Christmas spirit

"Consecutive governments have done too little to develop the great tourism potential presented by the Holy Land’s attraction for Christians..."

Christmas in Jerusalem (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Christmas in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Christmas in the Holy Land is a unique experience. This is, after all, the place where Jesus was born, lived, preached, healed and, according to Christian belief, revealed himself as Messiah. Walking the streets of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, it is heartening to see the large crowds of tourists who have chosen to experience the holiday in the place where it all happened.
Unfortunately, consecutive governments have done too little to develop the great tourism potential presented by the Holy Land’s unique and profound attraction for the some 2.2 billion Christians who make up a third of the world’s population.
Precious little has been done over the years to develop towns such as Nazareth that are so resonant with meaning for Christians. And Israel has failed to develop ties with the Palestinian Authority to ensure that Bethlehem is as accommodating and accessible as possible.
To a certain extent, private tourism firms have filled the vacuum left by the Tourism Ministry and have developed tourism in and around Nazareth. The “Jesus Trial,” a hiking path that connects Nazareth with Capernaum and has stations in Muslim, Christian and Jewish sites, is an example of a private initiative that takes into consideration Christian interests. In 2007, two private individuals, Maoz Inon and David Landis, were instrumental in developing the trail, which follows the path of Jesus’s ministry as told in the Book of Matthew. The Tourism Ministry has since launched its own Gospel Trail, placing private and public interests at odds.
The Tourism Ministry has not done enough to provide information to Christian visitors in the form of maps, software apps and online booking options. But perhaps the government’s biggest failure is its neglect of Nazareth.
Visitors to the city are quickly disoriented by the near absence of street signs – of signs of any kind for that matter. Most streets in the city have no names, only numbers. Only those familiar with the names of Nazareth’s various neighborhoods can ask locals for directions.
Also, the streets of Nazareth are unkempt, and during Christmas, when municipal workers are on vacation, the place is dirtier than usual. Technically, responsibility for upkeep of the city rests with the municipality, but during Christmas time Nazareth is transformed into an international city that represents the State of Israel. Failing to keep Nazareth clean reflects badly on the Jewish state. If local authorities are unable or unwilling to invest in keeping Nazareth tidy, the state has an obligation to do so.
Also, there is hardly any public transportation from the center of the country to Nazareth. Most buses connect Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the city’s Jewish neighbor – Upper Nazareth.
If this government were to invest even a minimal budget in improving transportation to and from the Old City of Nazareth, making it cleaner, installing street signs and providing more tourism information, visitors would feel more comfortable going there and staying there. A better environment would encourage private tourism firms to step in to help develop the area.
In addition, Israel should do more to improve tourism cooperation in Bethlehem with the Palestinian Authority. For instance, the Tourism Ministry could have helped organize a procession from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in conjunction with the PA .
Clearly, Israel has not come anywhere near realizing its tremendous tourism potential. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the country ranks much lower than average on a number of tourism industry indicators. In 2012, tourism to GDP, including industries it helps indirectly, was just 7.8 percent, compared to a world average of 14.1%. Tourism and the industries tied to it indirectly employed just 8.2% of the workforce compared to a world average of 13.9%.
And this is the Holy Land, where central events appearing in the foundational texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam took place. It seems we do not fully understand the tremendous potential waiting to be developed. It is about time we did.