11:20 GMT +327 May 2017
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    Bethlehem

    If You Plan to Visit Jesus’ Birthplace, You Might Want to Hurry

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    The Israeli Ministry of the Interior may soon ban overnight trips to one of the region’s most popular attractions, Bethlehem, dealing a blow to Christian tourism.

    Last month, the ministry ordered a number of tour companies to stop taking tourists to spend a night on the West Bank, citing security concerns. It then temporarily backtracked on the decision after widespread backlash from the international tourism community.

    Now, the Interior Ministry is reportedly reviewing the order and plans to issue new directives.

    If a ban comes into effect, it will be problematic for visitors who come to Israel as part of tour groups to visit the birthplace of Jesus, part of all Christian pilgrimage programs.

    Palestinian tour companies say the move would shutter their businesses and believe it was initially meant to protect more expensive Israeli hotels from losing guests.  

    "Tourism is the lifeblood of many Palestinian communities, like Bethlehem and Jericho," CEO of Green Olive tours, Fred Schlomka, told The Media Line.

    But Israeli operators claim their companies would also be hurt.

    "[The order] would have a detrimental impact not just on Palestinians but on Israeli tour operators," said Sami Khoury, president of the Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association.

    Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity and Jericho, one of the world's oldest inhabited cities, have been among top pilgrimage sites for centuries.

    Turmoil in the region has kept travelers away for quite a while, but there are signs that tourism to Israel is on its way back up. In April, 394,000 people visited the country, the highest-ever number of tourists in a month for Israel.

    And of course, if Bethlehem isn't an option, there's always street artist Banksy's Walled-Off Hotel just outside of Israel's separation wall with the West Bank — though it does, of course, have "the worst view in the world."    

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    Christians, tourism, Bethlehem, Israel
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