Light a Hanukkah candle website is online > Updated

Posted On December 14, 2009

Filed under Travel MiddleEast
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped leave a response

Please Note > this post has been moved to our Festive Spirit blog and you can access it along with many other related posts at >


‘Open Bethlehem’ > Save the City campaign

Posted On December 14, 2006

Filed under News Middle East, Travel MiddleEast

Comments Dropped leave a response

Open Bethlehem, campaigns to keep the city open to the world at a time when the Israeli wall and land annexations are causing hardship for its inhabitants.

‘Open Bethlehem’ is a Save the City campaign launched in November 2005 announcing the creation of the Bethlehem passport, an honourary citizenship of the city open to all in the world. The first recipient of the passport was his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

The campaign works with church leaders, media and decision makers around the world to help focus world attention on Bethlehem’s plight. It also acts as a bridge for partnerships of all kinds from helping set up new tour operations to organising international events in Bethlehem.

Open Bethlehem invites all tour operators, church groups and aspiring tour leaders to contact us if they need help with information on how to organise pilgrimages and cultural trips to Bethlehem. We also invite people to contact us in the new year for information on available travel programs or if they want to promote tours already in operation.

The Wall in and around Bethlehem has reduced the district to its urban core. It severs the built-up areas from thousands of acres of agricultural land and water resources. There are 27 Israeli settlements in the Bethlehem district built on land confiscated from Bethlehem’s private owners. It is predicted that once the wall is complete Bethlehem will lose 70% of its territory altogether.

A system of cement walls, electric fences, settlers only roads and checkpoints creates a prison-like environment for the people of Bethlehem. The World Bank cites the closure regime as the direct cause of the humanitarian crisis.

70% of the population in Bethlehem lives below the poverty line. Unemployment is higher than 60%. Tourism, which accounts for 65% of the Bethlehem economy is now almost entirely controlled by Israeli companies, meaning that the few tourists that come to Bethlehem don’t stay for more than a few hours. The Hotel Association in Bethlehem has reported that only 2.5% of rooms were booked in 2005 in comparison to 22.1% in 2000.

The Christian population in Bethlehem accounts for 41.3% of the population in Bethlehem town proper and 26% in the whole district. Following Israeli invasions in 2001-2002, Bethlehem lost 10% of it Christian population as 3000 Christians left the city. UNOCHA report, December 2004:

The emigration of Christians is a serious threat to Palestine’s mixed heritage which embraced diversity for centuries.

The Jerusalem-Bethlehem dioceses of the Latin (Catholic), Anglican and Armenian Churches, in common with the Eastern Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Churches, is centred on the various cathedrals of Jerusalem. The Israeli wall cuts these ancient diocese into parcels, separating churchmen from their congregations and families from each other.

During Open Bethlehem’s launch in November 2005 Churches Together in Britain and Ireland stated: “The short road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem has always been the great high road of the Christian faith, linking as it does the cities of Our Lord’s birth and resurrection. It has been trodden by countless millions of pilgrims in the last 2,000 years. We are dismayed that the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is now closed to the great majority of Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, and passable only with much inconvenience and expenditure of time by pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. We view this closure and the barrier being built around Bethlehem as a grave injustice to its people, a serious threat to its economic life and social fabric, and an affront to all Christians.”

For more information please visit >

Deck the Malls > Christmas in Dubai

Posted On December 9, 2006

Filed under Travel MiddleEast

Comments Dropped leave a response

At Santa’s Village, stuffed penguins frolic beneath Egyptian-motif glass windows

Two huge seated pharaohs stared at me, unblinking and unseeing, frozen in time. I wasn’t anywhere that you would normally associate with these divine beings, Egypt, the British Museum or even Las Vegas. It was December, the beginning of the Christmas season, and I was in Dubai City, outside the entrance to the ultra-modern Wafi City Mall. After a quick glance at the mall directory, I thought, “The pharaohs could have found everything they needed for the afterlife and more right here.”

