O Fortified Town of Bethlehem: If you're singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" this Christmas, consider this: Mary and Joseph's arduous trek would've taken them through Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem--a path they might not have successfully navigated today. Arjan El Fassed and Annet Meeuws write:
Joseph and Mary would arrive at a town surrounded by a combination of nine Israeli settlements, a stretch of the Wall, roads restricted to Israelis and a multitude of checkpoints, earth mounds and roadblocks. Approximately 78 physical obstacles surround Bethlehem today, along with the Wall, which is nearing completion along the northern and western sides of the city.

Instead of a bustling cultural and spiritual center hosting tourists and pilgrims from around the world, Joseph and Mary would experience Bethlehem as an isolated town, with boarded up shops and abandoned development projects. The age-old link between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is nearly severed as a result of Israeli policies including settlements, a great number of physical barriers and roads restricted to Israelis...
Also from EI: Maureen Clare Murphy writes on the occupation's affect on tourism in Jesus birth city: "Bethlehem has seen much trauma to its economy since the Intifada. A recent UN report informs, 'a total of 28 hotels, 240 olive wood and mother-of-pearl workshops, and 50 restaurants have closed.' Fears of violence and Israeli intimidation and closure have stopped religious tourists from coming to both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and those that do come to what they consider the Holy Land tend to spend most of their time in Jerusalem, and make only brief day trips to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Since approximately 18 percent of Bethlehem's population was employed in the tourism sector before the Intifada, and the Annexation Wall that is ghettoizing Bethlehem continues to be built, the outlook is grim."

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