Bethlehem welcomes Christmas tourists after pandemic lull

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) – Business is bouncing back in Bethlehem after two years in the doldrums during the coronavirus pandemic, lifting spirits in the traditional birthplace of Jesus ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Streets are bustling with tour groups. Hotels are fully booked, and months of deadly Israeli-Palestinian fighting appears to be having little effect on the vital tourism industry.

Christmas is normally peak season for tourism in Bethlehem, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank just a few miles southeast of Jerusalem.

In pre-pandemic times, thousands of pilgrims and tourists from around the world came to celebrate.

But those numbers plummeted during the pandemic.

Although tourism hasn’t fully recovered, the hordes of visitors are a welcome improvement and encouraging sign.

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