I’d just hopped off an open-air, double-decker tour bus. I was parched and ready for the cool embrace of the air-conditioned mall. I hadn’t expected to be greeted by the pharaohs or to find the London-style tour bus offering city and beach tours. After several hours exploring the city, however, I understood the guide’s oft-repeated refrain: “Dubai is a country full of surprises.”

Dubai, a member of the federation of seven United Arab Emirates (UAE), pulsates with a cosmopolitan mix of Arab, Indian, Asian and Western lifestyles and cultures. With 1.2 million inhabitants, it is the most populous emirate. Most people live in Dubai City, the country’s capital, on the Persian Gulf.

In contrast to fellow UAE members, Dubai generates only a small part of its gross domestic product from oil reserves, which are considerably smaller than those of its neighbors. Fueled by a visionary leadership, the sheikdom has capitalized on its history as a trade hub to build itself into a cosmopolitan center of finance, manufacturing and tourism.

From the exotic dhows laden with everything including the kitchen sink that still ply Dubai Creek to the glistening glass and steel of modern skyscrapers to the carefully irrigated roadside beds of petunias and marigolds plunked down in the desert sand, my quick tour of the capital underscored the guide’s sentiment that nothing is predictable in this country of contrasts.

I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw as I entered the Wafi City Mall. A 50-foot-tall (15m) Christmas tree towered over the lobby. Christmas carols floated through the air. Traditional red and green holiday decorations festooned the store entryways.

With my mouth agape and my eyes still fixed on the tree, I tried to respond to the mall greeter’s efforts to give me a map of the stores and a discount coupon for purchases. “Do you always have a Christmas tree here?” I managed to sputter. “Oh, yes, Wafi City is famous for its Christmas displays. If you go upstairs, you’ll even find Santa’s Village.”

Sure enough, one level up, under the pyramid-shaped atrium that sparkled with rich jewel-colored murals of life in ancient Egypt, Santa ho-ho-ho-ed his Christmas greetings to giggling Muslim and Christian children alike in a gesture of universal goodwill. Elves, polar bears and penguins stood in attendance around a gingerbread house and igloo that completed the Christmas scene.

While Santa entertained the kids and the pharaohs kept silent watch outside, shoppers of all nationalities were doing an excellent job of supplying themselves with luxury goods from high-end stores. Women shrouded in long black abaya cloaks worn over regular clothes and head scarves shopped side by side with young Arab women in low-slung Britney Spears–style jeans and the occasional exposed belly button.

Stylish businessmen and casually dressed Westerners in shorts and running shoes strolled past men clad in traditional long white robes and checkered black-and-white head cloths. Smartly dressed Asian women huddled together checking their maps to locate their next shopping destination. It was United Nations–central right here at the mall.

Suddenly, the sound of mall chatter fell off as the afternoon call to prayer blared over the loudspeaker. Muslim men and women swiftly made their way to their separate prayer rooms, conveniently located next to restrooms, complete with foot showers for ritual foot cleansing prior to prayers.

From the shopper-oriented commercial aspects of Christmas, the mall gave itself over quickly and easily to the tradition of Islam, which forms the bedrock of Dubai and is the official religion of all the Emirates. While the majority of Dubai’s residents are Sunni muslims, Dubai is the only Emirate that accommodates foreign minorities, with a Hindu temple and a Sikh temple.

As I strolled out of the mall, I felt something brush my hair. Looking up, I was caught in a swirl of fake snow falling from above. I laughed. Children giggled. Always expect the unexpected in Dubai.

If You Go >

The Wafi City Mall > The mall offers high-end shopping with a terrific family entertainment center called Encounter Zone, on the upper floor.

The Big Bus Company > For those with only a few days to explore, the Big Bus tour offers an excellent visual introduction to this city of contrasts, with the convenience of hop-on, hop-off, at many major attractions on the City Tour. There’s also a two-hour Beach Tour. An enthusiastic English-speaking guide provides commentaries on each bus. It is also an easy way for women traveling on their own to see the sights. The buses originate at or near Wafi City, but can be boarded at any of its stops. Reservations can be made online at or by going to the ticket counter outside the Mall.

