The Ethical Challenges of Managing Pilgrimages to the Holy Land
This Explication was instigated following seven years of managing
pilgrimages to the Holy Land and a growing sense of unease over the lack of
any real contact between the majority of pilgrims and the local indigenous Christians.
This appeared to have historical and theological as well as political causes
which seem to have determined, in general terms, the way pilgrimages are conducted
and managed by Tour Operators.
Research was initiated in 1993 investigating the impact of Western Christian pilgrimages upon the indigenous Christian community in Israel and the Occupied Territories. In 1994 a 42,000 word dissertation was presented as part-fulfilment of the requirements for the award of an MTh. from Westminster College, University of Oxford, for which a distinction was granted. The title was:
"Visiting the Living Stones: Pilgrimages to the Un-Holy Land: An investigation of the impact of pilgrimages to the Holy Land, historical, theological and political, upon both pilgrims and indigenous Christians, with particular reference to the Anglican Church in Israel and the Occupied Territories."
Further detailed empirical research has been undertaken since 1993 into the views of pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land, as well as through in-depth interviews with Tour Operators and representatives of the Christian communities and tourist industry in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The conclusions of this investigation comprise part of this Explication, and a copy of the extensive findings are included in the Appendices.
In 1994 the writer was invited to become a Director and Trustee of a Christian travel company, Highway Journeys, and an analysis of the changes which have occurred within the Company's marketing strategy brought about, in part, by the writer's contribution has also been included.
A series of articles based on these broad areas of research have been published subsequently in several Christian and secular periodicals and a critical analysis of these forms part of this Explication.
There appears to have been little in the way of previous academic research into the sociological impact or managerial aspects of contemporary Holy Land tourism. An appraisal of what has been published together with comments by others working within this field has also been incorporated.
In 1996 a doctoral research submission was accepted by Oak Hill Theological College and Middlesex University, exploring in more detail the historical, theological and political impact of certain Christian organisations upon the indigenous Palestinian Church, and the preliminary findings of this research are also included in the Appendices.
The conclusions summarise the writer's findings so far and include his recommendations for managing responsible tourism to the Holy Land. An Action Plan for intended further research during the next year completes this Explication.
1. Introduction: The Uniqueness of this Research
This Explication is based on original research begun in 1993 investigating the impact of Western Christian pilgrimages upon the indigenous Christian community in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and following eight years of managing pilgrimages to the Holy Land. In 1994 a 42,000 word dissertation was presented as part-fulfilment of the requirements for the award of an MTh. from Westminster College, University of Oxford, for which a distinction was granted. The title was:
Visiting the Living Stones: Pilgrimages to the Unholy Land: An investigation of the impact of pilgrimages to the Holy Land, historical, theological and political, upon both pilgrims and indigenous Christians, with particular reference to the Anglican Church in Israel and the Occupied Territories. (1994a)
Further empirical research has been undertaken since 1993 into the views of pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land, as well as through an in-depth investigation of the historical and theological basis for Christian attitudes toward the contemporary State of Israel and the Palestinians. A series of articles based on these findings have been published subsequently in several Christian and secular periodicals as well as on a number of Internet web sites. In 1996 a doctoral research submission was accepted by Oak Hill Theological College and Middlesex University, exploring the historical, theological and political impact of Western Christian attitudes upon the Palestinian Church.
1.1 Motivation for this Investigation: The Undeveloped Nature of Pilgrimage Research
In the light of an extensive survey of published literature as well as through dialogue with Christians in Britain, America, Israel and the Occupied Territories it has become evident that there has been little research so far into the theological and political influences of Christian attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians within the context of the impact on the pilgrimage tourist industry. This, despite the considerable influence of significant Christian support for the state of Israel, promoted particularly by Western fundamentalist Christians, encouraged by the Israeli Government Tourist Office (Whitaker, 1994), and abhorred by the indigenous Christian communities who are predominantly Palestinian (MECC, 1988).
Significantly, apart from the writings of Turner & Turner (1978) and Davies (1988) there has been little substantial reflection upon the significance of pilgrimages to the Holy Land, whether in terms of history or politics and still less of their impact on the indigenous Christian community. Indeed the importance of Christian pilgrimage as a form of, and catalyst to, promoting responsible tourism, ecumenism or inter-faith dialogue appears to have been ignored or marginalised in the principal works on the psychology of religion (Meadow & Kahoe, 1984, & Wulff, 1991); the sociology of religion (McGuire, 1987); the study of liturgy (Dix, 1945, & Jones et al, 1992); the study of spirituality (Jones et al, 1992); and even in some of the standard works on church history (Latourette, 1944 & 1962; Bainton, 1967; Jedin, 1981; Manschreck, 1964 & Dowley et al, 1990).
Several collections of papers on pilgrimages have appeared relatively recently which address the issue from an anthropological perspective (Eade & Sallnow et al., 1991 & Morinis et al., 1992), and most notably those of Dr Glen Bowman, a social anthropologist at Kent University (1991, 1992a, 1992b, 1993, 1997). Little has been written, however, on the interaction between faith and politics in the promotion of particular types of pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Hewitt, 1995; Morley, 1994). Dr Michael Prior, Head of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Surrey, concurs with this observation. Writing with specific reference to material contained in this Explication he concludes,
Study of the effects of pilgrimage to the Holy Land is not at a developed stage. While there is no shortage of spiritual rhetoric, both in antiquity and today, there is a remarkable lack of sociological investigation of the phenomenon. See the discussion in Sizer 1994. (Ateek, Duaybis & Schrader, 1997:130
Furthermore, while Evangelicalism and
Christian Fundamentalism, have attracted a considerable amount of attention
in academic circles (Marsden, 1980; 1984; 1991; Marty and Appleby, 1991), their
influence upon the rise of Christian Zionism appears to have escaped serious
consideration apart from a few notable exceptions (Wagner, 1995; Rausch, 1991;
Halsell, 1986). Indeed George Marsden concedes that,
Even most of those neo-evangelicals who abandoned the details of dispensationalism still retained a firm belief in Israel's God-ordained role. This belief is immensely popular in America, though rarely mentioned in proportion to its influence. (1991:77)
It is often only when Christians visit the Holy Land on a pilgrimage and by chance happen to meet Palestinian Christians that they begin to realise the devastating consequences of such theological views upon the indigenous church. Because of the absence of previous study in this field, and because of its potential importance for the very survival of an indigenous Church in the Holy Land, this particular doctoral research has been initiated. Donald Wagner, Director of the Centre of Middle Eastern Studies at North Park College, Chicago, and author of several critical works on American Fundamentalist Christian Zionism (1992, 1993, 1995), recently made the following appraisal of material contained in this Explication,
I would simply say that your research and analysis will probably be the most important contribution available on the subject of "Christian Zionism" and an important contribution to both Middle Eastern Christians and Western church leaders who deal with these issues. (1997)
1.2 Purpose of the Initial Investigation
This investigation was initiated following several years of managing pilgrimages to the Holy Land and a growing sense of unease over the apparent lack of any real contact between the majority of pilgrims and the local indigenous Christians. This appeared to have historical, theological as well as political causes that seem to have determined, in general terms, the way most pilgrimages are conducted. This research has specifically sought to investigate the degree to which Western Christian involvement, principally through pilgrimages, has exacerbated the already difficult conditions under which the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem serves the predominantly Palestinian Christian community in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
Israel and the Occupied Territories comprise a unique location, born out of the ravages of war and the Holocaust, it's 20,000 square miles of territory claimed by two peoples, the Jews and Palestinians, its holy sites shared uneasily by three religions, Jewish, Moslem and Christian, often in close proximity as at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or the Tomb of the Patriarchs at Hebron. According to Barbara Tuchman, "more blood has been shed for Palestine than for any other spot on earth" (1957:viii). To Protestant England it was as Lord Curzon eulogised, "the holiest space of ground on the face of the globe," not only the land of the Scriptures and of the Crusades, but also the land "to which all our faces are turned when we are finally laid in our graves in the churchyard" (Tuchman, 1957:viii). It is the geographical junction between East and West, the bridgehead between three continents, and throughout history the focal point in the military strategies of succeeding empires.
Few countries attract so much media coverage, or arouse such intense religious feeling and political controversy. In the midst of all this exist a small, diminishing and ageing indigenous Palestinian Christian community. Bishop Kenneth Cragg has eloquently summarised some of the tensions that threaten its existence.
What Israeli Zionism has meant, and means, for Arab Christianity is rarely understood in its full implications by Western reading of the Middle East, characterised as that reading is, by the long ambivalence of Zionist intentions and by religious predilections that either ignore or override the ethics of politics. Arab Christianity and Christian Palestinianism in particular suffer what all other Christianities in the West, in Africa, and in far Asia can escape, namely, the ambiguity between biblical loyalty to Hebrew scriptures as part of Christian heritage and the actualities of contemporary Israel with its enmity to Palestinianism per se. (1992:preface)
The proportion of Palestinian Christians
within the overall Arab population is about 10% and declining as a result of
voluntary or enforced emigration, and higher birth rates among Moslem families.
