The Tourism Ministry reported on Sunday that according to information gathered by the Civil Administration in the West Bank, some 1,123,000 tourists visited the Palestinian towns of Bethlehem and Jericho in the first nine months of 2008.
This astonishing figure represents a 96.5% increase in the number of visitors to Bethlehem and a 42.3% rise in the number of tourists to Jericho, compared to the same period last year.
Sources in the Tourism Ministry and the Civil Administration attribute the rise to the significant improvement in the security situation in the area in the last two years. The easing of movement restrictions on the local population and tourists crossing from Israel to the Palestinian Authority has also contributed to the increase in numbers.
Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila said that “we must work together to market the tourist destinations in Israel and the Palestinian Authority as attractive and appealing, for the sake of both our nations.” Avraham-Balila stressed the importance of facilitating the tourists’ access through the border crossings and making sure that they are treated with courtesy by security personnel.
Head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, noted that the dramatic growth in tourism provided a much-needed boost to the Palestinian economy.
The Civil Administration expects an even bigger increase in incoming tourism to the cities ahead of Christmas.