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Jul 7, 2008 –  Dozens of Israeli tour guides filed a civil lawsuit against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization on Tuesday, claiming a loss of income due to the severe drop in tourism. The tour guides say Palestinian terrorism and violence over the last three years is to blame.

Forty-two members of the Israel Tour Guides’ Association filed the suit in the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday, alleging that the PA and PLO have instituted an official policy to encourage and fund terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

The attacks created fear and prompted a drop in tourism and the loss of some 80 percent of their income, said attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who is representing the tour guides.

“For the past 33 months, the Palestinian Authority has engaged in an official campaign to kill and maim Israeli civilians and destroy our economy through its violence,” said Darshan-Leitner.

“The tour guides’ law suit will prove that the Palestinian leadership intentionally targeted our tourism industry and perpetrated terror attacks with the goal of intimidating foreign travelers from visiting,” she said in a statement.

With the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land and the advent of the year 2000, Israelis and Palestinians had hoped for a record-breaking year for tourism both in Israel and the Palestinian areas. Officials forecast that the numbers would keep climbing.

But with the beginning of the violence, tourism dropped drastically as tours cancelled for the end of 2000.

The number of visitors continued to decline: In 2002 there were some 862,300 tourists – less than one-third of the 2.67 million tourists who visited in 2000, the Ministry of Tourism said.

The Ministry of Tourism said things are getting better: It expects an increase this year to about 1.2 million tourists.

Darshan-Leitner contends that the PA and PLO were responsible for the “atmosphere of fear,” which scared away tourists and prompted most foreign countries to issue travel advisories warning their citizens not to visit Israel.

However, even among those tourists who were courageous enough to come, many did not travel throughout the country nor did they take tour guides, thereby cutting the market for tour guides’ services.

Some 1,500 – 2,000 licensed tour guides worked full time in Israel until the outbreak of the Palestinian intifadah in September 2000, said Rafi Glass, Chairman of the Israel Tour Guides’ Association (ITGA).

Now, according to Glass, some 95 percent have been unemployed for the last two years and one tour guide committed suicide. The five percent of tour guides who have been working, he said, have primarily been guiding local Israeli groups.

“Many of the guides have had to spend the money [they saved] for their pensions,” said Glass in a telephone interview. “Most of the guides have tried to find some different occupation…[It’s] still a big tragedy.”

As a result of the situation, Glass said, 42 of the tour guides who could afford it decided to file the suit against the PA and PLO. In order to file a suit one needs to pay a percentage of the claim to the courts in advance.

“Many other guides would like to sue but don’t have the money to pay the [court fee],” Glass said. “[Another] 20-30 guides will join the court case,” he estimated. “The problem is they don’t have the money.”

According to Darshan-Leitner, the claims range in amounts from about $23,000 to $35,000, which represents only a portion of the claimants’ losses, but due to the court fees it was all they could afford.