Furthermore, 70% of the Arab population are under 30 years of age, having only
known of Israeli occupation. In areas such as Gaza, Palestinians face unemployment
levels as high as 80%. Those fortunate enough to live in Israel are treated
at best as second class citizens in what is an overtly Jewish State. Those living
in the West Bank, despite the limited autonomy allowed in their so called 'Palestans'
(Ateek, 1997), continue to face the constant denial of the most basic of human
rights under military occupation. It is significant that 30% of all land confiscated
in 32 years since 1967 was taken since the Oslo Peace Accord was signed in 1993.
The plight of the Palestinian people is exacerbated by the fact that they are
largely ignored and misunderstood by the wider international community (Eber,
The unity of the Church in the Holy Land appears further debilitated and compromised by the polarisation of Western Christian theological and political affiliations. This tension is reflected in the sometimes partisan approach of the denominations, missionary societies and charities working in the Holy Land who tend to side either with the Jews or Palestinians. This is perhaps predictable given the tendency of people to become imprisoned by their ideologies (Witvliet, 1987:258). As Keith Roberts has observed,
When lines of differentiation between people in racial characteristics, cultural backgrounds, language, religious orientations, and economic self interests are coextensive and mutually exclusive, antipathy is likely to occur. Although religion is one cause, it is not necessarily the primary cause. However, religion may be used as a primary justification for hostility. (1990:278)
The pilgrimage and tourist industry, which brings just under two million people from around the world to the Holy Land every year, is both a microcosm and perpetuator of these tensions and divisions. In 1994 there were 300,800 visitors from Britain of whom approximately 20% were pilgrims. In the period January-June 1996 there were 109,638 visitors from the UK (Israel Government Tourist Office, 1995, 1996). Some Operators, for example, explicitly identify with organisations such as the Churches Ministry Among Jewish People (CMJ) or the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem (ICEJ), while others are wholly owned by the Israeli Government Ministry of Tourism. The indigenous Church is largely ignored by the many thousands of Christian pilgrimage groups whose itineraries involve visiting a predictable succession of archaeological sites and Christian shrines, which vary only according to the denomination of the group and number of days present in the land. That so many Western Christians visit the Holy Land and yet have little or no contact with the indigenous Christian community, is a serious ethical issue with important theological implications not only for the unity and vitality of the church, but also for its very survival in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
Many Western pilgrims appear not only ignorant of recent Middle East history but surprised to find an Arab Christian presence at all. Even where Christian visitors are aware of this fact, their behaviour obliterates it. Worshipping with their own priest or minister in a closed chapel, shrine or even hotel, their pilgrimage would be no different if the oldest Christian communities in the world had been physically obliterated long ago (Macpherson, 1993).
The ethical issues involved in promoting pilgrimages to the Holy Land and their impact on the Palestinian Christian community are therefore considerable (Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (CCBI) 1992: 2-3). Typical Western perceptions of Orientals still appear to be based on 19th Century colonial stereotypes, formed at a time when Europe controlled 85% of the world (Eber, 1993:2-3). These are further reinforced and exploited by contemporary Zionist propaganda (Said, 1978:166). The Palestinians, whether Moslem or Christian are often branded as terrorists because of their support for violent as well as non-violent opposition to continued Israeli settlement of the Occupied Territories.
Western Christians have for a variety of reasons tended to show greater sympathy for the state of Israel than for the condition of the Palestinian people. At the same time, during the cold war and subsequently, American and British foreign policy have consistently viewed Israel as an important ally in the Middle East. With the demise of Soviet Communism, the new enemy for both right wing religious Fundamentalists and politicians alike is militant Islam. These perceptions inevitably exacerbate the vulnerability of Palestinian Christians, since they are a minority among Moslem Arabs as well as among the Jews within a Zionist state. For Moslem Fundamentalists who equate "Arabism" with Islam, Palestinian Christians are an anomaly, guilty by association with European imperialism dating back to the Crusades (Armstrong, 1988).
It is in this context that a unique Palestinian theology has evolved known as Sabeel meaning "spring of water" (Ateek, 1990). This has coincided with a more assertive and articulate indigenous Christian witness (Assal, 1992; Ateek, 1990a; Rantisi, 1990). The collaborative solidarity achieved between Moslem and Christian Palestinians in seeking political autonomy, together with the developments in the Palestinian/Israeli peace process have also had a bearing on the changing relationship between Christian pilgrims and Palestinians who regard themselves as the "mother" Church and the "Living Stones" of the Holy Land (Assal, 1993:8). Sabeel is, for example, increasingly being approached by Tour Group Leaders requesting a speaker for their groups to explain the challenges faced by the indigenous Church (Ateek, 1996f).
Contemporary pilgrimage research reveals, however, that in this Century there has been a gradual decline in the level of contact between pilgrim parties and Palestinian Christians (Ekin, 1990:25). This has in part been due to tighter control of the pilgrimage industry by the Israeli Government Ministry of Tourism, especially since 1967, when the main sites of biblical significance were appropriated by Israel from Jordan, along with the registration of Palestinian guides, hotels and travel agencies (Bowman, 1992a:121-134).
The effect of these events has been devastating for the shrinking indigenous Christian community. Given the fact however that pilgrimages have the potential for exposing large numbers of Christians from abroad to the adverse conditions under which fellow Christian Palestinians live and witness, there remains the possibility of significant and radical change. This research was motivated by the conviction that, if organised more responsibly, pilgrimages could easily include opportunities for direct personal contact and worship with indigenous Christians. Palestinian Christians spoken with on numerous occasions have claimed that this alone when practised is a great encouragement and will go a long way to ensuring their survival in what is a hostile religious and political environment not renowned for its sympathy for, or protection of, minorities.
1.3 Precise Statement of the Scope of the Research
This research has attempted to reflect critically upon the practice of Christian ministry in relation to pilgrimages. The methodology used has sought to observe, compare and contrast the theological and political views of a group of British Anglican pilgrims with those of a similar group of Palestinian Anglicans on the perceived effect of contemporary pilgrimages, and their potential contribution in enhancing ecumenical and interfaith relations. This empirical research was set in the context of the dominant theological perspectives and historical events that have influenced the contemporary pilgrimage movement and the ministry it fulfils.
The opinions of a number of senior expatriate Christian leaders who are or have served in Israel and the Occupied Territories were also elicited in order to interpret the historical, political and theological matrix of British involvement in the Holy Land and in pilgrimages, in particular. The views of several pilgrimage Tour Operators, both British and Palestinian were sought since these agencies are, to a large degree, responsible for determining the nature of pilgrimages, the itineraries followed and the extent to which contact between Christians from Britain, Israel and the Occupied Territories is encouraged or facilitated. This research has sought to highlight deficiencies in the present practice of pilgrimage that militate against this experience, and suggest ways in which pilgrimages have the potential for a more significant ministry to both pilgrims and indigenous Christians alike.
1.4 Procedures Followed in the Investigation
This research is based on documentary sources together with empirical material gathered through a series of small scale opportunity samples of individual Christian clergy and laity and also Tour Operators, in Britain, Israel and the Occupied Territories. The empirical information has been gathered mostly through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with British and Palestinian Christians. Additional data was gained through the use of a questionnaire among pilgrims visiting the Holy Land between 1994-1997. Three visits were made to Israel and the Occupied Territories in 1993 to conduct interviews with British pilgrims, Palestinian Christians and Tour Operators. Two further visits were made in the years 1994, 1995, 1996 and one in 1997. A total of 105 people were interviewed and a further 134 completed surveys, mostly anonymously.
The overall emphasis of the empirical aspect was primarily explorative, reflective and descriptive, taking a relativist rather than positivist approach, while also recognising that the observations made were neither capable of generalisation nor necessarily representative (Bell, Bush, Fox, Goodey & Goulding, 1984: 22). It is further recognised that there are certain hazards inherent in conducting this kind of research, not least for those co-operating from among the Palestinian community. Care was therefore taken to ensure confidentiality and anonymity, where requested, in the process of recording, transcribing and the attributing of views. Full transcripts of all the interviews conducted were kept separately but did not form part of the published dissertation. For the purposes of identification, individual Pilgrims, Operators and Palestinians were assigned consecutive numbers, e.g. [Pilgrim, 1993:1].
2. Summary of Research
The initial postgraduate research set out to investigate the reasons why so few pilgrims meet with the indigenous Palestinian Christians when visiting the Holy Land, and the degree to which pilgrimages by Western Christians, whether intentionally or unintentionally, have exacerbated the circumstances under which the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem serves the predominantly Palestinian Christian community in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
The preliminary investigation of documentary
sources concentrated on the historical context, the theological controversies
and political ramifications of pilgrimages. These show how the history of Western
involvement in the Holy Land over the last millennium has been dominated by
the spectre of the Crusades, Colonialism, Orientalism and cultural Imperialism.
