"Snob, have you been to Tabha already?" "You wanted to suffer - Go to the Via Dolorosa." "End your troubles - Jump from Mount Precipice." "The Mount of Beatitudes - Not just for the rich." Those are only a few of the slogans that come to mind when reading about Stas Misezhnikov's wonderful plans for encouraging tourism to Israel.
Since entering office a year ago, the tourism minister has been trying to put Israel on the map once again as a destination for religious tourism. There are two reasons for that: Israel really is full of sites sacred to four religions (if you include the Bahais), and, as he said two weeks ago, in any case we have no chance of competing with Greece, Cyprus or Turkey as a tourist destination that gives good value to tourists looking for a vacation purely for pleasure.
The minister's plan presumably accords with the justice minister's recent statement describing his vision about returning to a legal system based on Jewish religious law. Regression is apparently the main trend in the present government. The past is the new future.
Misezhnikov, unlike Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, does not wear a skullcap, so it is hard to suspect that his tourism plans are being dictated by religious motives. All he is doing is trying to work with what we have, instead of trying to change what we lack. Instead of battling the scandalous hotel rates, the poor service, the rudeness of service providers, the price gouging by taxi drivers and restaurant owners - all those things that explain why we have no chance against countries popular with tourists, like Turkey and Greece - the minister is trying to nurture what we have here in any case: religious tourism, mainly Christian.
We should point out to Misezhnikov the possibility of tremendous financial savings involved in his proposal. Instead of investing money in upgrading the Christian tourism sites, we can simply allow them to deteriorate on their own. By reading "The Innocents Abroad," in which Mark Twain recorded his visit to the Holy Land in 1867, the minister will discover that Israel, and Jerusalem and Tiberias in particular, are rapidly regressing toward the goal of restoring the glory of their ancient sanctity.
Everything possible has already been said about the plague of the Jerusalem streets constantly being dug up and jammed up, and public transit to the city could also stand to be improved. The filth, the tourist traps and the seasoned tradesmen encountered by Twain have not disappeared; they have merely been replaced. The hordes of beggars, meanwhile, have moved from the Old City to the center of the new city. Lake Kinneret is even less deserving of the name "Sea of Galilee" than it was in Twain's time, while Nazareth is a traffic and health hazard.
The Tourism Ministry doesn't need to do much at all to encourage religious tourism: a bit of investment in building bathrooms, paving convenient access roads and providing parking next to the sites, and here and there initiatives like building an emergency care center at the downtown Jerusalem spot where the Talitha Kumi orphanage for Christian girls once stood, in memory of the miracle of Jesus resurrecting a young girl. The site is currently next to a tower popular with suicides, which looks over the pedestrian mall that is a favorite of those suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome.
It's a shame that in the meantime, the minister is not paying attention to the plan to encourage tourism that is being introduced by the Tel Aviv municipality, which is designed to turn the White City pink by turning it into the capital of gay tourism. This plan does not counteract Israel's image as an ancient land, since according to our sources Israel is also the birthplace of sodomy. A possible slogan: "There's no need to travel to Sodom for sodomy." Or maybe: "Sodom and Gomorrah on the beach."
All the same, there is a problem. That which will turn Israel into a paradise for religious tourism will also turn it into a nightmare for its secular inhabitants - especially when it comes to Jerusalem, which even without the intervention of the tourism minister is becoming more religious from one day to the next. The situation has reached a point where one fears that soon, the few secular people who still live there will be forced to move to Tel Aviv or Eilat, or to flee for their lives to the Hinnom Valley ("the Valley of Hell").
Speaking of which, here's a possible slogan for a future housing project there: "Hinnom Valley, Paradise in Hell." For straight secular people.
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