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West Bank tourism is in its infancy, but it boasts many attractions.
Nevertheless, the West Bank is receiving an important boost from the British government, which pledged to develop commercial partnerships with the Palestinian territories at a conference hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London last December.
"If you have people pushing [tourism] forward here, you can actually do something," says Paul Taylor of U.K. Trade and Investment, who was leading a small trade mission of British tourism experts to the region. "There is an image problem … which isn’t connected to reality."
In early fall, birds flock to the Palestinian valleys on their migratory journey southwards. Atrash points to a Palestine sunbird — not quick enough for his visitors to see — that represents the daily battles that characterize Israeli-Palestinian relations.
“The Israelis wanted to change its name to the orange-tufted sunbird,” Atrash says. “We faced up to them, and they kept it as the Palestine sunbird.”
“There is a war between us on these issues,” he adds.
While he refers lightly to the bureaucratic hurdles that complicate his job, the threat of a renewal of hostilities with the Israelis is never far away. Israeli settlements straddling nearby hills and the burst of gunfire from a nearby military range underscore the fragility of peace here.
Still, the impending arrival of budget airlines to the region, and an economic boom buoyed by the easing of Israeli restrictions in the West Bank offer a glimpse of what could be.
“I’m really impressed,” says Alison Cryer, a member of the delegation, and managing director of Representation Plus, which markets tourism destinations. “They do have the product. It’s just a question of packaging it up.”