As the header image to this part of the website shows I visited Bethlehem on a troubled day back in 1999. As we were leaving the town following a visit to the holy sites it all kicked off, with Palestinian locals stoning the armed Israeli troops adjacent to one of the holy sites of the Jewish faith, The tomb of Rachel the Matriarch This was all a far cry from the peace and goodwill to all message and the Christian nativity for which the town is famous worldwide and the message proudly carried (then) by a local cafe.
Regrettably the troubles which were kicking off that day in the Palestinian Territories have not stopped since, spreading and inflaming old wounds and the Middle East is now a cauldron of problems. That it had been sufficiently quiet in the build up to our visit appears with hindsight to have been a matter of luck as I doubt it will be safe enough for a return visit for many years to come,
Back then the souvenir shops were thriving with local men able to get employment on taxi work and all the other touristy normality. Whilst there were guards about and security was tight there was no immediate threat. As this report from the International Business Times states, not so in 2015, since October tourism figures are well down with all the attendant problems that brings to a town dependent on tourism for most of its income.