Israel and Tourism

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

April 17, 2002



            In 1997 I took a tour group from our parish to the Holy Land.  It was about 40 people.  We were there two weeks.  During that time we spent about $6,000 per day on food, lodging, buses, and admissions.  Individually our tour members spent even more money on souvenirs and shopping.  We also added to the Israeli government revenue, since we flew on ElAl, the government airline.  Altogether we spent well over $100,000 in the Holy Land economy, most of it going to Israelis, but some going to Palestinians. 

Like our parish tour, hundreds of Catholic groups from around the world visit the Holy Land every year.  It is a major part of the economy there for both Israelis and Palestinians.

            Maybe it is time for Christians to stop supporting both the Israelis and the Palestinians with our dollars and our euros until both sides are willing to bring an end to the blood letting.

            Maybe it is time for us to stop allowing the Israeli government to advertise in Catholic publications and solicit our tour business, while at the same time pursuing policies that are virtually eliminating the Palestinian Christian population in Israel and the Palestinian territories. 

            It is also time for us to use our economic clout to stand in solidarity with fellow Christians who are besieged in this terrible war, especially in the little town of Bethlehem.

The fact that one of the most sacred sites in all of Christendom, the church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus, is under siege is an outrage.  Both sides are holding hostage a place of incalculable religious and cultural importance. The church is a symbolic pawn.  It may be destroyed.  If it is destroyed, it will be a cultural atrocity on the magnitude of the destruction of the great Buddhas on the Silk Road two years ago by the Taliban.

Even more important than the church, are the innocent lives of its neighbors.  Many of them are Palestinian Christians.  Their lives are put at risk in this siege. They cannot get food.  Some have no water or power.

Secretary Powell’s mission to Israel has failed to bring an end to the incursion and the terrorism.  Evidently both sides feel free to ignore the U.S. government.

Maybe it is time for the Church to do what it can.  It is also time for us to take care of our own.

First, we should support the besieged Palestinian Christians with financial and humanitarian assistance.  We need to make it possible for Palestinian Christians to remain in their homes and businesses until this violence subsides.

Second we should use what clout the Catholic Church has with the tourism industry.  Maybe we could announce a shut down all the tourist sites under control of the Church until both sides cease their violence.

Imagine if tourist groups could not visit the Mount of the Beatitudes and Mount Tabor.  Imagine if the churches were closed to tourists in Nazareth, Cana and Jerusalem.  Imagine if no tour buses rumbled up to Capernaum.

It is true that tourism has already come to a virtual halt because of the war.  Perhaps we should just shut it down as a symbolic protest.  

We would be saying that we Christian tourists are not coming back with our money until you, Israelis and Palestinians, come back to the negotiating table. We will not spend our dollars and our euros to support your violence on either side.

Undoubtedly some innocent will suffer from a boycott.  That is always the case.  Some innocent suffered from the South African boycott in the 1980s, but it was still the right thing to do.

But we cannot carry on as usual.  We cannot be pilgrims anywhere in the Holy Land while people are being shot at in the birthplace of Jesus.

 We cannot do much. But we must do something.