by Judy Lash Balint Israel Insider
November 24, 2004
It's hard to accuse Gideon Ezra, Israel's steely eyed Minister for Internal Security of being a wooly-headed peace and love type. Ezra spent more than 30 years working for the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security force, and left the service as its deputy director. He was widely reputed to have served time as a Mossad operative and represented Arik Sharon's Likud party in Israel's parliament for the past eight years.
But at a well attended but badly organized news conference in Jerusalem earlier today, Ezra announced that soon masses of tourists would be flocking into places like Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah and Ariel. Bethlehem and Nazareth got mentioned too by Ezra, who also serves as Israel's Minister of Tourism.
In a joint statement signed by Ezra and his Palestinian counterpart, Mitri Abu Aita, the two ministers pledged to cooperate in promoting tourism to the region, and announced that they "will take effective measures to assure the safe and smooth passage of pilgrims and tourists...and will provide the appropriate atmosphere..in terms of traffic to assure the best services for tourists and pilgrims to the Holy Land."
In the spirit of Christmas and to help boost tourism, a significant contributor to Israel's GNP, Ezra went on to wax lyrical about how from now on, Palestinians and Israelis will have booths side by side at all upcoming trade fairs. He let slip that he had met the Jordanian Tourism Minister in London recently--the ground having been set by previous Israeli Tourism Minister Benny Elon, whose tourism career was abruptly cut short when he was booted out of the Cabinet for opposing Prime Minister Sharon's Gaza eviction plan.
Questioned about the roadblocks presently surrounding many of the sites he had mentioned as tourist meccas, Ezra responded that as soon as terror stopped, the roadblocks would disappear.
Abu Aita invited one and all to visit Bethlehem and Jericho, long off-limits to Israelis due to serious security concerns. "I was born and raised in Bethlehem and I don't ever recall a security incident involving tourists there," he opined. Ezra stated that he was confident that soon Christian tourists "wont' even feel they're crossing from Jerusalem to Bethlehem." This despite a heavily guarded checkpoint that divides Israel's capital from Bethlehem, currently under Palestinian security control and home to several successful homicide bombers.
Ezra tried to implore the news camera people to do their part to encourage tourism by focusing away from the "terrible pictures."
"Tourism will open a new gate for cooperation." "Tourism can open the way for peace in the Middle East." "We're opening a new era in relations.."