Religious tourism, especially to East Jerusalem and Bethlehem is vital for the Palestinian economy, not only for hotels and restaurants, but also for the sale of handicraft religious souvenirs (the picture shows olive wood crosses being made in a small factory in Bethlehem)
The call by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for Anglicans to visit Bethlehem should be widely publicised, both for the economic benefit, but also so that Christians can bear witness to the destruction of Christian communities by the Israeli occupation. The British Foreign office acts as a firm friend of Zionism by continuing to advise against travel to the West Bank, despite the fact that tourism to Palestine is safer than visiting Florida. The Foreign office advice often includes details of alleged security concerns that are several months out of date. The practical impact is that most travel insurance policies always exclude travel to areas where a foreign office caution is in place, which severely deters many travellers. (Write to your MP about this!)
Of the 136000 people who live in the Bethlehem district, only about 45% are Christians today. Largely the churches are silent about the systematic destruction of Christian life by the Zionists. The following picture was taken from Shepherds Field, where Christians believe the Archangel Gabriel visited the Shepherds to tell them of the birth of the Lord. In the foreground is a housing project run by the Greek Orthodox church for their congregation. Behind on the hilltop is the wholely illegal Jewish camp of Har Homa.
Currently the wall (here a fence) runs between the two housing developments. But the Zionists have decided to extend the wall and demolish the Christian community, on “security” grounds. Of course no compensation will be given by the Israelis to the Christians made homeless. The community will drift apart, the children will be traumatised, and the cultural diversity of the Bethlehem area will be further diminished.
At the near end of the Christian housing is a green area where the Orthodox Church are building a church, if the extension of the wall goes ahead this will be the first Christian place of worship destroyed by the Zionists in the West Bank, although they have already made Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem an exclusively Jewish place of worship (it is sacred also to Christians and Moslems), and in 1998 demolished the dome and vestibule. (The dome of the mosque was originally financed by an English Jew, Sir Moses Montefiore in 1841, pointing to a time before Zionssm when the religious communities lived in harmony)
Rachel’s Tomb has been effectiveley annexed to Israel by building a bizarre special corridor of 8 metre high wall linking it to Jerusalem, although it is actually in Bethlehem. The Jews have also blocked Moslems from visiting half of the Tomb of the Patriarchs mosque in Hebron, which they have converted to a synagogue to serve the 300 or so ultra-orthodox fanatics who live in the Old City.
It is time for the Christian churches to come off the fence and condemn Zionism.