Everyone who ever plans to come to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage has a relative or friend intervene to say “Stop! Don’t do it. Haven’t you seen the news lately about what’s going on over there?”
“Over there” kind of means the whole Middle East! In their mind are news reports from Egypt, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Israel all rolled up into one!
Even if “over there” were limited to the whole of Israel/Palestine itself, it would be an understandable concern, but over-generalized. I’ve led tours while there were hostilities reported by the international news media on the border with Gaza and Lebanon. Our tour was always carrying on peacefully, an entire world away from trouble, unaware and unaffected by any problems.
I made my first trip in Dec 1999/Jan 2000. Remember Y2K? When the whole world was supposed to shut down? We had an incredible time! Then I went back in 2001 during the Palestinian “uprising.” Saw no problem. I’ve been back over 30 times since, bringing my mother twice and my wife and daughters numerous times. Never once did anyone feel threatened, uneasy, insecure or in danger. Palestinian Christians and Muslims as well as Israelis were always hospitable and friendly.
The Christian Holy Places around Jerusalem and Galilee have never been the flash points for trouble in Israel/Palestine. Since 1971, whenever there has been unrest, it has been on the border with Gaza or Lebanon, or perhaps in a nightclub in Tel-Aviv, or at one of the settlements of Jews built on traditional Palestinian territory on the West bank of the Jordan. All these places are avoided in our tours.
Security in Israel is just about the best in the world! The reality is that the rate of crime there, violent or petty thievery, is less than most American or European cities. I’ve been to Barcelona – unfortunately my wife’s purse was nabbed while we were praying in the cathedral (by a person in the pew in back of us). She lost her cell phone, passports, everything. I’ve led a few land tours in Italy, and, sure enough, a gypsy tried to nab the handbag of one of my passengers. I rode “the tube” once in London, and my traveling companion had some very scary guys try to relieve him of his wallet. I’ve more than 30 trips to the Holy Land and we’ve had not one such incident! I’ve felt safer there than I feel in downtown New York or Chicago!!!!!
On the ground in the Holy Land, we are taken care of by a Palestinian Christian tour company – they know the country like the back of their hands and get along with Palestinian Muslims as well as Jewish Israelis. They do an amazing job of keeping us safe and relaxed, making all things ultra-convenient. They will not take chances with our safety. I assure you, if a situation should ever arise shortly before our trip that presented true danger to Christian pilgrims, the trip would be canceled and money refunded to passengers.
Our hotels are all modern, Western-style hotels that are full-service. We typically are in our hotels by 5 or 6pm. However, it is safe for passengers to go out if they wish and they do. I allowed my 16-22 year old children to go out one New Years Eve in Jerusalem, accompanied by a local friend of ours, to a café where there were other young people, music, etc. Obviously, I never would have allowed such a thing if it were risky. The Sea of Galilee is gorgeous – our hotel there is right on the water. Our final hotel is on the Mediterranean Sea. You feel as safe in the later two places as in any beach resort in the world.
Hopefully, my words here have eased your concerns. However, if you would feel better speaking to me or one of our pilgrimage team members about the safety issue, we’d be happy to talk with you via phone. Call Jane at 1-800-842-4842.
Remember – the single most often repeated sentence by Jesus in the Gospels is “Do not be afraid!” I encourage you not to allow fear to rob you of this incredible opportunity for spiritual growth.
Faithfully in Christ,
Marcellino D’Ambrosio (“Dr. Italy”)