The desire of individual Christians from the West to visit the Holy Land on
a pilgrimage cannot be divorced from these broad historical movements, which
if nothing else, have determined how Orientals view Westerners. The theological
controversies surrounding "Israel" and the "Holy Land" are
an overlay to the history of Western involvement. The entrenched positions held
by Christians are often reflected in the emotive use of language, the presuppositions
assumed and the biblical hermeneutic employed. Is the "Holy Land"
Palestine or Israel, and if Israel, which Israel? Neutrality is a rare luxury,
and difficult to sustain, linguistically or ethically, given the Palestinian's
demand for justice and Israel's need for security, more so since language is
both a subtle indicator of presuppositions and a powerful tool of propaganda.
It was discovered that at least three distinct theological perspectives compete
for the moral high ground regarding the status and future of the Palestinian
Church in Israel, namely Evangelical, Fundamentalist and what may be termed
Christian Zionists, who include many Evangelicals and virtually all American Fundamentalists, have the greatest impact on Christian relations with Israel. They are also conversely the least sympathetic to Palestinians in so far as they largely ignore or malign the witness of the indigenous Church.
Zionists see themselves as the advocates and protectors of Israel who are "God's Chosen people" who are returning to 'God's Land' in fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. From the Zionist's perspective such biblical 'logic' and historical imperative can neither be questioned nor resisted. This research has traced over 100 Christian Zionist organisations and agencies who promote their support for Israel and criticism of the surrounding Arab nations through the Internet (see Bibliography). Christian Zionism has caused immense harm to the Palestinian community over the last century through its distortion of the Bible in two essential areas; the marginalisation of the universal imperative of the Christian gospel of equal grace, and the denial of the Palestinian's right to common justice (Cragg, 1992). These errors have led to the promotion and perpetuation of a 'Christianised' ethnic and cultic Jewish exclusivism (see Appendices).
The Living Stones Movement, is a broad coalition of Evangelicals, Liberals and Catholics sharing a common sense of solidarity with the Palestinian Church and offering a robust critique of Christian Zionism. This movement has done much to publicise the plight of the Palestinian community, challenging both Christian Zionism and Israeli government policy, and promoting more responsible pilgrimages that interact with the Palestinian Christians of the Holy Land. The Living Stones movement have also exposed the fact that the pilgrimage ministry cannot be divorced from the political and ethical impact of tourism. It is evident that the Israeli government through the Ministry of Tourism has a clear political agenda in portraying Israel as the protector of Christian shrines, perpetuating the myth that the land was, and is, devoid of any ancient or indigenous Palestinian Christian community. Israel looks for support from American Fundamentalists and Southern Baptists in particular, heavily promoting pilgrimages from this sympathetic and influential quarter. Israel further seeks to monopolise and censor the pilgrimage industry through the use of propaganda, the eradication of Palestinian guides, the partisan licensing of Israeli hotels and travel agents in preference to Palestinian owned ones, and through the exploitation of localised security measures (Bowman, 1992a).
These strategies have contributed to a steady decline in contact between pilgrims and the indigenous Christian community, with deleterious consequences for the Palestinian tourist economy as well as to their spiritual isolation and alienation. What is needed instead, is nothing less than, "...imaginative, uninhibited and uninhibiting sympathy between Arab and Western Christians." (Cragg, 1992:297)
|Types of Pilgrimage
|Emphasis of the Tour
|Effect on Indigenous Church
|Biblical Sites of the Past
|Indifference and ignorance
|Eschatological Signs of the Future
|Antipathy and antagonism
|Human Significance in the Present
|Empathy and solidarity
Figure 1. Types of Protestant Christian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
In the light of these historical, theological
and political factors, distinct kinds of pilgrimage emerge. There appear to
be three broad varieties of Protestant pilgrim (Figure 1). Evangelicals
go essentially to visit the sites of biblical significance on what are primarily
These in themselves will only perpetuate
and reinforce a pietistic faith rooted in the 1st Century, without addressing
either the present Middle East conflict or necessarily engaging in theological
praxis. The presence of an ancient and Oriental Christianity is either ignored,
misunderstood or even criticised for desecrating the archaeological sites with
what are often regarded as pagan shrines.
Fundamentalist pilgrims visit the Holy Land for similar reasons but with the added eschatological dimension, believing themselves to be witnessing and indeed participating in the purposes of God, at work within Israel in these 'Last Days'. They believe they have a divine mandate to support the state of Israel.
The third, most recent and smallest category of pilgrimage to emerge is associated with the term 'Living Stones'. These pilgrimages in contradistinction seek to counter the ignorance of many Evangelicals and the harm caused by Fundamentalists, by engaging in acts of solidarity with the Palestinian church. These pilgrimages include opportunities to meet, worship with, listen to and learn from the spirituality and experience of the indigenous Christians.
Three distinct but related pieces of empirical research were undertaken in order to elucidate and critically reflect upon the practice and impact of Protestant pilgrimages in relation to the Palestinian Church.
The first enquiry was a survey of British Christian opinion that focused on their perceptions as to the meaning, purpose and ethical issues related to pilgrimages. The intention was also to reveal the nature of their theological and political presuppositions about the people and territory associated with the Holy Land. Although this opportunity sample was drawn from among those known to be broadly sympathetic toward the Palestinians, they nevertheless continued to associate the term Palestinian with predominantly negative connotations. In comparison with images used to describe Jews and Arabs, those describing Palestinians were the least positive, the least neutral and the most negative. This group of pilgrims were also generally reluctant to identify with the PLO, justified the Intifada or the use of force to end the occupation of the West Bank, although there was evidence that they were grappling with the ethical issues involved.
In common with most Evangelicals, the majority of this sample spoke of their initial motivation in terms of personal faith development, and the desire to visit the historic places associated with the life of Jesus Christ. Significantly however, their lasting memories of the Holy Land were of Palestinians suffering and of Israeli military aggression. A degree of conscientization appeared therefore to have occurred during their pilgrimages. This transforming experience enabled them to become better informed about the political situation, led to a closer solidarity with the Palestinians, and greater antipathy for the Israeli authorities than before. The strongest language was used to express their views on the ethics of pilgrimages. Most now felt it was imperative for pilgrims to meet with indigenous Christians, and that failing to do so was deeply immoral. If this sample was typical of Protestant Christians undertaking pilgrimages, it indicates on the one hand a disturbing level of ignorance concerning the existence and plight of the Palestinian Church prior to their visit, but on the other hand, evidence that once exposed to the reality of the situation, that Western Christians are willing to take a stand in support of Palestinian Christians. The crucial factor seems to depend on whether, during their pilgrimage, they are given an opportunity to meet indigenous Christians to hear their story.
The second survey of Pilgrimage Tour Operators was designed to take this investigation one stage further to discover whether those involved in the travel business are aware of the ethical issues involved, the kind of language used to describe the Holy Land, and how far they consciously or unconsciously determine the level of contact between pilgrims and Palestinians through the marketing strategies employed and itineraries recommended. Of the 25 companies investigated none referred to Palestine or the Occupied Territories and five used maps showing the West Bank as part of Israel. The overwhelming majority offered itineraries which included visits to many places of Jewish significance (Figure 2). The most frequently visited extra-biblical sites are Masada, Yad Vashem, the Wailing Wall, a Kibbutz and the Knesset. In so far as these places are all emotively associated with the Jewish psyche and national identity, this evidence would appear to confirm the claim that itineraries are largely structured and promoted by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to instil in visitors a positive image of Israel. In contrast, in 1994 only one Operator explicitly recommended pilgrims meet with Palestinian Christians. By 1997 there were now two Operators known to do so.
Figure 2. Analysis of Tour Operator Brochures: Emphasis Upon Sites of Jewish
The accumulated evidence shows the difficulties that pilgrimage groups have in meeting Palestinians, visiting their communities or in obtaining the services, for example, of a Christian Palestinian guide. There is evidence that this is also part of a concerted strategy of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to thwart such contact. With few exceptions, British Tour Operators appeared largely oblivious to, and untroubled by, the serious political pressures their Palestinian counterparts face. They seemed unaware of how the exploitation of Christian tour guiding benefits the Israeli economy at the expense of the Palestinian church and the means by which the Israeli Ministry of Tourism seeks to direct the pilgrimage industry toward Israeli locations, guides, hotels and facilities. Instead, most Operators appeared to prefer to avoid the ethical issues, offering uncontroversial educational tours appealing to, and reinforcing, pietistic Western religious fantasies, while maintaining a compliant relationship with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.
