Mideast Tourist Sites Scarred and Deserted
Alison Buckholtz Washington Post Service
Tuesday, October 30, 2001
At the lowest inhabited point on earth - the ancient city of Jericho, in
the now-ragged West Bank - one more descent beckons. Jericho's Tel
Sultan, a 10,000-year-old excavated settlement, is home to the oldest
stairway in the world. Amid the crumbling ruins, where it is sometimes
difficult to distinguish between bedrock and rock dust, these 14 steps,
still very much intact, usher visitors into another era.
least, they used to. When there were visitors. When the West Bank's
rebirth as a tourism destination drew adventurous travelers by the bus
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the past year has cut
deeply into the region's tourism infrastructure. Travelers who once
dreamed of stepping onto hallowed cultural and religious ground -
Bethlehem's Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity, Rachel's Tomb,
Joseph's Tomb, Herodion, Hisham's Palace, Tel Sultan - now get an
armchair view during nightly news broadcasts.
Since Sept. 11,
travelers have been cut off from many more Middle Eastern destinations.
Some trips have been deemed unwise for the moment, leaving popular sites
throughout Arab and Muslim lands deserted. And while the world watches,
historical icons have been lost to humanity forever - icons as renowned
as Afghanistan's giant Buddhas, destroyed last spring by the
Joseph's Tomb - near Nablus, in the West Bank - was also
destroyed. According to tradition, this is where the biblical Joseph's
remains were carried from Egypt, and the site is holy to Jews and
Muslims. But as flash points in an ongoing battle, some Palestinian
travel destinations carry political overtones that outweigh
Better-known West Bank sites are just as vulnerable. A
local teenager leaving services at Bethlehem's fourth-century Church of
the Nativity was recently shot to death in Manger Square; the bullets
reportedly knocked splinters from the wooden roof and chipped the
12th-century stone floor. Manger Square, buffed and polished to a shine
for millennium celebrations, was until last year a bustling post where
pilgrims came to kneel at the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Now a
gathering spot for protests, it has been off-limits to tourists for many
Few days pass without news of a terrorist incident within
Israel, and the U.S. State Department warns Americans to defer travel
there because of this heightened threat.
Among the sites lost, at
least temporarily: Jerusalem's Old City, housing the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre, the Western Wall, Haram Sharif and the Dome of the Rock; the
natural beauty of Old Jaffa; Nazareth's monasteries, churches and tombs;
Haifa's Bahai Shrine and Gardens; and archaeological sites in Bet Shean
Anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan, and
protesters' targeting of U.S. facilities there, have led to another
State Department warning. If you've been dreaming of Pakistan, you'll
have to settle for an Internet tour.
The State Department has
also warned tourists away from Yemen, site of the bombing of the U.S.
No one climbs the Tel Sultan stairs now; no one
hears the story of a people who built to unify. The excavation itself
likely remains untouched. It is merely a symbol of the need to cooperate.
©Copyright 2001, the International Herald Tribune