Connect to share and comment

The rise of Jericho

West Bank city is shaking loose Israeli control and regaining a reputation, with a little help.

When it opened in 2000, the hotel and its neighboring Oasis Casino were part of an effort to re-orient the local economy to outside tourists, including Israelis who couldn't gamble at home. They were built to fill in a lacuna left behind when the Palestinian upper crust outgrew their old resort town.

Ali Qleibo, 52, grew up in Jerusalem's Old City and remembers fondly the trips he took with his family, a branch of the prominent Nusseibehs.

"It used to be the thing to do — to walk in the afternoon and go to the restaurants and cafes along the main street, up to 1988," Qleibo said. "But [the old generation] died, and their children left."

Qleibo bucked the trend and bought a pink cottage surrounded by lemon and orange trees, where he could host sunny meals outside. But during the Second Intifada, the Israeli security measures isolated Jericho. Qleibo, who writes, paints and teaches for a living, found himself trekking four kilometers just to tend his garden.

Today, even with the improved access to Jericho, the lifestyle of urban "gentleman-farmers," is on the wane, Qleibo said. Central heating in Jerusalem lessened Jericho's cache. The main restaurant avenue, Muntazahat Street, is lined with empty or shuttered eateries. On a January afternoon, Qleibo's daughter Aida showed off pictures from a recent ski trip in France. It's a sharp cosmopolitan contrast to Jericho's dusty roads, where old men pedal ancient bicycles and greengrocers use metal weights to sell giant banana stalks.

Mayor Salah also acknowledges that tastes have changed.

"People are visiting the cable car, [Elijah's Spring], swimming pools and the Spanish park," he said. "We have to change our methods and facilities."

Yet Abdullah, the economist, said that Jericho's current status — nearly empty in winter — is actually the anomaly.

"Jericho in the 1970s was always a place where you could find people from outside the city," he said. "The city would double its citizens in the winter all the time, and on the weekends you would find that Jericho would have more than 5 times its visitors. So this [revitalization] would bring Jericho back to its original look actually."