The Ministry of Tourism reports an increase of 96.5% in visitors to Bethlehem during January-September 2008 (compared to same period last year), and an increase of 42.3% in visits to Jericho

(Communicated by the Ministry of Tourism Spokesperson)

The Palestinian Authority has registered impressive growth in incoming tourism: according to statistics released by the Civil Administration in the West Bank, about 1,123,000 tourists have visited Bethlehem and Jericho during the first nine months of 2008, record numbers since the period before the intifada. This represents a 96.5% increase in the numbers of tourists visiting Bethlehem and 42.3% increase in the numbers visiting Jericho (compared to the same period in 2007).

The Tourism Ministry and the Civil Administration attribute this important increase to the significant improvement in the security situation in the West Bank in general and the Palestinian Authority areas in particular during the last two years and to the easing of movement restrictions for residents and tourists crossing between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

The Tourism Ministry attaches great importance to efficient operation of the border crossings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while communicating to the relevant tourism personnel around the world that movement between tourism sites in Israel and the Palestinian Authority is easy, accessible and safe. Over a year ago, the ministry even established representation at the Bethlehem crossing to help with the smooth passage of Palestinian tourists, as well as those from East Jerusalem, and other tourists, both individuals and groups.

Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila: "Tourism stimulates economic growth and therefore represents a challenge and a mutual interest to the two nations. We have succeeded in restoring a sense of security to tourists in Israel and now 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. We must work together to facilitate the tourists’ access through the border crossings, in accordance with the directions of the security personnel and make sure that their contact with both security and bureaucratic personnel is pleasant and courteous."

Head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, noted that "the dramatic growth in tourists visiting Bethlehem and Jericho has provided a boost to the Palestinian economy. We are expecting even greater numbers in advance of the upcoming Christmas period and we anticipate that a new record will be achieved, since the period preceding the violence of the year 2000."

According to the estimates of the Tourism Ministry, two million Christians will visit Israel in 2008, of whom one million are pilgrims. Most pilgrims enter through the Bethlehem crossing and visit the city.