Opportunities For Encounter- Christian Tours and Pilgrimages to The Holy Land (Israel and Palestine)

by Anne-Marie Clements and Rebecca Argall

Opportunities For Encounter seeks to understand how Christian trips from the UK to Israel and Palestine can be utilized as a tool to help Christians from the UK better understand the impact of the occupation on Palestinians, with a particular focus on Palestinian Christians. It seeks to explore the itineraries, geographies, and narratives of Christian tours and use these to both highlight good practice and make recommendations as to how tour organisers can comfortably address some of the difficult issues occurring in Israel and Palestine on their trips.

Many Christians from the UK visit The Holy Land out of a deep desire to ‘walk where Jesus walked’. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, these trips may lack any opportunities for engagement with the social justice issues relevant to the people of the land, such as the impact of the occupation on Palestinian people, including on Palestinian Christians.

The result is, UK Christians may travel to Israel and Palestine then leave none the wiser in relation to the true story of what is happening to the Palestinian people, including the Christian population who call The Holy Land home.

Opportunities For Encounter seeks to promote tours and pilgrimages as a way to foster meaningful engagement with the Christian faithful in The Holy Land such that UK Christians feel connected to Palestinian Christians through a shared bond of faith. The project hopes to foster understanding primarily among those who organise trips and pilgrimages and those who are interested in participating, of why these human rights issues relevant to the region are important by linking them to the values of justice and peace which are central to the Christain faith.

The long term goal of the project is for UK Christians to have regular ‘Opportunities For Encounter’ with Christians in Palestine either directly through the tours and pilgrimages they go on, or indirectly from the witness of fellow Christians in UK congregations who have been on these pilgrimages or who have links to Palestine. These encounters are facilitated in the hope that this leads to an increase in engagement with the Israel-Palestine issue among Christians here in the UK through recognition of a common faith and spiritual bond with Christians in Palestine.

To achieve its aims, Opportunities For Encounter will create and distribute a vlog filmed during an Israel-Palestine Christian tour, and create visual aids and resources that highlight the ‘on the ground’ issues in Palestine such as separation walls, check points, and border differentiation and link these to Christian tour itineraries. It will culminate with an online webinar that will launch these resources and hold a Q&A panel event with Christians from Palestine and the UK as well as tour operators to discuss why these themes are pertinent to the wider issues in Israel and Palestine.

This project initially targets Christians in the UK who are either involved in organising pilgrimages, or considering taking part in one. It also targets the wider Christian population in Britain. It will assist UK based tour providers by helping them comfortably engage with political issues in their tours, and will assist UK Christians interested in trips and pilgrimages to Israel/Palestine by helping them to make responsible choices for their visit. It also aims to equip Christians to educate others in their churches, specifically in regards to pilgrimages and on the current plight of fellow Christians in Palestine. Finally, the project hopes to raise the voice of Palestinian Christians and give them the opportunity to speak directly to UK Christians about these topics as an example of a meaningful encounter.

Contact fellowship@balfourproject.org if you would like to find out more information.