Jericho: The Oldest City

Feb. 16, 2005 1:33 p.m.

If Jericho were anywhere in the U.S., it would be filled with souvenir shops selling T-shirts and trinkets, boasting of its status as the world's oldest city, and/or the world's LOWEST city. Jericho was built on the north border of the Dead Sea, some 670 feet below sea level, 10,000 years ago. If this place were in America, there would be tour buses on every corner, and no room to move on the skinny sidewalks.

Instead the only traffic is local, with no souveniers in sight. It's very difficult to get into Jericho, with an Israeli army checkpoint at the edge of town severely restricting movement of residents and visitors. The near-lockdown has been in effect since the Intifadah, or violent uprising between Israelis and Palestinians, began. I'm told tourist traffic was actually pretty high just before things flared up. In fact, Jericho opened the country's only casino in 1999, drawing almost 3,000 gamblers every single day — 99% of them Israelis — but it has been closed since October of 2000. The owners hope to re-open "The Oasis" in the next few weeks, expecting the green light to hire dealers and staff as soon as the Israelis hand over security control to the Palestinian Authority.

I wasn't there long enough to visit any of the town's historic sites, including a tower dating back to 8000 BC, which earned Jericho its status as the oldest city known to man. I only saw a portion of the downtown area, but it seems to be suffering from a lack of tourist traffic and dollars. The place needs maintenance, and the people need relief. Check out the pictures I took, you'll see what I mean. The good news is the town has not seen the violence that has torn apart other West Bank villages and the Gaza Strip. Things are more peaceful here, which is why it's first on the list for the handover of security, and it will likely be first to feel the benefits of the new, but still very fragile, cease-fire.

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[Ed. note: Click the video tab in the upper right to watch video of Leventhal's reports.]

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