The Untapped Gold Mine Of Palestinian Economy
Danny Rubinstein

TEL AVIV — Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah made an official visit to Indonesia last month. While a number of economic agreements were signed on the visit, one stood out for its huge tourism potential.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, has an increasing number of would-be pilgrims interested in traveling to Palestine’s religious sites.

Indonesian tourist groups can already be seen in Jerusalem, but Indonesia’s tourism potential is immense. It is just one more factor that has convinced Palestinian Authority economists that the tourism industry could be central to reviving the economy.

According to Palestinian figures, approximately 20% of the local workforce (including in east Jerusalem) is employed in various tourist services. This workforce contributes about 15% to the Palestinian GDP. By comparison, 5% of Israel’s workforce is employed in the tourism sector, contributing about 2% to Israel’s GDP.

This is the context in which to view the inauguration ceremony for the development of the Nabi Musa compound, south of Jericho, that was recently held in the presence of Prime Minister Hamdallah, United Nations officials and Palestinian government officials.

Nabi Musa, which Muslim tradition claims is the burial site of Prophet Moses, is intended to reclaim its historical role — the first stop for pilgrims arriving from the east on their way to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

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Palestine's Nabi Musa — Photo: Chalky Lives

It is a large, centuries-old compound surrounded by a wall with dozens of rooms for pilgrims. It is managed by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a trust managing the Islamic edifices in the Old City of Jerusalem.

During the British Mandate rule, the annual celebrations at Nabi Musa were a source of attacks on the British regime and on Jewish communities.

Muslims from the East — predominantly from Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan — would be crossing the Jordan River near Jericho, or land at the international airport the Palestinian Authority plans to build in the Judean desert, a few minutes drive from Nebi Musa.

Some in Israel are familiar with these plans, which partly coincide with John Kerry’s efforts to reignite peace talks, though most object to them. This is the reason the number of incidents along the road from the Jordan River and Jericho to east Jerusalem has increased in recent weeks.

If Israel carries out its planned development in the E1 area — expanding Ma’ale Edumim, the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, northwards — then Muslim pilgrims coming from Jericho to Jerusalem would have to go through a large Jewish city. Such a building project would break the Palestinian territorial continuity from the north of the West Bank to its south.

Last year, about 200 Palestinian youngsters ascended one hill in the E1 area and established an outpost they called Bab al-Shams. The message they carried was “this is the gate for our steadfastness and return to Jerusalem.” Clearly, the political future of the region will also determine the level of tourist activity, and ultimately the fate of the Palestinian economy.

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