Four categories of Pilgrimage Tour Operator emerge: First, a small number of secular companies offer what are really religious tourist package holidays; second, the majority of companies offer biblical-educational tours; third, a small but influential group of Zionist or Israeli owned companies concentrate on the Jewish dimension to the Christian faith; and fourth, only a handful of Operators actively encourage contact with the Palestinian church. In terms of comparative influence, if the first group are benign, and the second blind, the third appear bigoted, and only the fourth offer any genuine dialogue or intercourse between pilgrims and Palestinian Christians (Figure 3). The majority of Operators appear ignorant of the ethical issues implicit in their business, fail to recognise how they are manipulated by the Israeli authorities, or see how detrimental their trade is to the indigenous Christian community. Based on this evidence it is not surprising that so few pilgrimage groups ever meet with Palestinians.
|Types of Tour Operator
|Nature of Tour Offered
|Effect on Indigenous Christians
|Specialist Package Holiday
|Biblical Archaeology & Sites Experience
|Israeli or Zionist
|Bible from Jewish Perspective PerspectivePerspectiveDimension
|Encountering the People PeopleEncouraging Contact
Figure 3. Categories
of Holy Land Tour Operators
third empirical survey conducted was of a group of Palestinian Christians. This
enquiry traced the consequences of the ignorance or indifference of British
Christians and Tour Operators, and the resulting isolation felt by Christians
living in the Holy Land (Figure 4).
Deleterious Consequences Experienced Directly or Indirectly by Indigenous Christians
Figure 4. Deleterious Consequences of Traditional Pilgrimages for the Palestinian Church
Three Major Deficiencies Inherent in the Majority of Western Protestant Pilgrimages
Figure 5. Three Essential Deficiencies of the Majority of Protestant Pilgrimages
2.1 Specific Recommendations
A number of specific and practical recommendations
for pilgrimage Tour Operators, leaders and guides followed as a result of this
1. Tour Operators and leaders are urged to ensure that within itineraries adequate time is given for meetings with Palestinian Christians, especially those in the Occupied Territories, and that long term reciprocal relations are nurtured between their churches.
2. Travel on Sundays should be avoided and time taken to worship with the local Christian communities, under their own leadership. Formal liturgical worship in hotels or locations without the participation of indigenous Christians should also be avoided.
3. Itineraries should include visits to Christian charitable and humanitarian projects such as hospitals and schools, particularly those in the Occupied Territories such as at Hebron, Beit Jala and Gaza, and pilgrims should be encouraged to initiate long term relationships between their churches and these agencies.
4. Opportunities should also be made, where possible, to meet with Jewish, Moslem and Christian peace makers, such as at Open House in Ramle, Musahala in Bethlehem, Neve Shalom, Beit Sehour and through organisations such as Clergy for Peace, the MECC and the Beit Sehour Centre for Rapprochement.
5. Whereever possible Christian Palestinian agencies, buses, hostels and hospices should be used in locations such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth that will bring revenue to the Palestinian economy, in preference to those agencies of a purely tourist nature which are under Israeli control.
6. Tour groups are encouraged to insist on being led by Christian Palestinian guides, and to petition the Israeli government to license sufficient Palestinian Christians to guide all Christian groups who wish them, and to insist that they be pressured specifically to recognise the tour guiding course at Bethlehem University.
7. Prior to departure, pilgrim groups should make contact with their denominational office in Jerusalem or the MECC to inform them of the pilgrimage and to seek advice on the local conditions prevailing, requesting them, if necessary, to arrange meetings with the local Christian communities.
8. Groups should be prepared with information on the historical and political background to the Middle East such as that produced by CMS (Clark) and CCBI (1992), and offered a reading list of writings by Palestinian Christian leaders.
9. The Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England are requested, in view of the vulnerability of the Palestinian Christian community, to appoint Diocesan Advisors on Pilgrimage to inform and direct clergy who are considering organising pilgrimages, in responsible ways, as outlined above.
10. It is suggested that regular and independent meetings be arranged by, and for, British and Palestinian Tour Operators and Agents in Israel to consider ways of encouraging better communication and greater co-operation, which will promote the Palestinian tourist economy, affirm the indigenous church, and serve the best interests of pilgrims, free of control or interference from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.
11. The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East should be invited to consider the pattern set by the Roman Catholic church, and train and ordain additional clergy with the specific responsibility of acting as pilgrimage guides to Anglican groups. Whereas the Roman Catholic church employs expatriate clergy to fulfil this role, it is recommended that local Palestinian men be ordained for this ministry. Their stipends could be financed entirely from tour guiding fees and not be a burden on the Diocese. Such an imaginative scheme could also allow for clergy to work part-time as tour guides while continuing to perform their parish duties. This would enable many more Palestinian clergy to be placed in smaller parishes, or Diocesan posts which at present cannot be justified because of financial constraints.
12. Further research is needed into the impact of pilgrimages; the effect which the theological and political views of pilgrims have on the indigenous Christian community of the Holy Land; and how pilgrimage itineraries might be modified to enhance and enrich the experience of both pilgrims and the indigenous Christians.
With this in mind, Dr Glen Bowman offers some suggestions,
The "place" tourists see is not simply a reified image of their expectations, or a real terrain, but the result of a dialogue between tourists and those persons and institutions which mediate between the tourist gaze and its object. The study of such "places" should enquire carefully into what takes place in such dialogue and who is excluded by them. (1992a:121)
2.2 Responsible Tourism in Practice. The Development of Living Stones Pilgrimages
As a consequence of this research a series of pilgrimages were arranged with the Revd Garth Hewitt, the Amos Trust and with the Diocese of Guildford in May 1994, June 1996 and March 1997. The specific purpose of each was to bring together British pilgrims and Palestinian Christians in Israel and the West Bank. The aim was to attempt the kind of pilgrimage more commonly undertaken before the rise of modern secular tourism, where pilgrims consciously went to live with, worship with, and be guided by the indigenous Christians on the significance of the Holy Places. The intention was to experience something of the ancient spirituality of the Holy Land as well as learn from this suffering Church how they witness to the Christian faith in terms of justice, peacemaking and interfaith dialogue, while living as a minority among Moslems and Jews. On each pilgrimage the itinerary included a day in Gaza visiting the Jabalia refugee camp, the Ahli Anglican hospital and the MECC centre for rehabilitation. Another day was spent with Elias Chacour visiting the Christian school in Ibillin where Jews, Moslems and Christians teach and learn together. Other visits included a tour of the village of Baram demolished by the Israelis in 1948, meeting villagers in Beit Sahour, students and faculty at Bir Zeit University, the staff and children of the Evangelical Boys Home in Ramallah, the UN staff working in Jalazone Camp and other humanitarian projects. Meetings were arranged with Jewish, Moslem and Christian leaders including a Palestinian attorney involved in the Oslo peace negotiations and a Jewish Rabbi similarly involved in reconciliation projects. Opportunities were also provided for times of worship with local Christians. The accommodation, agents and guide were chosen specifically in order to bring maximum benefit to the local Christian church and Palestinian tourist economy.
The impact was very significant, attracting in Gaza in 1994, quite unintentionally, the interest of international journalists and film crews, recording reactions to the signing of the Peace Accord at the border. According to the Palestinian guide, it was the first visit of its kind by such a large group in five years or more. Feedback from the participants on each occasion was immensely encouraging, and the following sentiments reflect the lasting impressions of the group as a whole.
I can close my eyes and see the people of Gaza, of singing together, of crying together, memories of people rather than places....This is the kind of experience that makes other trips seem superficial and rather dull...The people we met. Unsung heroes and heroines who all deserve a peace prize. The vision, hope and faith in spite of adverse conditions...Of the suffering of the Palestinians, the degradation of Gaza and the faith, courage and love of Christian leaders who have truly been raised to new life with Christ.
The intention was that this research and model pilgrimage provide a modest contribution, within the context of a continuing process of reflective practice, of how pilgrimages can participate in a unique and vital ministry of enriching and deepening the faith of both pilgrims and indigenous Christians, as well as advancing the cause of peace through justice, enhancing ecumenical relations and interfaith dialogue. Copies of this research were subsequently requested by ten Tour Operators both in Britain and in Palestine and stimulated further correspondence and discussion with academics and practitioners associated with pilgrimages in Europe and the United States.
The findings of the initial research have shown conclusively that for Christians to attempt a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, yet fail, for what ever reason, to meet with the local Christians in such a troubled situation, where they are ignored, abused and maligned, is not only deeply offensive to them, it is surely a contradiction of what a pilgrimage should be, and ultimately immoral before God. It is nothing less than to perpetuate the evil of the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan who walked by on the other side. He should have known better.
3. The Impact
of Pilgrimages: Subsequent Research 1993-1997
An initial survey of 36 pilgrims was undertaken in 1993-1994 investigating the impact of Western Christian pilgrimages upon the indigenous Church in Palestine. The findings of that survey along with two others analysing the practices of British Tour Operators and the attitudes of Palestinian Christians toward pilgrims have subsequently been published in several journals (Sizer, 1994b; 1996; 1997a; 1997b; 1998). They also formed the empirical basis for a dissertation leading to the award of MTh, with distinction, from Oxford University (Sizer, 1994a).
