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Steve Chiotakis: The Israeli-occupied West Bank has been relatively calm the last few months. And tourists are taking advantage. They’re flocking in record numbers to Bethlehem to visit the historic birthplace of Jesus Christ. But most don’t venture beyond and that’s something Palestinian business leaders want to change. Marketplace’s Sam Eaton reports.
Sam Eaton: The ruins of Sebastia a few hours north of Bethlehem date back more than 2,000 years. Here, among the olive groves, you’ll find some of the region’s most extensive archaeological remains. And there’s not a soul in sight.
Nasser Abufarha: As you see we are in a large parking lot that’s empty. And you see a number of shops that are closed as well because there are not many tourist traffic coming here.
At least not since 2000 when Israeli soldiers blocked access to the village after the second Palestinian uprising. Today me and my guide, Nasser Abufarha, are the only visitors. And word gets out fast.
Adli Mahmoud Musla unbolts the heavy doors to his souvenir shop and invites us in.
Eaton: When was the last time you made a sale from the shop to a tourist?
Adli Mahmoud Musla Almost a year ago. A small sale.
Musla hopes that peace with Israel will someday usher in a new era of tourism for the West Bank.
But Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour says that era won’t come without new investments and the time to make them is now.
Sam Bahour: In normal business terms high risk means high return. Putting seeds into the economy today may pay off big time.
Both for investors, and for the Palestinian people, the recent tourism revival in Bethlehem has helped cut the city’s unemployment rate in half. And that’s also good for Israel. Bahour says every new job, means one less protestor throwing rocks at Israeli tanks.
The day the Israelis wake up and understand that this occupation is not only affecting us but it’s even affecting their own ability to grow, I think that we’re going to see an influx of tourists that will be written about for a very long time.
That day couldn’t come any sooner to towns like Sebastia. As we leave, dozens of young men play soccer in a parking lot built for tour buses. And the shopkeeper I spoke with closes his store again, hoping another year won’t go by before he makes his next sale.
In the West Bank, I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace.
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