This is an interview conducted by Najeeb Farraj, Palestine News
Network, with the Palestinian Minister of Tourism, Jouda Morqus, in

Palestinian Minister of Tourism, Jouda Morqus, said that Bethlehem and its surroundings, is ready for Christmas celebrations and ceremonies, and that the city is a safe place for tourists who will come to celebrate Christmas and New Year.

He stated that all preparations have been taken in order to ensure the safety of tourists and pilgrims who will come to the city to celebrate Christmas and New year in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
“The tourists, pilgrims, are dear guests in Palestine, and Bethlehem, the Palestinians welcome them, and this has been the case since dozens of years”, Morqus stated, “The whole world knows that the Palestinian are known for their hospitality”.

He also said that the war in Lebanon left negative impacts on tourism in the whole region, and tourism in Bethlehem has been decreasing. But he added that he expects a better season this year, which will help in improving the difficult economic conditions in Bethlehem.  

Morqus also expressed hopes that a prisoner swap deal between Israel and the Palestinians factions will be carried soon, especially since such a deal will help in improving the conditions in the Palestinian territories, even if the improvement will be partial.

He added that Bethlehem in normal conditions receives 600.000 tourists each year, which means 50-55.000 per-month, but the war and the difficult conditions reduced the number of tourists in the area, and that by the end of this year, a the number of  tourists who visited Bethlehem is expected to reach 400.000.

“In 2005, only 300.000 tourists made it to the occupied West Bank”, Morqus stated, “If Israel stops its military escalation, we expect a larger number of tourists”.

Only 25% of the tourists who visit Bethlehem stay in hotels in the city, while the rest stay in Israeli hotels inside Israel.

“The Israeli media, and several Israeli tourist agencies discourage the tourists from staying in Palestinian hotels, they even discourage them from coming to Bethlehem”, the minister said, “They make them afraid by giving them false information, and propaganda, that Bethlehem is not safe, and if the tourists insist on coming to Bethlehem, Israeli agencies will make sure that they do not stay there”.

“Israeli agencies repeatedly claimed that there are groups that abducts the tourists in Bethlehem”, Morqus added, “When some of the tourists make their way to Bethlehem, they discover the peaceful and beautiful nature of the city”.

The Annexation Wall surrounding Bethlehem and its villages and refugee camps, and the Israeli annexation of the northern sector of Bethlehem, the Rachel Tomb area and the surrounding, isolated Bethlehem and disconnected it from the rest of the Palestinian areas, and from Jerusalem.

Bethlehem is a city that depends on tourism as a main source of income, the Israeli procedures are strangling the city, and strangling the residents. It is not an industrial or commercial  center, the Israeli procedures, the annexation wall and the expanding settlements around it, are isolating it and isolating its life. 

Also, Morqus stated that Israel is launching “media war” against Palestine, and its archaeological and historical  places, and is continuously attempting to bar the tourists from entering the West Bank and visiting its ancient and holy places, not only in Bethlehem.   

He expressed hopes that the coming period will be a period of calm, peace and prosperity in the region, and called for implementing and activating programs that encourage tourists to visit Bethlehem and all holy and ancient sites in Palestine.  

It is worth mentioning that Bethlehem Municipality allocated 50.000 US Dollars to decorate Bethlehem and prepare it for Christmas and New year celebration.

The International Middle East Media Center, in Beit Sahour – Bethlehem, wishes everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year, and hopes peace will prevail in Bethlehem, Palestine, the region and the whole world.