Every year, Israel draws millions of tourists to the “Holy Land”. They are told a false history of Palestine – one that airbrushes out the Christians and Muslims who have lived there for centuries.
Tourism is a crucial part of Israel’s economy. In 2013 alone, 3.5 million tourists visited the country, many of them on religious pilgrimage. Israeli tour operators, however, convey a distorted narrative, and for Christian tourists, the censorship is particularly pronounced. Christians’ historic connection to the land is ignored, as is the numerous ways Israel has persecuted Palestinian Christians since 1948.
Israeli tour operators don’t take Christian tourists to some of the most important cities and holy sites of the region - simply to prevent them from seeing the brutal effects of the Israeli occupation. According to some tourists, many Israeli tour guides show a shocking lack of sensitivity when it comes to explaining the conflict. Some tour guides conduct role-playing games, where tourists are given the opportunity to play the role of Israeli soldiers to stage a mock attack on Palestinian “terrorists”.
Palestinian Christians have been robbed of their land and driven from their homes. They have also suffered attacks on their lives; Jewish extremists, protected by the Israeli government, have attacked Palestinian Christian leaders with bombs, guns and knives. Palestinian Christians’ farmland has been torched – all part of Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign against Palestinians.
Israel justifies its continued efforts to seize more territory based on the claim that Jews have a special religious connection to the land. To Christians and Muslim Palestinians, however, this is deeply offensive: how, they ask, can an occupying power that brutalises the Palestinian people seek legitimacy through an appeal to religion?
Ultimately, the significance of the Holy Land is inextricably linked to its people, the Palestinians. The Israeli occupation punishes all Palestinians, regardless of their religion – and Palestinian Christians, already a minority, are no exception. Israel prevents the development of their cities and holy sites, and supports those extremist Jews who violently target Christian leaders. Until the rights of the Palestinians are safeguarded, the narrative of a ‘holy’ land will ring hollow.
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