What “Holy Land” tours miss

(photo: SJ Travel Photo and Video / Shutterstock)
Congratulations, I want to say. You have managed to visit the Holy Land without meeting an Arab.

By Jessica Moore | Sojourners | Jun 27, 2019

This tourist avoids seeing a checkpoint in action, with lines of Palestinian men, women, and children standing on the side, legs spread, waiting for a soldier to check them. Avoids facing the miles of thick concrete security wall, snaking in between crumbling Arab villages and gleaming Jewish settlements. Avoids seeing the barb-wired watch towers, with teenagers — who have lived their whole lives behind the wall — kick a soccer ball below.

As a Palestinian Christian who grew up in Jerusalem, I have a hard time knowing where, if anywhere, my narrative fits among the pictures evangelical Christians paint of Israel. I was reminded of this recently when an acquaintance of mine did a “holy land tour,” and posted travel updates that showed up on my social media stream.

Seeing others post pictures in the same spots where I walked home from school, went on a field trip, or stopped for bread on the way back from church, is like watching someone’s first-date encounter with your old friend. But as the pictures roll by, something else begins to gather in my chest. Rage.

One more person visiting my homeland and also not visiting my homeland.

Like other such tours, these posts share that the traveler went all over Israel proper, from Galilee to Masada, but not into any Arab neighborhoods, either inside Israel or in the West Bank. The only reference to Arabs in all of the photos and commentary was to an Arab village that could be seen from the safe distance of the Jewish quarter in the Old City.

I know that village. It’s where my mother used to teach during the first Intifada, where she tried to keep a group of Palestinian kindergarteners from standing on their desks every time an Israeli army jeep passed by, so that they could flash the victory sign to the jeep and then dodge the incoming tear gas cannisters.

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