Jerusalem sees battered tourism amid pandemic

Jerusalem's Old City
Jerusalem's Old City

Sarah Abu Seir, who runs with her father a small bakery in the Christian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, has seen a very slow business this year even with the approach of Christmas, as the global Covid-19 pandemic throughout the year has cast a big shadow on the tourism of the holy city which now looks almost deserted.

“We need to see people sitting at our place, enjoying the pastries, but we couldn’t because of the coronavirus. We hope that next year will be better,” Abu Seir told Xinhua, referring to the Israeli health ministry’s restrictions to curb the pandemic.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Israel has already imposed two nationwide anti-virus lockdowns.

A third one is on the horizon since the number of cases is spiking again, foreshadowing a sombre Christmas festival, a peak period of tourism in previous years, for Jerusalem, where few lights have been put up and the celebrations scaled down.

“Jerusalem is becoming a ghost city,” said Abu Seir. “Walking in the streets in the morning – no people. It’s very sad.”

Yahya Attieh, who owns shops in Jerusalem that sell religious artifacts, was sitting idly outside his prime shop located next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus is believed to be buried, lamenting one of the worst tourist seasons he has ever seen.

“You can see the street is very quiet. We hope it could get better and nicer in the near future,” the 84-year-old told Xinhua.

“There are no tourists at all. I have not seen one dollar since the third month (March),” said  Michel, owner of a kiosk at the entrance to the Christian quarter of the Old City, who did not reveal his family name.

Data published by the Israeli Employment Service show that the unemployment rate in Jerusalem is over 30 percent, with the catering and hosting business hit hardest. For the Arab population in the city, many of whom work in tourism-related businesses, the unemployment is over 50 per cent.

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