Safe But Empty
But while life in this mountaintop city of 70,000 Christians and Muslims has returned to normal, there are few Christian pilgrims here to appreciate it.
“The tour groups canceled when the war began, but now that the war is over they haven’t returned,” said Samira Abu Nasser, a Catholic travel agent whose agency is located just down the road from the Basilica of the Annunciation — the church that, according to tradition, is built on the site of the home of Mary.
“For anyone who relies on tourism, it is very difficult,” she said.
Like numerous other northern
Israeli cities, towns and villages,
On July 18, Katyusha rockets rained down on a residential neighborhood, killing a 9-year-old boy and his 3-year-old brother.
As the war raged, tourism to
Even now, he said, “it’s heartbreaking to see a hotel with more than 200 rooms but only three occupants.”
Shihada estimated that “thousands” of Nazarenes employed in tourism and related industries have been affected by the dearth of pilgrims.
“Imagine a single hotel that is forced to close for a couple of weeks — more than 1,200 people find themselves unemployed, and multiply that number by 10,” he said. “Every restaurant employs 10 to 12 waiters, and they have no work. We’re also talking about souvenir shops, tour buses, taxis and many other businesses.”
The recent conflict was an
especially hard blow because, the tourism official said,
“Most of 2000 was fantastic,” Shihada recalled. “The Pope came to
Since the conflict with Hezbollah, pilgrims and tour operators are taking a wait-and-see attitude, Shihada said.
“The tour operators abroad told me
they are waiting for stability, peace and quiet,” he said. “They said they’d
spent a lot of money marketing the
So are local residents, who cannot understand why pilgrims have not returned to this holy city, which is so rich in Christian history and culture.
A month after the cease-fire,
there are very few tour buses in
“We have no business,” said a longtime shopkeeper who gave her name as Cohar, whose store, which sells Nativity scenes and stuffed camels, had no customers. “We didn’t work during the war — there were no pilgrims to sell to — and now business is still very bad.”
The Israeli government has just
earmarked $8 million to market the north of
Like many Nazarenes, Shihada is hoping that Christian leaders around the world will encourage the faithful to visit the region.
Said Shihada, “It is up to the Church to bring pilgrims back to
Michele Chabin writes from
- September 24-30, 2006