For the first time since the second intifada (the Palestinian uprising characterized by terrorist attacks against Israelis) in 2000, yesterday 50 Jewish and Druze tour guides and drivers returned to work in Bethlehem in the Palestinian Authority (PA), in the framework of a joint Tourism Ministry and Civil Administration pilot project.

Since the outbreak of the second intifada, Israeli citizens have been forbidden from entering the PA. Recently, the Tourism Ministry contacted the Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration, to request permission for tour guides to guide in Bethlehem, a city visited by many Christian tourists and pilgrims.

The Tourism Ministry’s initiative comes as a result of numerous requests from tour guides, travel agencies, tour operators and tourists themselves, who asked that the professional guides accompanying the groups during their visits to Israel be allowed to continue guiding them during their visits to Bethlehem.

Following the request, the Civil Administration in early January issued clear regulations to ensure the safety and security of the Israeli tour guides and drivers. Of the approximately 500 guides and drivers who asked to participate in the pilot project, 50 were selected by lottery.

Over the past two years, cooperation between the Tourism Ministry and tourism entities in the PA has been strengthened and joint activities to promote tourism have generated more than a million visitors and tourists to Bethlehem in 2008 and more than 1.3 million in 2009.