For hundreds of years, the wealthy residents of Jerusalem tended to spend the cold days of winter in Jericho. Proof of this can be found in the remnants of Hasmonean palaces at the entrance to Wadi Qelt, which leads to Jericho, and in Hisham’s Palace, the well-known site constructed by Khalif Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik in the eighth century, in Khirbat Mafjar in the east of the city. Just a half hour’s drive away from Jerusalem is a blooming and relatively warm oasis.
In the north of the city is one of Jericho’s central attractions: a cable car that brings visitors from Elisha’s Spring – Ein as-Sultan – to the top of the Qarantal mountain (Mount of Temptation), out of which a Greek Orthodox monastery is carved. A shopping center is located at the bottom, near a spring, and some pleasant restaurants are at the top, near the monastery. The view from the cable car and the ancient monastery is spectacularly beautiful. After passing above the archaeological digs at Tel Jericho, which is among the oldest cities in the world, you reach the top of the Mount of Temptation, on which, according to Christian tradition, Jesus spent 40 days, during which the devil tried to tempt him.
Tourists pass by and continue on
Some one million tourists visited Jericho last year, the city’s governor, engineer Majed al-Fetyani, told Calcalist, but income from tourism is very low. Why? Because most tourists pass by on buses, glance at the city’s various sites, occasionally buy something, and then hurry along to nearby tourist sites, like the baptism site in the Jordan, Qumran, the Ein Gedi springs and Masada.
Income from tourism in Jericho was once based on internal Israeli and Palestinian tourism, but since the second Intifada, entrance to Israeli Jews is forbidden and the city has turned into something of a closed-off enclave, surrounded by settlements and territories under Israeli control. Access to the city is difficult. Moreover, the well-known casino that used to attract millions of Israelis was closed with the start of the second Intifada, and since then, the nearby fancy hotel – the only hotel in the city – has been empty for days on end.
Making a living from agriculture and government jobs
Some 34,000 Arabs in Jericho earn a living from the agricultural plots of land scattered in and around the city. A second source of income is government employment. Additionally, with the assistance and funding of the government of Japan, infrastructure work is taking place in the east of the city ahead of the establishment of an industrial zone. It will mostly consist of factories for the processing of agricultural production from Jericho and the Jordan Valley.
Whereas new neighborhoods and residential towers have sprouted up in Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and other towns in the West Bank, Jericho remains much as it has been for decades, and seems to have stagnated: the same small houses, surrounded by fences and groves, pretty villas serving as winter homes for wealthy Palestinians, and a string of cafes and restaurants on the main street. Better days will enable Jericho to go back to being a prosperous resort town. For now, even visiting tourists rush to continue on their way.