Religious travelers experience Israel and Palestine views

04/01/09 Doris Norrito
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Tours to Israel have always enjoyed popularity. But visits to the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank are discouraged by news of terrorist attacks and government warnings. Palestinian run tour groups offer a different view for travelers to the Holy Land.

Last November, the First World Religious Travel Expo and Educational Conference was held in Orlando. For the first time, Palestine tour trips were represented. Although both Israeli and Palestinian tours include visits to sacred Christian and Jewish sites in Israel and the West Bank, Palestinian tours offer more time inside Israeli occupied Palestine. Israeli tours focus on Israel and time in Palestine is limited.

News about Palestinian terrorism can deter Americans from travel to Palestine. An opportunity to meet and spend time with Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank is offered by two Palestinian tour groups. Michel Awad represents Siraj. Based in Bethlehem, Siraj is a tourist division of The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People. He talks about safety and the hospitality of the Palestinian people.

Although the majority of Palestinians are Muslim, a minority of Christians represent many sects. In Bethlehem, church bells complement the Muslim call to prayer. Although overall Palestine is under the control of Israel, Bethlehem is under Palestinian control. Fuad Katan operates a family owned tour agency. He talks about everyday life in Bethlehem and the places held sacred to the Christian world.

News of killing and war instill fear and impede human connection. Tourism is a way to understand others that provides a bridge to peace.

Political friction promotes misunderstanding. On a recent visit to Palestine, this reporter found the common belief of hatred between Jews and Palestinians to be exaggerated. Grassroots peace movements in the West Bank are bringing Palestinians, Israelis, and Internationals together in demonstrations that protest separation walls, military occupation and violence. Travel, meeting and talking to people who are different overturns false perceptions and encourages peace.

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