Since 1994 a further 100 pilgrims have been surveyed amounting to a four-fold increase in the original number interviewed. This has allowed greater statistical significance to be drawn from the figures obtained (Figure 6). These subsequent findings offer a far clearer indication of the views of pilgrims on the ethical issues involved in the promotion of religious tourism to Israel. It is recognised however that this remains essentially an opportunity sample based on the views of pilgrims associating with what has been termed "Living Stones" tours.
Figure 6. Number and Chronology of Pilgrim Surveys Completed
In the light of the original research and with further
reflection, several questions have been added and others amplified. In particular,
some questions were included to help give a clearer indication of the sympathies
of participants toward Christian Zionist and non-Zionist agencies and organisations
associated with Israel.
Participants answering questions requiring a 'yes' or 'no'
were asked to indicate the strength of feeling by using the following numerical
indices.  agree strongly,  agree,  neutral,  disagree,  disagree
strongly. Where pilgrims responded with more than one answer, for consistency
and comprehensiveness, all answers were recorded.
3.1 Connotations Associated with the
Terms Arab, Jew and Palestinian
It is recognised that it is to some extent subjective to classify words as having neutral, positive or negative connotations. However, there did appear significant differences between the words and types of word used to describe Arabs, Jews and Palestinians (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Connotations associated with the Terms Arab, Jew and Palestinian
with the words used to describe Arabs and Jews, those used of Palestinians were
the least positive, the least neutral and the most negative image. This perhaps
reflects the emotive and controversial nature of the Palestinian cause. Those
terms of a positive nature referred largely to personal qualities such as "hospitality",
"resilient", and "kindness". Those of a negative nature,
like those describing Jews, were not necessarily pejorative and referred as
much to their condition or circumstances as to their reaction to it. Of the
three ethnic groups, the Arabs had the most positive, the most neutral and least
negative image. It is difficult to assess how far these views are representative
of the Christian community generally and how far they reflect the impact of
the occasions on these tours when pilgrims met with Palestinian Arabs.
3.2 The Perceived
Ethical Issues Associated With Organising Tours to the Holy Land
Participants of pilgrimages which include visits to places such as Hebron and Gaza, and to hospitals and refugee camps where they can meet indigenous Christians and representatives of mission agencies are made very much more aware of the ethical issues at stake than those who participate in more traditional itineraries visiting archaeological sites and cultural heritage centres.
The following are typical answers given
by participants of a more conventional tour arranged in 1993.
"I think it is important to try and get a balanced view from both sides of a situation and to hear the Arab Christian side and the Arab Moslem side as well as the Jewish side, or Jewish Christian...." [Pilgrim 1.5]
"Listen to all sides and not show partiality, however we feel." [Pilgrim 1.6]
"Taking it open mindedly and to try and question ones prejudices and listen to the views of different groups if you have the opportunity to meet them." [Pilgrim 1.8]
In contrast, the following are answers given to the same question from pilgrims whose itinerary included visits to Gaza and Hebron, who were exposed to Israeli settlements being built on confiscated land and to the living conditions of Palestinians in the refugee camps. Their comments are correspondingly stronger in opinion (Figure 8).
"The need to be aware that tourism is fuelled by the Jewish Israeli government. Be informed, see propaganda and discrimination for what it is." [Pilgrim 1.84]
|Need for justice for the Palestinians
|Recognition presence perpetuates or challenges situation
|Tourism in some way favours the Israelis
Figure 8. Table of most common ethical issues identified in pilgrimages
to the Holy Land
3.3 Ways in Which Attitudes Toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict Changed as a Result of Their Pilgrimage
of the original research completed in 1994, highlighted the shortcomings of
conventional religious tourism to Israel and called for the promotion of pilgrimages
that would specifically bring Western pilgrims into contact with the indigenous
Christian community, and also address the ethical and political issues surrounding
Israel's treatment of Palestinians. The answers given by participants on such
tours undertaken since 1995 give evidence of the powerful impact such tours
can have on participants, particularly those that included a visit to Gaza and
Hebron (Figure 9).
|More critical of Israeli treatment of Palestinians
|More positive toward Palestinians
|Greater appreciation of the complexity of the conflict
|More involved personally and emotionally in the issue
|More positive toward Israelis
Figure 9. Attitudinal Changes Resulting From a Living Stones Pilgrimage
The following observations are
representative of those participating in Living Stones pilgrimages.
"My eyes have been opened to the plight of the Arabs." [Pilgrim 1.76]
"Beyond description...I knew nothing that resembled the truth before going myself and listening to people. I even thought the guy singing from the mosque was Jewish." [Pilgrim 1.84]
"I can now sympathise totally with the phrase, "being a refugee in our own country." [Pilgrim 1.118]
"I'm more aware of the way Israel has tried to dispossess the Palestinians which has led to the Intifada and terrorism." [Pilgrim 1.122]
"I now recognise the Palestinians rights and the Israeli government's arrogant actions." [Pilgrim 1.123]
"It has turned right round. Previously I would probably have favoured an Israeli view due to media coverage." [Pilgrim 1.130]
Witnessing, perhaps for the first time, the presence of heavily armed soldiers protecting the Israeli Settlements and controlling checkpoints into the Occupied Territories clearly disturbed many pilgrims when they were made aware of the political reasons. The overwhelming majority [78%] were more critical of Israeli aggression and more sympathetic toward the Palestinians as a result of their pilgrimage. Many admitted to being naive and indecisive before going. Meeting Palestinian Christians was also an important factor. Only one person out of 96 who answered this question indicated that they felt more compassionate toward the Israelis.
3.4 Lasting Memories of Pilgrimages
Among the earlier surveys conducted which were based on a more traditional pilgrimage itinerary, respondents spoke of remembering the scenic locations and the places of religious significance. As the itineraries were adapted to give greater emphasis to meetings with local people, the comments of pilgrims changed dramatically, dwelling instead upon the political and humanitarian issues observed (Figure 10). This survey has shown conclusively that there is enormous value to both parties when a pilgrimage itinerary includes the opportunity for pilgrims to meet with the local Christians.
|Meeting indigenous people
|Geography and landscape
Figure 10. Lasting Memories of a Living Stones Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
Comments from those participating in
a traditional Evangelical pilgrimage conducted in 1993 included the following,
"Beside the Sea of Galilee in the open air. It just seemed to bring it all alive in the simplest possible way. There were no buildings, nothing like that. You could just imagine walking down there with Jesus." [Pilgrim 1.2]
"Some things were quite stunning - the view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, the view of Jerusalem from Gethsemane, the Garden Tomb and the Engedi Spring." [Pilgrim 1.4]
" The Garden Tomb, that was very meaningful, and the Service we had there and the time of meditation there. The Sea of Galilee and the area of the feeding of the 5,000 and Communion by the lake. [Pilgrim 1.5]
In contrast the lasting memories of
those participating on a Living Stones pilgrimage were vivid and focussed on
a very different landscape, mostly of the people met and institutions visited.
"Images of a soldier about to shoot a child. Road blocks, refugee camps. Gazan desolation, the religious kaleidoscope, the Jerusalem skyline." [Pilgrim 1.32]
"Arrogance of some Israelis and the tremendous hospitality from Palestinians...The peace camp visit to Hebron, Gaza (a shock) especially the camp. Astonishment at the intensity of building everywhere in the south, so ugly." [Pilgrim 1.51]
"Driving through the squalor of Gaza refugee camp and being offered coffee and hospitality by those who have nothing." [Pilgrim 1.102]
" The girl paralysed by a stray bullet." [Pilgrim 1.103]
"The dignity of the women in Gaza. The enthusiasm of the YMCA leaders in Jericho. The compassion of Elias Chacour." [Pilgrim 1.128]
"Soldiers and checkpoints. Refugee Camps in Gaza...Amazing warmth and friendliness of people we've met or even passed on a street." [Pilgrim 1.130]
"Friendliness of everyone, the fragility of it all. The Palestinian hospital for disabled, the YMCA Vocational Training Centre, the MECC Training Centre in Gaza" [Pilgrim 1.132]
One participant who indicated their support for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, an overtly Zionist organisation, and who also approved of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and sovereignty over the Temple Mount, claimed that the most important aspect of their pilgrimage was, "The opportunity to experience the Bible come alive" [Pilgrim 1.52]. Such a view is typical of those participating on pilgrimages promoted by Zionist Tour Operators.
It is significant to note the different and contrasting answers given by participants to two questions on the survey. Whereas 60% of participants indicated at the beginning of the survey that the primary purpose of their pilgrimage was to visit the sites associated with Jesus or to deepen their personal faith, in answer to one of the last questions concerning their lasting memories on their return, only 24% referred to such experiences, whereas nearly half spoke of the political situation and the tensions witnessed .
It is significant that the considerably
larger survey sample together with the much longer research period has yielded
results not dissimilar to those obtained in 1994. They have reinforced the discoveries
made previously that connotations associated with the term Palestinians remained
the least positive, the least neutral and the most negative; Israel is not seen
as a democracy but essentially a colonialist and religious State; the perceived
ethical issues associated with pilgrimages have to do, in the main, with complicity
in the exploitation of the indigenous population; and
attitudes toward Israel have in recent years hardened considerably.
