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JERUSALEM: Israel opened to vaccinated visitors on Monday after 20 months of closure, with Jews and Palestinians dependent on tourism expressing cautious hope that the economic devastation of the pandemic will gradually abate.
Rami Razouk, owner of a Palestinian souvenir shop in Israel’s annexed Old City of East Jerusalem, said he was “very happy” at the prospect of increased income, but admitted that his store was no longer available. not quite ready for an influx.
“Everything is dusty,” said the 35-year-old. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Razouk and senior Israeli officials said Monday marked a partial reopening and it would be premature to immediately expect buses full of tourists to start spending in the area.
“We are a long way from the (complete) opening of the sky,” Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told reporters, saying the number of tourists who will visit under current rules will become clearer in the weeks to come. to come.
As of Monday, foreigners can enter Israel with a negative COVID-19 test from the previous 72 hours and if their last dose of vaccine was given less than six months ago. Unvaccinated children remain subject to quarantine rules.
“It won’t happen in a day or two,” said Razouk, lamenting a long period with almost no sales. “It will take time.”
Before Israel imposed the first of several coronavirus closures in March 2020, tourism was growing at a galloping rate in a region home to countless religious sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews.
A record 4.6 million people visited in 2019, an 11% increase from 2018, generating revenues of 23 billion shekels ($ 7.3 billion), or 1.5% of GDP. Israel, the ministry said.
“The tourism industry was running at 200 kilometers an hour and we suddenly stopped due to COVID-19,” Tourism Ministry director general Amir Halevi said on Monday.
As expected, the activity of foreign tourists has since fallen. Despite Monday’s opening, only NIS 1.5 billion in revenue is expected this year.
Ezechiel Grinberg, a freelance Jerusalem-based tour guide, said he survived on minimum wage government subsidies for almost 18 months.
“It’s great as a (tourism) professional,” that visitors are starting to come back, he says. But he expressed concern that the onerous entry requirements would still take away his income.
Nader Zaro, a Palestinian who owns a cafe on the Old City’s Via Dolorosa (Path of Sorrow) – considered by many to be the path Jesus was forced to take to get to his crucifixion – said he had need “normal tourists” to come back.
Israel has allowed some tour groups under special arrangements, but Zaro explained that such groups do not help small operators like him.
“Everyone wants to catch them,” Zaro said. “There are big sharks and little sharks … and big sharks eat everything. Me, I am eaten.
Despite record COVID-19 transmission figures in late August and September, the coalition government of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has avoided a new lockdown, betting that a new vaccination campaign could stem a wave blamed in part on the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Authorities have launched an aggressive campaign to inoculate citizens with a third booster of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has reduced infections.
Following widespread data that Pfizer-BioNTech’s protection is waning six months after the last jab, Israel has placed recent vaccinations at the center of its reopening strategy.
Among those who landed at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Monday was American Lauren Solsberg, who said she had to get a recall to meet entry requirements.
“It was until the last minute before we knew we were coming,” she said.

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