The Tourism Ministry is preparing for the arrival of tens of thousands of Christian tourists and pilgrims expected to arrive in Israel over the Christmas period, visit the holy sites and participate in masses in Bethlehem and Nazareth. The ministry is working in cooperation with all relevant in order to facilitate a speedy and welcoming entry and exit from Israel and ensure a pleasant visiting experience.


Due to the high volume of tourists expected to pass through Ben Gurion airport, the Allenby and Taba border crossings, the Tourism Ministry is also working in cooperation with the Airports Authority to ensure a speedy and comfortable passage for tourists. Extra brochures and explanatory material in various languages have been delivered to the tourist offices in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Ben Gurion airport and additional staff will man these offices over the holiday period.


Meetings have taken place over the last few weeks between representatives of all the relevant authorities in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Churches and Ministry of Tourism representatives in order to coordinate the arrival of all the patriarchs and bishops, the arrangements for religious ceremonies and the arrival of tourist groups. As part of the special holiday arrangements for the large flow of pilgrims, measures have been taken to facilitate and ensure an easy, swift and comfortable passage into the city of Bethlehem during the holiday period.


In addition, the Ministry of Tourism will arrange free shuttle transport for pilgrims from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The shuttles will leave every hour on the hour from the Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity and return on the half hour, from Wednesday, 24.12.08 at noon to Thursday 25.12.08 at noon. Ministry of Tourism employees will welcome the pilgrims and visitors with sweets in honor of the Christmas holiday.


Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila recently contacted the mayors of Jerusalem and Nazareth with a request to increase cleaning and decoration crews in these cities and to welcome the tourists and visitors with a festive atmosphere over the Christmas period.


It should be noted that the increase in incoming tourism has also been felt in the Palestinian Authority: The Palestinian Authority has also registered impressive growth in incoming tourism: according to statistics released by the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, about 1,123,000 tourists have visited Bethlehem and Jericho during the first nine months of 2008, record number s since the period before the intifada. This represents a 96.5% increase in the numbers of tourists visiting Bethlehem and 42.3% increase in the numbers visiting Jericho (compared to the same period in 2007).


The Tourism Ministry and the Civil Administration attribute this important increase to the significant improvement in the security situation in the West Bank in general and the Palestinian Authority areas in particular during the last two years and to the easing of movement restrictions for residents and tourists crossing between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.



The Tourism Ministry attaches great importance to efficient operation of the border crossings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while communicating to the relevant tourism personnel around the world that movement between tourism sites in Israel and the Palestinian Authority is easy, accessible and safe. Over a year ago, the ministry established representation at the Bethlehem crossing to help with the smooth passage of tourists, both individuals and groups.


Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila:  Tourism stimulates economic growth and therefore represents a challenge and a mutual interest to the two nations. We have succeeded in restoring a sense of security to tourists in Israel and now we must work together to market the tourist destinations in Israel and the Palestinian Authority as attractive and appealing, for the sake of both our nations. The many pilgrims that visit us during this period create a bridge of cooperation, understanding and peace between peoples and we will work to facilitate freedom of religion for everyone.”

Head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, noted that „the dramatic growth in tourists visiting Bethlehem and Jericho has provided a boost to the Palestinian economy. We are expecting even greater numbers in advance of the upcoming Christmas period and we anticipate that a new record will be achieved, since the period preceding the violence of the year 2000.”

According to the estimates of the Tourism Ministry, two million Christians will visit Israel in 2008, of whom 1 million are pilgrims. This represents a twofold increase on last year. Most pilgrims choose to visit Bethlehem, but also the Western Wall, Christian sites in Jerusalem such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa, Mount of Olives and Capernaum. During the Christmas period (which is celebrated by different Christian denominations at various times over a two week period), the Tourism Ministry is expecting about 60,000 Christian tourists, most of whom are expected to participate in masses at Bethlehem and Nazareth.

Every year, the Tourism Ministry, in cooperation with the NazarethMunicipality, arranges a reception for the heads of the Christian churches and mayors of the Jewish, Christian and Moslem towns and villages. The festive reception will take place in the presence of the Tourism Minister on 24.12.08 at 17:00 at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The colorful parade has been postponed from Wednesday, 24 December  to Sunday, 28 December at 15:00 due to the weather conditions.

The Tourism Ministry is currently coordinating the details of pilgrim and tourist groups in order to facilitate easier passage through the border crossings. The Ministry of Tourism will also open a situation room during the holiday period to provide an immediate answer to tourists and pilgrims (tel: 050 6214127 and 050 6214070)