Dubai Tourism >

Enjoy the festive season at the Sheraton Damascus, Syria

Enjoy buffets, bazaars and booze this festive season at the Sheraton Damascus, Syria.
The Sheraton Damascus Hotel and Towers, located in Syria’s capital city Damascus, is offering visitors exciting packages this festive season.

The magnificent Sheraton Damascus Hotel and Towers is located in the centre of the city and offers 278 luxurious rooms. The hotel offers a range of indoor and outdoor dining options specialising in Syrian and Middle Eastern cuisine. The hotel also offers a range of facilities including an outdoor swimming pool, lighted tennis courts, tennis lessons and a barbers and beauty salon. One of the most beautiful hotels in Syria, The Sheraton Hotel and Towers makes for a dream festive holiday in one of the worlds most dramatic cultural havens.

Highlights of Syria include > Shopping in the Souq Al-Hamidiyya, a long covered market which leads to the heart of the city, visits to some of the Levant region’s oldest mosques and getting steamed cleaned in a authentic Hammam.

Christmas Package > The package includes seven night’s accommodation for two people over the Christmas period and a special Christmas Bazzar buffet lunch in the stunning Omayad Ballroom. Prices start from £855 and is based on two people sharing a standard room.

New Year Package > The package includes seven night’s accommodation for two people over the New Year period and a set menu dinner for two on New Years Eve, including all drinks, in the Omayad Ballroom. Alternatively, for the same price, visitors can dine in The Pub on New Years Eve and drinks are also included. New Year celebrations continue at Rumors disco; entrance costs 2500 Syrian Pounds (approximately £26) and includes two drinks. Prices start from £949 and is based on two people sharing a standard room.

For further information on the Sheraton Damascus >

Middle East tourism round-up

Posted On December 6, 2006

Filed under Travel MiddleEast

Comments Dropped leave a response

Amman, the capital of Jordan and a much-sought after tourist hub in the Middle East, will soon be linked directly with Oman >

Oman Air, Sultanate of Oman’s national carrier, will commence flights to Amman from next month with three non-stop flights (Monday/Wednesday and Saturday) a week. Oman Air has come up with attractive offers like ‘children travel free’ during the promotion period and also setting up of stands at Lulu Hypermarket outlets at Darsait and Al Ghubrah to raffle and give away 10 return tickets to Amman.


Bouyed by the demands of growing business Qatar Airways opened a new ticketing, reservations and administrative office in the business district of Kuwait City. The new office is housed in one of the tallest buildings in the capital of the state of Kuwait. The office, located in Alrakan Tower within Safat district, is three times larger than the old premises. It offers a modern, airy and contemporary ambience, which makes the customers comfortable with plenty of open space to relax and book their tickets.

Ticketing, reservations and Qatar Airways Holidays are located on the mezzanine floor, while Qatar Airways’ administrative office, encompassing finance, cargo and back-office functions, is located on the 14th floor. 


The 11th and the 12th editions of Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), an entertainment and shopping extravaganza, is all set to enthrall visitors for 45 days and will be held from December 20 to February 2, 2007, under the theme ‘One World, One Family, One Festival’.

The festival is expected to draw thousands of visitors to Dubai, which is positioning itself as a major tourist destination in the global map.

With its ongoing theme of ‘One World, One Family, One Festival’, Saeed Al Nabouda, CEO, Dubai Shopping Festival, at a press conference held at The Chedi Hotel to announce the festival said this year’s festival will have varied attractions to satiate the appetite of the old timers as well as newcomers. 

This year’s enhanced DSF will include a World Cultures Festival, a Family Entertainment Festival, Arts and Cultural Festival, Musical Festival, Dubai Carnivals Festival, Dubai Fashion Festival, a Sports Festival, a Food Festival, a Records Breaking Festival, a Heritage Festival, a Shopping Malls Festival, a Raffle and Winnings Festival and many more milestone events on occasions such as the Eid Al Adha, Christmas, New Year and the winter school breaks.