(photo credit: Courtesy)
Twenty-five Israeli tour guides visited Bethlehem on Monday as guests of the
Palestinian Authority Tourism Ministry, on a refresher tour to prepare for their
return to leading tour groups there.
For the first time since the 2000
intifada, Israeli tour guides will be allowed to enter and lead groups of
pilgrims and tourists in Bethlehem and Jericho, as part of a new pilot project
arranged by the Israeli and Palestinian tourism ministries and the IDF’s Civil
Administration of Judea and Samaria.
Jewish Israeli citizens have been
banned from entering the PA by order of the IDF. The pilot came about
requests by tourism industry professionals and tourists to allow their
guides to continue leading their groups when they traveled to the West
Until now, the Israeli guides would relinquish their groups at the
Crossing and meet up with them again when they returned from their visit
Responding to the Tourism Ministry’s request
to allow the guides to enter the PA area, the civil administration
allow 25 guides and 25 bus drivers to cross over with their groups as a
before allowing others to do the same.
In an interview with The Jerusalem
Post from a restaurant in the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Sahur, Israeli
Micky Choresh said he felt safe and welcome and that he looked forward
“The Palestinian officials who are escorting us are going
out of their way to make sure we feel comfortable and safe. Everywhere
we go we
are accompanied by two police vehicles, and there is a uniformed
every street,” said Choresh.
According to Choresh, the tour started in
the morning with a security briefing on the Israeli side, in which
were instructed to keep to the authorized trail and were given emergency
numbers to contact if the need arose. The officers also instructed them
crossing regulations and stressed that they would have to return to
territory by 11 p.m. at the latest.
Choresh said guards on both sides of
the crossing had a list of authorized tour guides and drivers, and only
the list would be allowed to cross.
The group spent the morning visiting
tourist attractions like the Solomon Pools and the Church of the
was to return to Jerusalem in the afternoon.
“I think this is a great
initiative that will help in restoring good relations. Tourists
important financial income for the Palestinians, and I don’t think
will oppose it. This is not Gaza,” said Choresh.
In an interview with
Army Radio, civil administration head Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said the
decision to allow the 50 Israelis to enter Bethlehem was “a significant
“It is part of a series of let-ups and trustbuilding measures
that we are promoting in Judea and Samaria in coordination with the PA
security forces, which are constantly improving,” said Mordechai. “In my
opinion, letting 50 Israelis into Bethlehem – and starting next week,
Jericho – without the IDF escorting them is a deeply meaningful signal.
vision is to one day allow Israeli citizens to enter Area A cities. We
with this as an experimental pilot.”
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov
praised the tour guides’ response to participating in the pilot, and the
cooperation with the PA.
“I see great importance in the tour guiding in
Bethlehem, which will facilitate an increase in the scope of the tour
work, allow for top-level guiding for tourists, an increase in
the Palestinian Authority and, of no less importance, an improvement in
international image of Israel and the Holy Land as a safe destination
tourists,” he said.
“I hope that this pilot program will receive
cooperation from all the various entities and will generate an increase
tourism activities in the near future,” he added.
However, Israel Tour
Guides Association chairman Yossi Weiss said the association sharply
“We don’t want another Gilad Schalit on our hands,” said Weiss. “As
far as I know, the IDF hasn’t removed the ban on Israelis entering Area
A, and I
didn’t know tour guides were an exception.”
Weiss said the Tourism
Ministry was taking a great risk at the tour guides’ expense and that
who visited the West Bank cities were not covered by insurance and were
protected from attacks.
He also criticized the move on economic grounds,
saying it only served the Palestinian economic interest and would
Israeli tour guides because the Palestinians would expect reciprocal
their guides to work in Israel.
“I’m worried about Palestinian tour
guides, with their own ideology and their own historic narrative,
of tourists in Israel. It is a disservice to the country to let them
their agenda to tourists,” said Weiss.