Fresh attempts by the authorities in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, to encourage visitors to come and revive the town's ailing fortunes are being thwarted by metal turnstiles at the Israeli border terminal.
Fresh attempts by the authorities in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, to encourage visitors to come and revive the town's ailing fortunes are being thwarted by metal turnstiles at the Israeli border terminal – in spite of encouragements to tourists from church leaders.
The continuing complaints from locals come at the same time as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has joined other Christian leaders in urging people to visit Bethlehem, as a sign of hope and solidarity with those facing the continuing difficulties in the region.
The Cardinal's plea follows the acceptance last week of a Bethlehem passport by Pope Benedict XVI from Palestinian authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
In doing so, the Pope became the first new citizen of Bethlehem following the launch of "Open Bethlehem", an international campaign to save the city politically, socially, economically and spiritually.
.The town of Jesus Christ's birth is experiencing serious hardship. The severe loss of tourist income on which Bethlehem depends and increasing difficulties of access to holy sites are contributing to emigration, notably of Christian families,. said the Cardinal.
He continued: We urge Christians and all people who care for Bethlehem to visit the town and not let it be forgotten..
But residents say the checkpoint is turning the West Bank town into an open-air prison. Until 5 years ago, when a Palestinian uprising began, the 15-minute bus route from Jerusalem to Bethlehem went without a hitch and barely a stop for tourists and Palestinians alike.
Now it is an obstacle course. The city is 'imprisoned' by the controversial Israeli separation wall and by the militarised fences, with only two gates to the outside world.
The new Bethlehem project aims to encourage trade partnerships, investment, tourism, events, and to attract creative opportunities to the city. The core of its message is that Bethlehem is a city of openness and diversity, with a centuries old tradition of welcoming travellers, refugees and pilgrims from across the world.
Leila Sansour, Chief Executive of the 'Open Bethlehem' campaign, went to Washington DC to launch the passport in the United States recently.
"We recognise we have to act", says Dr Victor Batarseh, Mayor of Bethlehem. "The passport is a way to ask people to step up to the plate. Invest in Bethlehem, bring projects to the city, or come and live among us – and you can also be a Bethlehemite."