In so far as the majority of participants in this survey were drawn increasingly from those who had visited the Holy Land on a Living Stones tour, it is noticeable that their lasting memories were of the people they had met and places visited in the refugee camps, hospitals and schools rather than the traditional religious sites. Evidently both the content and consequences of these kinds of tours are dramatically different from that associated with traditional pilgrimages.
4. A Contribution to Holy Land Pilgrimage Research
4.1 The Limited Extent of Research
into Holy Land Pilgrimage
As has been noted already, apart from the writings of Bowman (1991; 1992a; 1992b; 1993), Prior (1994; 1997b) and Eber (1989; 1991; 1993), there has been little in the way of subsequent research into the contemporary impact of tourism in the Holy Land, and of the effect of religious tourism upon the indigenous Christian community, in particular. Material contained in this Explication has, however, been used as a source by others undertaking similar research.
Dr Michael Prior, Head of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Surrey, gave a paper entitled 'Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Yesterday and Today' at the Cumberland Lodge Conference in May 1993 (1994:169-199) in which he presented an overview of the history of pilgrimage. While highlighting the Living Stones type of pilgrimage, he noted the absence of anthropological research into the benefits of such an approach (1994:197). In a subsequent paper on the same theme, presented to the Sabeel International Liberation Theology Conference in Jerusalem, three years later in February 1996, Prior lamented the dearth of serious contemporary research into this field, referring to the author's work for further discussion of this fact.
Study of the effects of pilgrimage to the Holy Land is not at a developed stage. While there is no shortage of spiritual rhetoric, both in antiquity and today, there is a remarkable lack of sociological investigation of the phenomenon. See the discussion in Sizer 1994. (Ateek, 1997:130)
4.2 The Impact of Pilgrimages upon the Indigenous Church
Garth Hewitt, Co-ordinator for Christian Aid, London and South East Region, in his book, Pilgrims and Peacemakers, A Journey through Lent towards Jerusalem (1995), explores the meaning of pilgrimage through a series of conversations with indigenous Christians in the Holy Land. The book arose following a Living Stones pilgrimage inspired by material contained in this Explication, arranged and co-led with the writer in 1994. Hewitt makes the following statement in the foreword,
...to Stephen Sizer who has been with me on several occasions and who came up with the idea for the theme of this book on a flight from Tel Aviv to Heathrow, February 1995. (1995)
In a personal note, Hewitt added, "Thank you for your companionship and your inspiration for the book on the flight home. Here's to the next journey and book." (1995). Demand for the book following the writer's review published in the Church of England Newspaper required the publishers to take, in their own words, the unprecedented step of ordering a second edition within weeks of its publication (Sizer, 1996a:11).
Following a Diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land in February 1997, led by the Bishop of Guildford, John Gladwin, and co-ordinated by the writer with Garth Hewitt, an article was published in the Diocesan newspaper, the Guildford Diocesan Herald, to launch a link between the Diocese of Guildford and Diocese of Jerusalem. In it the Bishop urged prospective tour leaders and future pilgrimage parties to make contact with the indigenous Church (Gladwin 1997). Subsequently the writer has been asked to provide advice to other clergy leading pilgrimages from the Diocese to ensure they also make contact with the various Church agencies and charities serving in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
4.3 The Politicisation of Holy Land Pilgrimage Tourism
Dr Glen Bowman, a social anthropologist at Rutherford College, University of Kent, has probably been the most outspoken academic critic of the Israeli Government's attempt to monopolise tourism in Israel and the Occupied Territory and so cripple the Palestinian tourist economy (1991; 1992a; 1992b; 1993). In a personal letter to the writer written in 1994, Bowman made the following request,
I was delighted to see, while meeting with the Brothers at Bethlehem University this summer, that you have finished and submitted what looks to be an impressive thesis...I would be grateful if you could either send me a copy for my own reference or, less arduously, copy your thesis onto disk for me. I promise I will neither steal it nor cite it without reference, but I believe it will be a very useful resource both for my own research and for letting others know what is going on. (1994)
Following a study tour of the Holy Land in September 1996, David Wills published a book entitled "Living Stones by God Appointed" in which he examined in detail the plight of the Christian Church in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Wills made extensive use of the writer's research in reaching his own conclusions. Under the heading "Tourism, Visiting and Propaganda" Wills made the following admission,
As I prepared this report I was lent an extensive dissertation by the Revd Stephen Sizer, Vicar of Stoke near Guildford, called "Visiting the Living Stones". It explores tourism in Israel and the way it is used by the Israeli authorities, and the related possibility of real contact with the indigenous Christian Church. His report includes surveys of tourists and travel agents. He shows how it is increasingly difficult for Palestinians to obtain training and authority as guides, how hotels and other tourist facilities in Arab areas are hindered in their development whilst those in Jewish locations are supported and promoted, how Israel has taken over and developed some tourist agencies, and how those tourists staying in West Jerusalem and employing Jewish guides are given a very partial impression of the present situation.
Some evidence for his thesis came my way soon after our return. I was told of clergy in my own diocese who had paid recent visits with parties and had come back saying that things were "not really as bad as people think". If that means that you can travel reasonably freely and the risks of being blown up or shot as a tourist is small, then that is true. If it means that Palestinians have nothing to complain about, then that is entirely false. But it is the impression that the Israeli government would like tourists to take home and spread. (1997:18)
A Palestinian Travel Agent, Olivia Dakkak, gave valuable information on the pressures faced by Palestinian's working in the travel industry in East Jerusalem. She wrote the following after reading a copy of the author's MTh dissertation, "It was really a wonderful idea, well researched and greatly presented. Heartiest Congratulations." (1995). Robert Trimble, Director of Britain's largest Christian Holy Land Tour Operator, McCabe Travel, made the following comments on its implications for his own company's operational policies,
I look forward to reading through it as even a cursory glance indicates much which is very pertinent to our role within pilgrimage. I have no doubt that you have opened up an important area for discussion. One which many of us have failed to look at very seriously, at least not with a view to positive action. You can be sure that at least one tour operator will look afresh at the way Holy Land pilgrimage fits into the modern political, social and religious context within which it operates. (1994)
Two young researchers have independently reached similar conclusions based on their own investigations. Lee Katipunan, in his final year BA dissertation, University of Birmingham, under the title "A Church Under Occupation: The Living Stones-Palestinian Indigenous Christians" assesses the economic incentives influencing the Israeli Government to retain their hold over the Occupied Territories and thereby the revenue derived from religious tourism. In making these arguments he draws attention to his source,
See Steven Sizer, Visiting the Living Stones, July 1994, MTh Thesis, University of Oxford: Sizer gives full attention to Tourism and Pilgrimages in the Occupied territories in detail. (Katipunan, 1995:29)
Josephine Sledlecka, in an article entitled "Pilgrims miss real story" published in The Universe, July 1997, interviewed Beki Bateson of the Amos Trust, who also refers to the significance of some of the author's findings.
A survey we conducted recently showed that out of 33 tour operators, only two companies - Highway Holidays and McCabe travel tried to introduce pilgrims to local people. The rest of the tourist trade has been hijacked by the Israelis who are actively hostile to the Palestinians. It is very sad. I wish all the good parishes who run pilgrimages to the Holy Land would think about this. People say they don't want to get involved in politics, but this is also an issue of human rights... For more details on ethical pilgrimages to the Holy Land, contact the Rev Denis Desert on 01234 211413; Stephen Sizer on 01483 828692; or the Society of St Francis on 01300 341345. (1997)
4.4 Christian Attitudes toward the State of Israel and the Palestinian Church
The Reverend Dr. Donald Wagner, Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, North Park College, Chicago, has written extensively on the influence of Western Christianity, and in particular, Christian Fundamentalism, upon the State of Israel and relations with the indigenous Church (1992a; 1992b; 1995). Commenting on material contained within this Explication, Wagner wrote,
I have made reference to material you sent via email on 2 occasions (one was the April-May, 1997 issue of "The Link" by AMEU and the second will be in the next issue of Washington Report...I would simply say that your research and analysis will probably be the most important contribution available on the subject of "Christian Zionism" and an important contribution to both Middle Eastern Christians and Western Church leaders who deal with these issues. (1997b)
I have glanced at the monograph you sent and it is impressive. I owe you some details on where I have used your data: there were two speeches in Chicago...; a Conference at Stockholm Theol. Seminary (early Jan. 97); and my speech at the Sabeel Conference late Jan. 97. I will be using some material in a paper at the American Academy of Religion conference in San Francisco Nov. 23. (1997c)
The Right Reverend Riah Abu El Assal, Episcopal Bishop in Jerusalem, has written of the dire conditions faced by the indigenous Church of the Holy Land (1992; 1993; 1994b). He has also graciously contributed through numerous interviews to this research. In response to receiving a copy of the author's MTh dissertation, Bishop Riah wrote, "I congratulate you for finishing this great work" (1994a). When asked for his assessment of the research which revealed that as many as 95% of tour groups visiting the Holy Land will have a Jewish guide and a Moslem bus driver but apart from perhaps meeting an expatriate Christian at Christ Church, Jerusalem, Stella Carmel or the Garden Tomb, they will have no contact whatsoever with the indigenous Christians Community, Bishop Riah replied,
It is an accurate figure, and this is the policy of the Israeli Government. The Christian pilgrims do not discover the indigenous Christian people lest they wake up to the reality of the situation and give a hand. The Christians are meant to join hands and be of one mind of the same Body of Christ and those guides who are well trained try and keep them away from such discovery, first to weaken the local Christian community...Israel does not want anybody to open his eyes to what is happening to his brothers and sisters. (Assal, 1997)
lan Howe, one of the founders of the Christian Research Network, an agency researching deviant practices and cults within contemporary Christianity, has shared a mutual concern for the influence of Christian Fundamentalist support for Israel and its effect upon the Middle East peace process. Commenting on the writer's work on Dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, Howe has written,
Thank you very much for your very impressive work on Dispensationalism's history and the genesis of Christian Zionism. I hope it will be published so that this heresy can be seen for what it is. (1997).
