Over three million tourists expected to have visited Palestine by end of 2019 

Bethlehem/PNN/ By Nour Qudeimat-

The Bethlehem municipality on Thursday held a press conference to announce the latest preparations for the holiday season under the theme “Christmas is a message of joy.”

The conference, which hosted the Mayor of Bethlehem, the Governor of Bethlehem, the Minister of Tourism and the director of the Bethlehem Police Department, tackled the latest preparations for the Christmas celebrations, including the tree lighting to be held on Saturday, 30 November.

Three million tourists in 2019 

Minister of tourism, Rula Ma’ay’a said that the Christmas Season makes Bethlehem a special destination for people all over the world, adding that last year broke a record and witnessed a thriving season of tourism with over three million tourists booking all hotels.

“Despite the occupation restrictions we have an increase in the number of tourists each year and a higher number of overnight stays in Bethlehem,” Ma’ay’a said.

“We are seeing movement in the hotels and not only in Bethlehem, but also in Hebron, Ramallah and the norther areas, all the hotels are entirely booked.”

Mobile app for church visits 

Ma’ay’a said that the hours for visiting the Church of Nativity have been extended in order to allow more tourists to visit the church. In addition, the ministry is working on a mobile app which allows tourists to book their visits to a specific time, so that they don’t have to wait in long queues, since the number opf tourists is increasing each year.

Manger of Jesus will be returned to Bethlehem 

To his part, the governor of Bethlehem said that this Christmas season is even more special since the manger of Jesus Christ will be returned from the Vatican to the church of Nativity, due to the strong relations between president Abbas and Pope Francis.

“This is an iconic religious event and will bring more people to Bethlehem, the first and foremost destination for all people during Christmastime,” Hmaid said.

Hmaid also delivered the message of president Abbas saluting people and guests coming to Bethlehem from all over the world, and stressed the need to maintain tourism and protect it from the Israeli occupation– which is trying to control it.

“Israeli Occupation Authorities want to control Palestine’s tourism by restricting the city of Bethlehem and implementing what they call ‘Greater Jerusalem’ plan because this way, they can take over the tourism resources, which are Bethlehem, Jerusalem and the dead sea. There is not tourism in Israel. Without us the tourism in Israel will die.”

Mayor of Bethlehem salutes Palestinian prisoners, journalists 

Before his speech, mayor of Bethlehem, Lawyer Anton Salman saluted the Palestinian journalists and prisoners who are on the front lines of defence during the clashes with the occupation.

“We must speak about what happened in the occupied land, especially the attack on journalist Moath Amarneh, and the death of prisoner Sami Abu Dyak all due to the Israeli insolence, oppression and medical negligence of Palestinian prisoners,” Salman said.

“We must focus on bringing out the suffering of Palestine as a result of Israeli occupation and its oppression of our rights. We condemn all Israeli procedures and hope the next Christmas will be held on our land, when prisoners will be free and we will have a free independent state,” he added.

The director of the Bethlehem Police Department, colonel Tareq Al-Haj concluded by saying that the police and security forces are doing their best to achieve safety and security for all residents and tourists in Bethlehem during the holiday season.

“We hope that there will be security and stability this year during celebrations especially with the unprecedented tourism movement.”

The colonel added that the police is trying to control the overcrowdedness in the streets of Bethlehem by managing the car movement and specific streets, adding that the number of buses going to the Central bus station hit 240 buses every day.

He added that 600 policemen in addition to several hundred from other security services will secure Bethlehem to achieve safety and security for all residents and tourists during the holiday Christmas season.