since Israel began its air strikes. Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday (Nov. 15).
The Israeli military said some 150 rockets fired from Gaza had hit Israel since Friday and at least 83 more were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system.