Israeli Buses Invade Bethlehem

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Palestinian tourism sector has suffered tremendous losses since the outbreak of the second intifada 12 years ago, forcing many companies to close down or lay off many of their workers (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Fadi Abu Saada

Published Thursday, October 4, 2012

The internationally beloved city of Bethlehem should provide much needed tourism revenue to Palestine. However, Israeli tour-guide companies enter the territories without restriction, while their Palestinian counterparts are not allowed to travel

Bethlehem - Because Bethlehem is an international tourist destination, particularly for Christian pilgrims coming from all corners of the world, Palestinian tourism companies should be enjoying good business.

However, the ancient city is being invaded by buses belonging to Egged, the Israeli public transport provider, which transport tourists from 1948 occupied Palestine.

Palestinian tourist companies are not allowed to cross the Green Line, even to pick up pilgrims and tourists.

This has raised the ire of Bethlehem’s residents, who are asking who allowed these Israeli companies to enter their city while Palestinian tourist agencies are barred from operating inside 1948 territory.

Geryes Qumsieh, spokesperson for the Palestinian tourism ministry, admitted that Israeli buses are in fact taking the place of Palestinian companies. But, he added, that “we have no authority to stop them.”

“This is not something that is being coordinated in any way with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, which has no say over whether Israeli buses can enter or not,” he explained.

Qumsieh insisted that such policies should be reciprocal, whereby Palestinian companies and tourist guides would be allowed to operate within 1948 Palestine, just as Israeli buses and guides enter areas under Palestine Authority (PA) control without any conditions or restrictions.

“This points to a lack of respect on the part of Israel for agreements it signed on this particular issue with the PA,” he continued.

But, according the Qumsieh, the tourism ministry does see some benefit from the entry of Israeli guides and buses to PA-controlled areas in that it counters Israeli propaganda that Bethlehem is unsafe and going there is a dangerous undertaking.

Khalil Rashmawi, president of the Association of Bus Companies in the Southern West Bank, says that this issue “goes back to 2000, when Palestinian buses were permitted to enter Israel, before the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada and the siege that the occupation forces imposed on Bethlehem and the Palestinian territories in general.”

He confirmed that according to the Oslo Accords, both sides agreed “to operate on the basis of reciprocity in matters related to tourism, whereby tourists are able to move between Israel and the Palestinian territories without any obstacles.”

“This was to be followed by the entry of all Palestinian companies to the other side without obstruction, and this is the basis upon which we established Shepherd’s Field Tourism Company in 1999, which suffered terrible losses after the outbreak of the second intifada,” he continued.

“But,” he added, “in 2010, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism invited Israeli and foreign tourist bus drivers and guides to Bethlehem to show them that the city was safe.”

According to Rashmawi, “this goodwill gesture toward the Israelis” led to a 10 percent decline in Palestinian companies’ business.

Rashmawi says that they attempted to contact individuals in the tourism ministry, asking to take the issue up with the Israelis,

but the the response was that this matter is “political and requires negotiations with the Israeli side to resolve it. However, the political process and negotiations are frozen at the moment.”

Michel Awad, who runs the Angels Travel and Tourism Company, insisted on reciprocity: “Just as Israeli buses are allowed to enter, Palestinians should be permitted to operate inside Israel.”

He added that the Palestinian tourism sector has suffered tremendous losses since the outbreak of the second intifada 12 years ago, forcing many companies to close down or lay off many of their workers. “Pressure must be brought to bear on behalf of the Palestinian companies,” he demanded.

It appears that there will be no solution to the problem in the near future. Meanwhile, Israeli buses will roam the streets of Bethlehem unrestricted. The excuse of course is that they are transporting Western tourists, who in turn are desperately needed in this holy city because they are a key source of income for many residents.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

If you intend to grab the bus by the horns, drivers might have something to say about that.

fx forum

It is sad to see that the great Jewish Religion has been highjacked by these murderous thieving Zionists! For a People that are supposedly the "original" owners of this land, you sure do have lots of blue eyed, blond haired and light skinned individuals.... none the less, please remember that when moses came to the land of Palestine, he found the people called the phillistines who were even more native to this land.... learn to apply the laws of justice and love between neighbors that is taught in the Torah and then you will see the same reciprocated back by your arab and muslim neighbors!!!!!

thanks

This article so misleading that it is almost funny. Occupied 1948 Palestine? Before 1948 the country was in ruin, residents were nomads and lived in 'cities' of 2-3 families will a well in the center of a few buildings. Tel Aviv was sand dunes with trash strewn
Israel has made tourism what it is today because they have cared for the land. They also care for their people: Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis alike. Until there is no risk of suicide bombers and people trying to bring weapons with them across check points then there won't be freedom to cross the border at will or pick up tourists. Who would get blamed if a bus of tourists were blown up on a tourist bus from the West Bank? Israel. The only reason Israelis live in relative safety is because of the check points.

You desire so badly to cross back and forth freely? Get Hamas, the killing, training of children to hate and the lies out- and there will be a real discussion to be had.

"This article so misleading that it is almost funny. Occupied 1948 Palestine? Before 1948 the country was in ruin, residents were nomads and lived in 'cities' of 2-3 families will a well in the center of a few buildings. Tel Aviv was sand dunes with trash strewn"

Your deranged response is one of the reasons that the Jews will lose and typical of the lying propaganda of your ilk. What happened the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were expelled, the hundreds of villages which were razed, and their land which was occupied. Why should the Palestinians forget their homeland?

"Israel has made tourism what it is today because they have cared for the land. They also care for their people: Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis alike."

Who cares, your supposed "moral" superiority doesn't change the gloomy situation of "Israel" and the demographic tsunami that they face from the Palestinians.

"You desire so badly to cross back and forth freely? Get Hamas, the killing, training of children to hate and the lies out- and there will be a real discussion to be had."

No, your military might cannot confront your nightmare, the Palestinian demographic tsunami, and we wil be the ones dictating the terms of your defeat.

.

'Get out of here, and go back to al-Khalij.'
Yeah because obviously the Palestinian family's who have been living there for 1400 years by your estimate should walk back to Saudi. Maybe the Europeans that Colonised Palestine should go back to Europe/Russia or America. Or the large Jewish community in Iran. Or everyone could stay there together but that will not happen with racist, supremacists who do to the Palestinian's what the Nazi did to them. I thought the main thing to learn from the Holocaust was never again (to anyone!).

Invasion?! Actually Palestinians can travel on these busses; there are many Arabs on such busses throughout the country. Everything is an "invasion" to al-Akhbar but you Arabs invaded in the 600s. Get out of here, and go back to al-Khalij. You are occupying part of Judea and Samaria.

Still bitter that the Palestinians are around?! It's your ilk who will be doing the "getting out of here" and Judea and Samaria belong to the Arabs and Muslims despite your squealing and bleating. You will lose Barry and your squealing and bleating are signs of this.

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