Dr Michael Prior, writing from a very different, Roman Catholic perspective, similarly commented,
I have read your Darby and Christian Zionism material (Sept-Nov 96) with even more profit, and am presuming to integrate some of its insights into what I hope will be a book on Zionism, which I am putting together. (1997c)
Prior also makes reference to the writer's MTh Dissertation in the bibliography of his book, "The Bible and Colonialism, A Moral Critique" (1997:325), and in a paper entitled "Christians and Zionism" draws upon the writer's research on the Zionist tendencies of many Christian organisations active in the Holy Land (1995:5).
The Right Reverend Kenneth Cragg, former Assistant Bishop of Jerusalem, and author of several definitive works on Islam and Arab Christianity (1964; 1981; 1982; 1992), also expressed his appreciation for the author's work on Christian Zionism. In a letter he wrote, "I am grateful for the elucidation of how C.M.J. sees itself, though I had that sense of things, less explicit, when I was at Christ Church, Jerusalem, in 1992." (1996). Bishop Cragg has also indicated his intention of integrating information on indigenous Christian responses to the building of Settlements on Occupied Territory near Bethlehem (Sizer, 1997c), in his own book.
Many thanks for sending me the paper on Har Homa. I am grateful to have it-and timely so. I have just been doing proofs for a book due from Cassell in September: Palestine: The Prize and Price of Zion. There is a summary 'Chronology' at the beginning and I think I can probably insert a final note in the second proof about these further events of 1997. (1997a)
With reference to this Explication, he wrote,
Many thanks for your letter and abstract and the tourism/pilgrimage study which seems to me eminently competent. I do not know what I can add to your expertise except to applaud the initiative and share the concern and hope. (1997b)
The Right Reverend John Gladwin, Bishop of Guildford and Patron
of Friends of Sabeel UK, has said in response to the same article, "I
entirely agree with you and I think this expresses it extremely well." (1996).
The Very Reverend John Tidy, Dean of St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem also wrote about the article,
I write primarily to thank you for the copy of your piece on Abu Ghoneim - which was excellent. Since then, of course, the situation has only worsened and the picture is a grim one on all fronts. We are left with hope and prayer, both of which have sustained the Palestinians through generations of suffering and forgotteness. (1997)
Karina Theodosiou, in her BA dissertation, St Mary's University College, Twickenham, under the title, "Israel: The Biblical Promised Land or The Land of Broken Promises? A Survey of the Factors Which Have Shaped Western Christian Attitudes To The Arab-Israeli Conflict." makes the following assertions, based on an article "A Word After A Word After a Word is Power" published in Living Stones in 1994.
Consequently, S. Sizer, amongst others, has challenged the western Christian approach to the prophetic passages of Scripture, in particular those containing promises regarding a return to the Land. He urges that a responsible reading of them would include the importance of context and original prophetic intention... He writes, It is erroneous therefore to assume that promises and warnings made two or three thousand years ago can be 'transferred' directly to people alive today. That is to ignore the fundamental issue that these statements were made in the context of a personal loving, moral relationship between God and his covenant people. (Sizer, S. 1994. p.4). (Theodosiou, 1997)
One participant in the Survey of Pilgrim Opinion, used to gather empirical information on attitudes toward pilgrimages to the Holy Land, made the following observation about its value to him, "This is brilliant in making me realise how hard it is to learn the truth." (Pilgrim 1.84)
4.5 How this Explication has been a Stimulus
for Further Research
Dr Donald Wagner has expressed his desire that one of his North Park students make use of the writer's research in her own. In a recent e-mail letter he wrote,
I may have a student researcher contact you. her name is Anna Johnson and she is putting together a dossier on recent activities of various Christian Zionist groups in Europe, the Middle East, and North America. Perhaps we can collaborate on this, as you might be interested for your purposes. I have asked her to focus on activities in the past 5 years; themes; organizations; major personalities; theology (such as it is); political actions (special emphasis on the recent NY Times ad, etc.). Let me know if you would like to collaborate. She is following up several of the web-sites you assembled a year ago plus a few I have given her. We could use anything you have on activities in the UK and Europe. (Wagner, 1997a)
Henry Carse, Director of Studies, St George's College, Jerusalem is undertaking doctoral research examining the pastoral dimension and educational impact of pilgrimages. He recently asked for a copy of the writer's MTh dissertation and wrote in reply, "You have done a lot of work on this subject; your bibliography alone is worth the price. Congratulations." (1997).
Dr Nabeel Jabbour, author of two books on Islamic Fundamentalism, has also requested permission to disseminate material contained in this Explication to colleagues of his working in this field.
I have made a copy of the "Debate" and a copy of Chapter One of your dissertation... and have read them on a flight from London to Chicago. The "Debate" was excellent. If you will give me the freedom, I would like to send copies of it to friends that I know will appreciate it very much... I would be grateful if you will keep me in touch as you continue to study and write. (Jabbour, 1997)
Clearly, research into the diverse nature and effect of different types of Holy Land pilgrimages is still at an early stage. However, an increase in interest within this field among researchers can be detected as well as among some Christian Tour Operators, and it is hoped that this will lead to a greater understanding of, support for and contact with, the indigenous Church, for too long neglected and ignored.
5. Conclusions: A Critical Appraisal of this Explication
This explication has explored the concept of "Responsible Tourism" within the context of managing pilgrimages to the Holy Land. It was initiated by an investigation of the impact of pilgrimages to the Holy Land, historical, theological and political, which culminated in a dissertation in part-fulfilment of the requirements for the award of an MTh from Oxford University in 1994. A series of seven pilgrimages were arranged between 1994-1997 during which some of the recommendations of the initial research were both tested and applied. An extended survey of pilgrim opinion was conducted at the same time, providing additional empirical material upon which eleven articles were subsequently written and published. The opportunity to assist in the re-launching of a travel company, Highway Journeys, has afforded, at a management level, the opportunity to apply some of the principals of ethical tourism highlighted by this research. The views of others engaged in this field of study have been incorporated together with their critical appraisal of the author's own contribution.
The findings of this research raise a number of sensitive but vital questions that will need further consideration than has been possible in this Explication and comprise the agenda for future research. Kenneth Cragg has put them succinctly,
How should Christians respond to this situation? What are the final criteria by which to judge? Are they ethical or dogmatic, spiritual or merely textual, and, if textual, in what terms? And what of those Christians who have not come to the point of asking any questions at all? The emotions that accompany these issues are as painful and as stressful as the questions themselves. (1992:296)
The primary focus of this enquiry, both in terms of pilgrims surveyed as well as indigenous Christians interviewed, has been the Episcopal Church, which, over the past 150 years, has played a significant role in the evolution of "Arabism" and the rise of both Palestinian self identity and self determination. It has done so through sponsoring orphanages, schools, clinics, hospitals and churches as well as by training an indigenous leadership to run these establishments within their own communities. This has been achieved despite its small proportion of about 2% of the population and relatively recent arrival in the Holy Land, only 150 years ago, compared with the other historic denominations.
This research has shown that pilgrimages can share in this constructive role in that they have the potential, if undertaken responsibly, to greatly enhance contact and understanding between people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Specifically, they can help affirm Palestinian identity, stimulate the Palestinian tourist economy, and encourage Palestinian aspirations toward political autonomy. Pilgrims can also expose the injustice of the political and military occupation of the West Bank by Israel and speak on behalf of this ancient Church as their voice around the world. On their return home, pilgrims can convey the story of the Living Stones abroad, show solidarity, share skills and resources, and challenge their own government's foreign policy on the Middle East.
