Before setting off to Jerusalem, I sat down and thought very carefully about how I wanted to spend my money in the city.
A lot of people who support the Palestinian cause are careful to boycott Israeli products but a lot fewer have the chance to actively support the Palestinian economy. Visiting Jerusalem would be my chance to throw in my shekels for the Palestinian economy so I want to make sure I get it right. Basically I need to avoid propping up Israeli businesses while I am there and although I am not spending thousands, if you put together all the money tourist spend it really does start to add up.
According to the Word Travel Market Global Trends forecast, by 2011 the number of tourist visiting the Middle East will have increased to 55 million people a year. These visitors are estimated to bring in revenue worth $51 billion to the region. Now, that is a lot of money. Spent in the right way a tourist’s money could really help Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem where the economy is built on local businesses related to tourism. Hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and stalls are where Palestinian Jerusalemites make their living and so when a Muslim like me visits, I have a real opportunity to positively contribute to its economy.
How do I support the Palestinian economy?
“It’s really quite simple,” answers Mrs. Salhab from the Hashimi Hotel in Jerusalem. “Don’t buy from the Jewish Quarter or stay in Israeli hotels and look for Palestinians wherever you are staying or eating. The Arab Hotel Association is really useful as it has a list of Palestinian hotels to stay in across the whole of Palestine.”
The Arab Hotel Association was established in Jerusalem in 1962, to represent Palestinian hotels and currently has 56 members with over 3,700 guest rooms. It also runs a center to train Palestinian tourism professionals to help them compete in an increasingly competitive industry. The Alternative Tourism Group of Bethlehem has also joined forces with other Palestinian organizations to come up with ‘A Code of Conduct’ which gives advice on how to support “a just and responsible tourism in Palestine.” It has some great suggestions such as using local guides, transportation and spending more time getting to know Palestinians and their way of life.
Another place to support the economy is the particularly vibrant Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. You can buy almost anything from here, safe in the knowledge that you are supporting the Palestinian community.
Jerusalem’s Economy after the Intifada
The tourism industry is now buoyed by streams of pilgrims and optimism about its future. As recently as 2000, the industry suffered a severe downfall as political turmoil erupted in the country and visitors kept away due to fears for their safety. In the wake of the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000, the tourism industry fell by the unprecedented amount of 50% and four years later reports were stating that the volume of tourism was still some 45% lower than pre-intifada levels.
“After 2000 things were very bad, and not for a few months but for a very long time,” reaffirms Sarah who runs a Muslim-friendly hotel in the Muslim Quarter. “It took a long time for things to get better and in consideration of the economic situation worldwide and Gaza, things are remarkably strong.”
Even so, reports by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted that the Israeli security measures such as checkpoints, curfews and roadblocks fragmented the Palestinian economy and pushed it further into decline. A report by the World Bank this June 2009 also found that recent post-conflict economic recovery has been hampered by Israeli restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement. As a result, Palestinians are becoming more rather than less dependent on foreign aid.
In these circumstances, it is more important than ever that Muslims are supporting the Palestinian economy sustainable by visiting the holy city and investing in its economy. As Sarah add, “Jerusalem sees so much of everyone but it would be great to see more Muslim visitor, especially from the UK and Europe, supporting the Palestinian economy.”