Monday, December 23, 2013

Pilgrims Progress in Israel

A recent film issued on Al Jazeera depicts passionate views from Palestinian priests, a Christian tour operator and a British writer as they speak out against the obstacles facing pilgrims visiting sacred sites today, particularly Bethlehem and Nazareth.

As with many such programmes, the arguments seem convincing. I passed it on the a friend who is a professional tour guide and surprise, surprise, there is a different story.

She writes:-

Thank you for this. I watched that film twice and I must say, it is a good piece of propaganda, filled with half truths and lies.

As a tour guide working with pilgrims (and other groups) I must say, that none of my pilgrims ever visit Yad Vashem. It simply does not exist in these itineraries. Also Eilat is never included, as a proper pilgrim tour takes 8 days maximum.

Further, Qasr el Yahud is included in every pilgrim tour since the place is open to public. However, many Christians prefer to get baptised in Yardenit as the water quality at Qasr el Yahud is very poor. But there are groups baptising there as well. I see them all the time; Ethiopians, Russians, South Americans, Indians etc.  

Bethlehem; Only few Israeli tour guides and few Jewish bus drivers (all Israeli Arab drivers enter!) are entering the site, as we need special permit to Shetach A. There, a Palestinian Tour Guide, mostly connected to one of the shops, enters the bus and brings the pilgrims to one of the Restaurants, then to the Shop, then to the Church and the Shepherd Fields. 

Some visit the Caritas Children Hospital. This takes all in all about 4 hours, depending on how many people standing in line at the birth place of Jesus. By the way; there are absolutely no spiritual feelings in Bethlehem, but a lot of pressure and most of my groups are happy to return to Jerusalem. They simply hate to be fed with propaganda. They want (and they have the right to) to hear different sides of the conflict, that means different views of Israelis and the different Palestinian point of views. That is our duty.  There is no black and white and that is obviously what they get there. (a Messianic Jew tour guide might be an exemption, but I doubt that)

Some groups stay overnight and tour next day to Herodion and other places. 45 minutes will never do!

Nazareth; indeed, there is a point of truth that pilgrims visit the Church of Annunciation and that’s it. There is much more to see, but due to the itinerary, there is simply no time for more. Some operators include a walk through the village and a view point on Har Hagfiza.
Jenin and Nablus are never included in a pilgrim’s program. It would be much more expensive, as bullet proofed buses have to be arranged and which Israeli tour guide wants to visit these places? I would not go and I think, we are not insured there, as we are not when we enter Bethlehem, even with permits!

I checked on the internet that British Reverend talking in the film. He has an anti-Semitic record! Unfortunately, many people do not know how to differentiate between truth and propaganda when they hear people of the public talking, like these different priests and reverends. It’s a disgrace! Films like these make me very angry and sad.

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