It remains a fact however, that the majority of pilgrims and religious tourists who visit the Holy Land are either indifferent or antagonistic toward the existence of an indigenous Church, and are sympathetic to or apologists for the state of Israel and the status quo. Sadly, this research has confirmed that as many as 95% of pilgrims do not meet with a single indigenous Christian while visiting the Holy Land and so remain largely ignorant or apathetic about the very real threat to the existence of an indigenous Palestinian Christian presence in Israel. However, there are small but encouraging signs that this situation is changing. Given the growing interest in the material contained and summarised in this Explication, and those known to be now promoting pilgrimages that introduce pilgrims to the indigenous Church, that number should decrease.
It is possible to draw together the findings of this Explication and offer a more detailed assessment of the three discrete types of Western Christian Holy Land pilgrimage that have emerged (Figure 12).
|Type of Pilgrimage
|Location of Accommodation
|Typical Extra-Biblical Sites Visited
|Effect on Pilgrim
|Attitude Toward and Effect on the Indigenous Church
|Israeli and Arab hotels chosen primarily on basis of cost and convenience.
|Yad Vashem, Dead Sea, Massada, Kibbutz, Western Wall, Garden Tomb, Knesset, Haifa.
|Educational, Bible Lands Experience, Sympathetic, Pro-Israel.
|Apathy & IndifferencePerpetuate Invisibility, Marginalisation, Reinforcing Status Quo, Weakening of local Palestinian economy.
|Christ Church in Jerusalem,Stella Carmel, Jaffa, Kibbutz.
|Galilee Experience, Christ Church in Jerusalem, Megiddo, Stella Carmel, Jewish Settlements, CMJ, ICEJ.
|Prophetic, Bible Experience, Militantly Pro-Zionist, Anti-Arab.
|Animosity, Antagonism, Justification of Jewish Settlements, Land Confiscation, Occupation, Displacement and Demonisation of Arabs
|Palestinian Christian or Moslem
|Christian Hospices, St George's erusalem, YWCA, Nazareth, Scottish Hospice, Tiberius.
|West Bank Gaza, Jericho, Beit Sahour, Hebron, Refugee Camps, Schools and Hospitals, MECC, World Vision.
|Identification with Suffering and Injustice. Pro-Palestinian Anti-Zionist.
|Empathy, Solidarity, Encouragement, Hope, Financial Support, Speak up for Abroad, Links with Charitable Agencies Back Home
Figure 12. Contrasting types of Western Christian Pilgrimages: Content and Consequences
The litmus test for distinguishing between different
kinds of pilgrimages and religious tourism is, it is suggested, the attitude
of the organisers and participants toward the presence of an indigenous Christian
Church. Are they visible or invisible? Are they respected or repudiated? Visited
Local Christians are caught in a degree
of museumization. They are aware of tourists who come in great volume from the
West to savour holy places but who are, for the most part, blithely disinterested
in the people who indwell them. The pain of the indifference is not eased insofar
as the same tourism is subtly manipulated to make the case for the entire legitimacy
of the statehood that regulates it. (Cragg, 1992:28)
The majority of Christian pilgrimage groups fall within the category of Traditional pilgrimages. They visit the Holy Land primarily to view the historical and archaeological sites associated with the Christian faith. The presence of local people is acknowledged only in so far as they provide the practical facilities, such as coaches and hotels, for example, which enable pilgrims to achieve their predetermined pietistic, religious or educational experience of the land.
An example of this kind of pilgrimage is being promoted by Don Maclean and the BBC Radio 2 Good Morning Sunday Programme in June 1998. When challenged about the absence of any mention of contact with the indigenous Church in the itinerary, Maclean justified his approach in this way,
Our intention is to walk in the footsteps of our blessed Lord, engaging in prayer and meditation. There's an opportunity for worship every morning and also worship at the various religious sites. Whilst we appreciate the importance of the maintenance of Christianity in the Holy Land, we will be very much a self contained unit. (1997)
If Traditional pilgrimages may be likened to a benign tumour,
Christian Zionist pilgrimages are more like a malignant cancer, perceived by
indigenous Christians to be an alien intrusion and actively destructive to the
survival of the host culture.
Typically drawn from the Fundamentalist churches and predominantly American, they visit the Holy Land with a preconceived apocalyptic agenda within which they are active participants in the End Times scenario. Their principle motivation for visiting the Holy Land is to bless the Jews by offering material support to the State of Israel and to witness the literal fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. The presence of an indigenous Palestinian Christian community is an unwelcome complication either denigrated as Moslem fanatics or ignored as recent Arab immigrants.
Those participating in Living Stones pilgrimages do so with
an equal level of conviction but with a contrary motivation (Figure 15).
They visit the Holy Land in search of the living Lord, present not among the
archaeological stones or the biblical text, but within the contemporary, indigenous
Christian community. Their intention is to meet with the local Christians, to
learn from them, and identify with them.
They will want to stay in Christian hospices and Palestinian hotels and be led by Christian guides to the sites so central to the origins of the Christian faith. They will want to visit the orphanages, the schools, the technical colleges and the hospitals where people of all faiths are working together to build a better future than the one they inherited. They will be interested in the contemporary political situation and listen to speakers from the different communities.
Their presence is an act of solidarity. They have go to share
in a ministry of peacemaking that unites members of all three faiths, Jews,
Moslems and Christians, in the hope that both Israelis and Palestinians can
share equitably and hold in trust together the land of the Holy One.
To repeat Cragg's basic question, "How should Christians respond to this
situation?" This is the ultimate challenge and the primary ethical issue
facing pilgrimage Operators and tour leaders in the immediate future. It also
surely constitutes the agenda for responsible tourism to the Holy Land.
Elias Chacour echoes the feelings of many Palestinian Christian leaders on this
when he said,
Your visit to Ibillin was not just a courtesy visit but an act of solidarity with your brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to know that you care and we are not forgotten. We have been deprived for 50 years. [Palestinian, 1994:1.3]
Robert Assally, the then, Director of the Middle East Council of Churches Liaison Office in Jerusalem, highlighted the wider and strategic value of responsible pilgrimages.
Contact between visitors and the local church can only serve to strengthen the local Christian position which is a minority among three religions, yet very much involved in the peace process long before the formal peace process was made public. They are in a good position to mediate between East and West, what pilgrims are doing is strengthening the hand of the peace makers and that can have a terribly important impact here. [Palestinian, 1994:3.22]
The ethical issues and decisions encountered in promoting responsible tourism to the Holy Land are considerable and complex. They may, however, be broken down into two categories: those issues upon which Tour Operators and pilgrimage group leaders have little or no control due to the policies of the Israeli government (Figure 16); and those decisions over which they have some influence (Figure 17).
Ethical Issues Encountered on Holy Land Tours Determined by Israeli Government Policy
Figure 16. Ethical issues encountered on Holy Land tours determined by Israeli government policy
To a large degree acceptance of these restrictions and the
orchestrated Israeli agenda for Holy Land pilgrimages is difficult to resist
without causing inconvenience or anxiety to tour participants; endangering the
future licensing and livelihood of Palestinian agents, guides or coach drivers;
or the profitability of Tour Operators. For example,
following the shooting of two British tourists near Eilat in southern Israel
in August 1997, apparently by an Israeli Arab, in what the British Foreign Office
described as "a straight forward criminal act", the Israeli Embassy in
London exploited the tension by claiming in advice to foreign tourists,
Entry to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is being very tightly controlled, and visitors are very strongly discouraged from trying to go there. Elsewhere normal rules apply. (Owen, 1997:2)
There are, however, some ethical choices and decisions which Tour Operators and individual tour group leaders have considerable freedom to make, whether intentionally or by default (Figure 17).
Summary of Ethical Decisions Faced by Holy Land Tour Operators and Group Leaders
Figure 17. Ethical decisions faced by Holy Land Tour Operators and group leaders
In addressing these complex and controversial
ethical issues associated with managing and promoting pilgrimages and religious
tourism to Israel and the Occupied Territories, what constitutes responsible
In the light of the research contained in this Explication, the following nine distinctive characteristics are offered as a basis for further discussion and investigation (Figure 18).
Summary of Distinctive Characteristics of Responsible Pilgrimages to the Holy Land
Figure 18. Summary of the distinctive characteristics of responsible tourism to the Holy Land
The essential task of the wider
ecumenical movement of which Christian Tour Operators are a part, is to face
the twofold challenge of discovering and then implementing the ways and means
by which the travel and tourism industry and religious pilgrimages, in particular,
can facilitate Middle Eastern Christians to re-establish their fraternal links,
receive nourishment from their roots and, at the same time, break down the barriers
of neglect and misunderstanding.
In short, if we are to avoid the creation of a Christian Disney World managed by expatriates but devoid of indigenous Christians, it is imperative that these communities be given the opportunity to become self-sustaining, ensuring not merely their survival into the next millennium but also their growth, so that they, as the lone authentic voice of Christianity in the land of the Holy One, can continue to offer their own unique witness to the world, enriching the rest of us.
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Stephen R. Sizer
25th January 1999