The Common Good
September-October 2001

Pilgrims' Regress

by Tom Getman | September-October 2001

Why 'Holy Land Tours' miss the real story

Why don't most Christian visitors to Israel and Palestine get it? How can so many tourists who see the painful impact of military occupation maintain an expansionist Israel "right or wrong" point of view?

Four reasons are obvious:

1) Most visitors who come to the Holy Land for the primary reason of "walking where Jesus walked" have never been victims of torture, oppression, unjust imprisonment, or physical deprivation. From their more comfortable lives, they may not be as sensitive to Jesus' marching orders in Luke 4 to "preach good news to the poor...and release to the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." This is a vacation, after all, not a "mission trip."

2) Many who come believe in a near-heretical apocalyptic theology nurtured by the "late great" prophetic literature that declares that the secular state of Israel is the long awaited pre-messianic event.

3) The vast majority of those who come are traveling with tour agencies or guides trained and supervised by the Israeli government. As a result Arab Muslims and Christians alike are often denigrated as violent, dirty, and criminally inclined people whose neighborhoods should be avoided.

4) Many visitors come with fully arranged schedules and are afraid to reach out to local believers, to worship with them, or to see their reality-especially since many congregations are in the "dangerous" West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The truth is, these visits are rarely dangerous physically, but they can cause troubling spiritual challenge to misperceptions and prejudices. When visitors observe injustice and align themselves with the poor and oppressed-when the scales come off the eyes of pilgrims-the result can be painful internal and doctrinal adjustments, but a deepened spiritual sensitivity. As one of our pilgrim friends, Rev. Katherine Kallis from Boston, said, "The experience with Palestinians sandpapered my heart. I will never be the same."

Tom Getman is director of World Vision Palestine.

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