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Bethlehem Christians Bear Burden of Israel’s Coronavirus Crackdown

Given the Church of the Nativity closure and self-quarantine of tourists—including 13 Alabama Baptists—locals fear the economy won't be resurrected by Easter.
Bethlehem Christians Bear Burden of Israel’s Coronavirus Crackdown
Image: Mahmoud Illean / AP
Tourists visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, on March 5.

Visitors to Israel are now required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, according to safety measures implemented by the Israeli government in response to the global COVID-19 outbreak.

The new policy has put a major dampener on Easter pilgrimages to the Holy Land—where 6 out of 10 tourists were Christians in 2018—dealing yet another blow to communities heavily dependent on foreign visitors.

The dramatic plunge comes with “tragic consequences” for the region, where tourism is a significant piece of the economy, according to Munther Isaac, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem and academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College.

Since 2016, the number of tourists in Israel has increased each year, with a record-setting 4.5 million visiting the country in 2019 (an 11 percent increase over 2018). The industry pumped billions of dollars into the local economy.

But with 127 confirmed coronavirus diagnoses in Israel and 35 in the West Bank as of ...

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