Thursday, January 10, 2008

Traveling to Israel?

(In this post I will begin with some general thoughts and then some more personal news at the end)

Do you know someone traveling to Israel? Pass the following along to them:

As the Christmas holiday’s end, so begin, often, plans for the summer. As Evangelicals, the Holy Land, has a magnetic attraction for people who want to “walk where Jesus walked.” In the last couple weeks I have talked with or overheard of several friends who were traveling to Israel this summer.

There has been much talk in recent years about the concept of ethical tourism. It is nowhere more relevant than in Israel/Palestine where thousands of Christian tourists flock each year and where simultaneously a conflict rages between Israelis and Palestinians. The question for them should be: How can every part of my life, including my travels, be done in a Christ-like manner?

As one who has done the “touristy” thing in Israel I can speak from first-hand experience. Generally, tourism in Israel, especially when done for Christian pilgrims, focuses on historical monuments (such as, say, the Mount of Beattitudes), but largely does its best to steer free from the harsh realities facing both Israelis and Palestinians today. Tours are generally led by Israelis who do their best to present the best possible picture of their land. Rarely are tourists taken into the West Bank or given an opportunity to meet Palestinians. In short, tourism often in Israel becomes the equivalent of tourists in Mexico who stay at beautiful beach resorts, completely ignorant of that fact that two miles down the road are thousands of people living in a slum without running water or electricity. Furthermore, for Christian tourists who have visited Israel, it comes as a shock that there is actually such a thing as a Palestinian Christian. They might have visited all the Christian archaeological sites, but have never encountered the “living stones” of the land, the present day Palestinians who share their faith and worship regularly in a similar manner.

One’s trip to Israel can do one of two things: it can either make worse the existing conflict or it can play a part in encouraging peace. A one sided trip only serves to worsen the conflict by furthering ignorance and by allocating resources lopsidedly. A carefully thought through trip can serve to open one’s eyes to both sides of the story.

SO, several quick tips toward an ethical trip:
1) Read up on the political situation before you go!
2) Make an effort to spend time on both sides of the divide. Make an effort to meet both Jews and Palestinians. Listen to their stories. Travel within both Israel and the West Bank (Gaza is hard to get into presently).
3) Make an effort to attend a Palestinian church service on a Sunday.
4) Be aware of where you spend your money. Try to be evenhanded in your distribution of resources.
5) By all means, leave your tour group every once and a while and meet real people! Be adventurous.

Here are some links to some information about ethical tourism in Israel/Palestine as well as resources on tours while you are there:

1) The Alternative Tourism Group is a Palestinian NGO specializing in tours and pilgrimages that include critical examinations of the history, culture, and politics of the Holy Land
2) The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions is an Israeli group which among other things offers political tours of East Jerusalem:
3)The Holy Land Trust Travel and Encounter is an organization based out of Bethlehem which focuses on arranging trips within the West Bank and Israel
4) Sabeel is an ecumenical Christian organization which seeks reconciliation and justice between Israelis and Palestinians. They also offer tours.
5) Discussion of alternative tourism:
6) The Ethical Challenges of Managing Pilgrimages to the Holy Land (paper)

Personal Note:

Praise God! I found out today that one of my friends who had been arrested this last month was released and is now back with his family. Thank you for your prayers. Please continue to pray for my three other friends who are still in jail.

1 comment:

karina said...

Wow, thanks for writing this and for all the great resources on your blog.