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Cablegate: Easter Brings Few Palestinian Pilgrims To

VZCZCXRO2150
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHJM #0718 1101454
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 201454Z APR 07
FM AMCONSUL JERUSALEM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7293
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY

UNCLAS JERUSALEM 000718

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NEA FOR FRONT OFFICE; NEA/IPA FOR
WILLIAMS/SHAMPAINE/BELGRADE; NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/WATERS;
TREASURY FOR NUGENT/HIRSON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EIND PREL KWBG
SUBJECT: EASTER BRINGS FEW PALESTINIAN PILGRIMS TO
JERUSALEM BUT BUOYS ARAB HOTELS

REF: A) TEL AVIV 913 B) 2005 JERUSALEM 4022

1. (SBU) Summary: Pilgrims crowded Jerusalem's Old City for
Easter in 2007, with approximately 85 percent coming from
abroad, and the rest from within Israel. Despite GOI
assurances that more generous access would be provided to
Palestinian pilgrims for the holiday, very few Palestinian
Christians from the West Bank were able to cross into
Jerusalem. East Jerusalem hotels, traditionally dependent on
Christian pilgrims for business, reached 100 percent
occupancy during Holy Week. For the year (2006), the average
occupancy rate among East Jerusalem hotels was 36 percent, up
from 10 percent in 2001-2003 and 21 percent in 2005. End
Summary.

More Pilgrims Arriving,
But Access Problems Remain
--------------------------

2. (SBU) Pilgrims crowded Jerusalem's Old City for Easter in
2007. Approximately 85 percent of pilgrims came from abroad,
primarily from Europe and Egypt, and another 15 percent came
from within Israel.

3. (SBU) Despite GOI assurances that access to Jerusalem
would be provided to Palestinian pilgrims for the holiday
season (ref A), Arab hotel owners reported few West Bank
Christians among their customers. A group of Palestinian
Christian NGOs issued a statement on March 29, complaining of
lack of access to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Local
papers reported that President Abbas met with the heads of
the Christian churches, including the Greek Orthodox
Patriarch, Latin Patriarch, the local head of the Anglican
Church, and other local Christian religious leaders, in
Bethlehem on April 10, to mark Easter. He criticized Israel
for "preventing the believers from reaching the holy sites."
Major crossing points were closed throughout the Jewish
holiday of Passover, which coincided with the Christian Holy
Week. OCHA's weekly report for April 4-10 noted that only
the Gilo/Rachel's Tomb checkpoint was open for Christians
holding special permits.

Modest Improvements in East Jerusalem
Hotels' Occupancy Rates
-------------------------------------

4. (SBU) According to the Arab Hotels Association (AHA),
occupancy rates in Arab-owned East Jerusalem hotels reached
nearly 100 percent for the Holy Week, a pattern also seen in
2006. Raed Saadeh, owner of the Jerusalem Hotel and
President of the AHA, said that improved occupancy rates this
year were partially due to the overflow from Israeli hotels
during Passover.

5. (SBU) Saadeh nervously welcomed the improvements, as East
Jerusalem's hotel industry has undergone painful adjustments
since 2000 (ref B). Saadeh noted that, of the 37 East
Jerusalem hotels operating in 2000, 22 remain open, eight
have closed completely, and seven more are partially closed
or converted to other purposes. The cyclical nature of
demand has led some East Jerusalem hotels, such as the Mount
Scopus Hotel, to open only for the spring holiday season.
Only seven or eight of the remaining hotels, such as the
Ambassador and the American Colony, enjoy robust business.

6. (SBU) AHA data suggest the industry may be beginning a
modest recovery. The average occupancy rate among Arab-owned
East Jerusalem hotels was 36 percent in 2006, an increase
from 10 percent in 2001-2003 and 21 percent in 2005, and
approaching the rates of the mid-1990s.

7. (SBU) Despite the recent improvements, Saadeh said that
East Jerusalem hotels remain vulnerable to changes in
economic conditions. East Jerusalem hotels generally target
pilgrims and do not have the facilities necessary to widen
their appeal to other market segments. The hotels face stiff
competition for pilgrims' business from religious
guesthouses, as well as Israeli hotels in West and East
Jerusalem. Furthermore, costs have increased as West Bank
labor has been cut off and licensing requirements and
inspections have forced the payment of costly fees.
WALLES

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