Preparing for Christmas, Palestinian Christians Urge Holy Land Visitors to Convey Messages of Peace

Preparing for Christmas, Palestinian Christians Urge Holy Land Visitors to Convey Messages of Peace

Christians planning to visit the Holy Land for Christmas should go beyond attending midnight Mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, say Palestinian Christian leaders.  They urge visitors to engage with the local Palestinian Christian communities, visiting their cities and villages, and learning how they can fulfill Christ’s call to become peacemakers, even in small ways.

To help them, a guide for Christian visitors to the Holy Land has just been published entitled Come & See- A Journey for Peace with Justice:  Guidelines for Christians Contemplating a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  It stresses that peace in the Holy Land is possible: “What is yet needed is the momentum and commitment of people of faith and courage.”  It suggests that on a pilgrimage of “transformation” in which visitors plan time in Palestine, as well as Israel, they will gain an understanding of the complex situation that will enable them to contribute to peace efforts.

Written by Palestinian Christians and international theologians along with justice tourism advocates, the guide is published by the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG) in conjunction with the World Council of Churches, the Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism, and Kairos Palestine.  ATG is a justice tourism organization based in the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour, renown for being the site of Shepherds’ Field, where the angel appeared to the shepherds informing them about the birth of Jesus. 

The guidelines notes that many Christian tourists approach Holy Land sites as if they were museums, forgetting that for Palestinian Christians these are still living, everyday places of worship.   It emphasizes the unique insights that can be gained from contact with the Palestinian Christian community which has maintained the Christian presence, preserved its traditions, and welcomed pilgrims to this land for more than 2000 years.  

As well as giving practical recommendations for trip planning, the guide includes spiritual reflections based on Biblical teachings on peace, and suggests both Palestinian and Israeli resources for background research.  It advises visitors that they may need to “unlearn” some of what they “know” as they witness the situation on the ground and talk with Palestinians about the realities of life under Occupation.

Rami Kassis, Director of ATG and a Palestinian Christian, says that, “Justice tourism is one of the most effective means of promoting understanding and justice tourists become holders of the knowledge that will one lead to equality, democracy, and human rights for all.”

The guidelines will be distributed through church networks and peace and justice tourism advocacy organizations.  To order copies for your group, contact ATG.

To read the full version of the Guidelines, click here.

For some other stories of Christmas in Bethlehem in 2010, click these links:

“Politics mars record year for Holy Land tourism,” by Yolande Knell, BBC News, Jerusalem
“In Bethlehem, tourism is reborn, but only for a few,” by Catrina Stewart, The Independent, Bethlehem