EPF PIN Promotes Solidarity Tourism in the Holy Land

Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network
Posted Aug 31, 2023

Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem offers visitors a place to participate in Solidarity Tourism. The large key at the entrance symbolizes refugees’ right of return to their homeland.

The Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network (EPF PIN) announces a new initiative designed for travelers who want to visit the Holy Land. Although not offering travel planning or guide services, PIN provides resources to help ensure an authentic pilgrimage experience, from finding the right travel company to discovering ways to make pilgrimage in today’s Holy Land more meaningful, to retaining the spirit of pilgrimage on returning home.

Even after two millennia, the Holy Land still beckons. But so many visitors simply tread the paths of history visiting traditional sites where events may have occurred, focusing on the past and perhaps missing opportunities to engage the ways that Jesus’ ministry still challenges us today. Poet and spiritual advisor Mark Nepo wrote, “One who journeys without being changed is a nomad. One who changes without going on a journey is a chameleon. One who journeys and is transformed by that journey is a pilgrim.” The Gospel narratives of Jesus’ ministry are full of stories of transformation; those stories have inspired PIN’s focus on the experience of pilgrimage.

In its realities today, the Holy Land is abundant in opportunities for transformation. So many of the same forces and conditions that formed Jesus’ ministry are present today: the dynamics of colonial power, the hold of land and identity on peoples, forced movement and relocations, the drudgery of poverty and oppression. In these contemporary realities, visiting the Holy Land offers us the chance to live into the gospel story anew. We are not only able to trace Jesus’ steps but to witness the struggle for God’s Kingdom in the lives of people there today.

PIN’s resources to assist travelers are available on its website beginning with an understanding of how events of the last 100 years have shaped today’s Holy Land, to practical recommendations on ways to meet the Holy Land’s remaining Christians and hear their stories, to questions of safety. Our approach adheres to the principles of liberatory, solidarity tourism; viz, enjoying the natural beauty, cuisine, customs, and culture of a destination while also fully embracing the context that shows us the conditions and freedom struggles of the people living there today.

In many conversations over the years, PIN members have heard from travelers that they visit the Holy Land for spiritual upliftment and to imaginatively witness sites of events told in the scriptures. They are “not interested in politics”, they say. In its travel initiative PIN takes the view that in the current highly charged circumstances, politics is in the very air, land, and water of the Holy Land, and that avoiding those circumstances is avoiding what is most relevant in authentic pilgrimage. Indeed, an intention to avoid politics in today’s Holy Land reveals a disconcerting lack of understanding of the lives of the people who welcome us and host our travel experiences. Even in the midst of their spiritual journey, every Holy Land traveler is embedded in political realities. For example, why do so many homes in Bethlehem have rainwater-collecting tanks on their roofs while those in Jerusalem do not? Why can’t many Palestinian Christians who live in the West Bank visit the holy places in Jerusalem that foreigners can visit? Why is it called the “Temple Mount” when Muslim holy sites are there, and no temple has stood on the site for 2000 years? Why do cars and taxis in Bethlehem have different colored license plates than those in Jerusalem? Why are the numbers of Israeli flags and soldiers increasing in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City?

PIN’s travel campaign promotes a viewpoint that much of scripture is about liberation, about exile and return, about people displaced to the margins, and in fact is as much about conditions in Israel and Palestine today as about events of millennia past. Unfortunately, however, some Christians and theologians have re-purposed scripture to accommodate nationalistic ambitions. Sadly, this is the guidance that many travelers follow. The subject has recently been addressed in a new book by the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Lutheran pastor and theologian in Bethlehem. In “Decolonizing Palestine: The Land, the People, the Bible”, Rev. Raheb offers an unvarnished and lucid description of the ways that some have used Biblical texts to create fraudulent understandings of today’s Holy Land. He writes that some wish to “strip it [Palestine] of its sociopolitical context—of its real people” without regard to the lives, livelihood, and homes of Palestinians. It is those lives and their stories of struggle, so similar to those in the Gospel narratives, that PIN believes ought to be at the heart of Holy Land travel.

If a pilgrimage experience is to be transformative, it must be sustained. Along with the resources for making the trip, PIN is developing a network for pilgrims who have returned home. Travelers may contact epfpin@epfnational.org for more information.

The Holy Land is completely unique – rare in its beauty and exceptional in its significance. By combining visits to traditional holy sites with encounters that bring to life Jesus’ own ministry, PIN offers resources to experience the Holy Land not as a museum of the past, but in the fullness of its ongoing challenges and struggles as well as in all that is sublime.