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Friday, December 8, 2023

Shuttered Shops, Empty Streets: Gaza Conflict Severely Impacts Tourism and Economy in the West Bank

BETHLEHEM, West Bank: The Star Street Inn, a Bethlehem landmark for six decades, stands silent and empty, a stark reflection of the devastating impact the Israel-Hamas conflict has had on the Palestinian economy. Mr. Ata Mohsen Serhan, the owner of the guesthouse, shared the profound toll the war has taken on his livelihood and family. His once-thriving business passed down from his father, provided essential income for his three daughters and son. However, since the outbreak of hostilities, the inn has been closed, leaving Mr. Serhan contemplating a shift from the tourism industry to engineering for a more stable future.

A lone girl walks along an empty street lined with shuttered shops in West Bank.

CHRISTMAS CANCELLED: Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, normally draws over a million tourists each year, especially during the Christmas season. However, the war has forced the cancellation of events, turning the holy city into a somber shadow of its festive self. Local authorities have dismantled Christmas trees and decorations, and the absence of tourists has plunged businesses into a state of paralysis.

With less than two months until Christmas, the streets of Bethlehem, once bustling with tourists, are now desolate. Rows of shops stand shuttered, their owners struggling to stay afloat amid a haunting lack of visitors. Mr. Khalil Salahat, owner of the Old Cave souvenir shop, expressed the profound impact on businesses that rely heavily on tourism, particularly during the Christmas period. The absence of tourists during these crucial months has dealt a severe blow to their livelihoods.

PALESTINIAN TOUR GUIDES STRUGGLE: The plight of Palestinian tour guides, who have faced challenges since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, has worsened with the current conflict. The war has compounded their struggles, leaving many in a dire situation.

Mr Ata Mohsen Serhan, owner of the Star Street Inn in Bethlehem, speaks to CNA on the terrace of his guesthouse.

ECONOMIC IMPACT: The conflict, triggered by Hamas militants’ surprise cross-border attack on Israel on Oct 7, has taken a devastating toll on the Palestinian economy. Israel’s retaliatory offensive into the Gaza Strip and raids in the West Bank have further escalated the situation.

A report by the UN Development Programme reveals that in the first month of conflict, the territories’ gross domestic product (GDP) suffered a 4.2% decline. The projections are dire, with an anticipated 8.4% drop in the next month, resulting in a staggering loss of US$1.7 billion. This economic downturn is expected to push nearly half a million more people into poverty.

Mr Khalil Salahat (L), owner of Old Cave souvenir shop in Bethlehem, speaks to CNA in his store.

According to the International Labour Organization, some 390,000 Palestinians have lost their jobs since the war began. Gaza residents who worked in the construction industry in Israel faced additional challenges, as their work permits were canceled following the Hamas attack.

Residents of Gaza, like Hazem Abu Mghanam, express a profound sense of hopelessness, stating, “There is no future to look forward to anymore. For us, the future has ended because of the war.”

In the West Bank, daily life has been disrupted by restrictions on movement, blocked roads, and increased checkpoints. The UN warns that the economic devastation will exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation, making recovery prospects challenging and slow.

Israeli soldiers on patrol in the West Bank town of Hawara, which has wholly emptied after the Israeli military closed shops and banned Palestinian vehicles from the main road in the wake of Palestinian militant attacks and settler violence in the town, November 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

As Bethlehem, a symbol of peace and hope, faces a subdued Christmas season, the broader impact of the conflict on the Palestinian economy underscores the urgent need for international intervention and efforts towards lasting peace in the region. The reverberations of this conflict are not confined to geopolitics; they echo in the shuttered shops and empty streets, affecting the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people striving for stability and prosperity.


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