As any visitor to East Jerusalem knows, Israel dominates the tourist trade in the Holy City and in the Palestinian territories. Aside from controlling virtually all the international access points, whether Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the bridges across the Jordan River from Amman, the many checkpoints in the West Bank or the road crossings into Gaza, Israeli tour companies and Israeli guides, as well as Israeli security forces, decide who goes where, when and how. Despite this, the Palestinian territories welcome more than a million visitors each year, many of them drawn to some of the world’s oldest historic and archaeological sites and centres of Christian worship. But this is only a small indication of the huge potential which the “Holy Land” has to attract millions more tourists in the coming years, including those from the neighbouring Arab states and other predominately Muslim countries, once these obstacles are eased.
The ancient walls of Jericho, the oldest city in the world
Nowhere is this more true than in Jericho, reputedly the world’s oldest city and the centre of the lush Jordan River Valley region, where the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and JICA – the Japanese International Co-operation Agency—are working with the private sector and the Arab Hotel Association to create a new international centre of sustainable tourism. Already, their achievements are helping to put the reality of Palestine’s existence on the global map as well as promoting economic and social development in one of the poorest parts of the West Bank. Equally important, they are also helping to foster closer links between Palestine and neighbouring Jordan and the estimated 2.5 million Palestinians, including Jordanians of Palestinian origin, currently living in the kingdom. Continue reading →
The UK government, along with a growing list of international ICT giants such as Google, Microsoft, Cisco and Intel, is the latest to recognise Palestine’s huge potential in information communications and technology given its highly talented younger generation, which is fluent in English and Arabic, as well as in entrepreneurial and engineering skills. Britain’s Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaisey, says that his government hopes to get Palestinian and UK businesses “to work together,” and that it will actively seek to encourage British companies to “come and start business in Palestine.”
He was commenting during a visit to Ramallah in March that also included a tour of the headquarters of Palestine’s telecommunications corporation, PalTel, which, with its subsidiaries Jawwal and Hadara, provides the majority of Internet, landline and mobile services in the West Bank and Gaza. PalTel, which is a favourite of international investors on the Palestine Securities Exchange, reported a 5.1 per cent increase in profits last year, to $128 million, despite the difficulties of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Thanks to an intensive expansion programme, it has now extended its services to the Jordan Valley region, and is planning to invest an additional $70 million to $80 million by the end of this year in new fibre optic and mobile phone infrastructure, primarily for the Internet.