The 10,000-year anniversary of Jericho
, marked by Palestinians on October 10, came and went with little fanfare or international recognition.
Despite Jericho’s status as the oldest continually-inhabited city on the planet, the inaugural event was largely a local celebration, drawing few international figures save the consuls of donor states.
Still, enthusiasm and drive emanated from the Palestinian Authority
’s minister of tourism and antiquities, Khuloud Duiabis
, who delivered a thoughtful speech and gave several interviews wearing the project’s signature logo t-shirt.
“The project is the first step to brand Palestine as a destination and brand Jericho as a gateway to Palestine,” says Duiabis.
“Jericho is the oldest city in the world, so we are part of a human heritage, we are part of the heritage which is considered a universal value. We are proud as Palestinians to host these sites.”
Jericho has long been recognized among Palestinians for its vast and largely untapped tourist potential. Its many historical sites make it the perfect spearhead for a burgeoning Palestinian tourism industry that includes more religious and historical sites than are in Israel
Nonetheless, like occupied East Jerusalem
, Jericho has suffered the handicap of military occupation - unable to meet its potential as a tourism hub.
Jericho embodies more than ancient history. It is located in the agriculturally-rich Jordan Valley, and is situated directly adjacent to the Dead Sea and the major crossing point into the neighboring Kingdom of Jordan.
“Jericho offers a rich soil for investment,” says Nahida Halteh, one of the city’s few hundred Christian residents. “We hope to see people from all over the West Bank
come to build and invest here. We can be a second Sharm el-Sheikh,” referring to Egypt’s lucrative resort-town in the Sinai Peninsula.
Halteh describes the progress of Jericho’s development over the last few years as slow but noticeable, highlighting the increase in security as a positive achievement. She sees the small anniversary celebration as indicative of people’s lack of faith in the permanence of Jericho’s relative newfound prosperity.
“Most of the people don’t believe [in this project] without having peace and independence first,” says Halteh.
Diabes also views the political situation with Israel
as a constant obstacle to achieving Jericho’s ambitious aims.
“It’s part of the challenges we are facing in terms of occupation. We still do not have access to the Dead Sea to invest, and to a lot of archaeological sites in the so called ‘C’ area where we cannot develop.”
Diabes is referring to land designated as falling under Israeli military and civilian control in Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements. Although Jericho itself is not in area C, most of its surrounding area is, making Palestinian development a far more difficult process.
Yet, some critics of the Palestinian Authority’s development project say the occupation is not entirely to blame for the stalled process.
Sami Nwiser, a resident of Jericho who owns a radio station and chic café in the center of town, says he only heard about the anniversary celebration three days ago, and received a poster for the event the day of.
“They should have been working on this a long time ago,” he says. “There is very little advertisement and no media.”
“This is the oldest city in the world and it should be a world event.”
Diabes agrees that there could have been preparation for the event, but insists that Sunday’s kick-off was merely the first in a series of events that will take place over the coming weeks and months.
“So this is the beginning. If we wanted to be better prepared we might have needed another year or two years, but we wanted to make use of this occasion in order to bring momentum and energy in order to reach what we should have reached many years ago. We have to compensate for many years of occupation. So still a lot of work is needed.”