In order to understand our reality, we say to the Churches: Come and see. We will fulfil our role to make known to you the truth of our reality, receiving you as pilgrims coming to us to pray, carrying a message of peace, love and reconciliation. You will know the facts and the people of this land, Palestinians and Israelis alike.

From A Moment of Truth

Are you planning a trip to the birthplace of Christianity? Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho, the Sea of Galilee—these biblical places have drawn millions of Christians to the Holy Land for centuries. Connecting to the places where Jesus walked 2,000 years ago can be a powerful spiritual experience.

But are there moral choices to be made when planning a trip to the Holy Land? Who are the people who live there now? Who are the Christians in the Holy Land? How can you be transformed and engage the people you meet?

Learning about biblical history is one dimension of a Holy Land trip. However, an incarnate spirituality—that of a faithful pilgrimage—where you learn about the current realities and the peoples who live there can change your trip from a tourist adventure to an authentic pilgrimage. Return to Canada not just with more knowledge about biblical sites but also transformed to carry out the message of the gospel preached by Jesus and his early followers, who walked in the places you will see.

Read on to learn more about opportunities to make a difference on your trip.

Why Should I Visit the Holy Land?

  • To connect your faith with the places that were the setting for the life of Jesus and the early Christians
  • To connect with the Christians who live in these places today who have issued a broad invitation to Christians in other parts of the world to see both the places and the people of the region
  • To experience the context in which Christians, Jews, and Muslims live, and the importance of the Holy Land to each of these faith groups
  • To meet with United Church partners in Israel and Palestine whose work is supported by the Mission & Service Fund
  • To learn more about the obstacles to and possibilities for peace in the Holy Land, and what you can do to contribute to a just peace with reconciliation

Tourist or Pilgrim?

Pilgrimage has ancient roots in the Bible and includes the concepts of journey, exile, engagement, encounter, sojourning, and arriving home. What is the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim? Check out the resource below.

Ethical Pilgrimage: What Should I See and Do in the Holy Land?

Even though it’s a relatively small place—all of Israel and Palestine is equal to half the size of Nova Scotia—there is much to see and do in the Holy Land. Many people who travel to the region go as part of a tour offered by travel companies. These tours take you to well-known places such as Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Jericho, and the Dead Sea, which are all worth visiting.

However, the Holy Land is also a place of conflict and suffering, the home of two peoples: Palestinians and Israelis. It is important to meet both peoples. The same biblical history that compels us to visit the Holy Land also calls us to be peacemakers.

Is it possible to go to the Holy Land and make a contribution to peace at the same time? Come and see.

Come and See

True or false: The town of Bethlehem is located in Israel? Check out this United Nations OCHA oPt map for the answer. Note: Reproduction and/or use of this material is only permitted with express reference to ‘United Nations OCHA oPt’ as the source.

Many Canadian Christians who travel to the Holy Land tell family and friends they are going to Israel. Indeed, most travellers by air do arrive at the Tel Aviv airport in Israel. But in fact, many of the places holy to Christians, such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, are located in Palestine. Wait. Palestine? What’s that? Well, it’s part of the story you should know and learn more about when you travel in the Holy Land.

In 2009, Palestinian Christians issued an urgent plea to the world about the suffering Palestinians have increasingly endured for more than 45 years. Called A Moment of Truth: Kairos Palestine, the document says that “we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people…. [H]uman beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church.”

What are they talking about? Since 1967, the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza have been occupied by Israel, following the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab countries. Daily Palestinian life is tightly controlled by the Israelis. Mobility restrictions, detentions and arrest, confiscation of land and demolition of houses are just some of the daily threats faced by Palestinians as a result of the military occupation. It’s a story that isn’t well known. The Palestinian Christians invite you to hear and experience it. “Come and see,” is their invitation and call to us.

These Christians have issued Come and See: Guidelines for Christians Contemplating a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This booklet offers excellent planning advice for anyone who wishes to live their faith while making a journey to Palestine and Israel. The document asks “how Christians might best reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ when they are in the land where he walked”?

Planning Your Trip

Here are some tips for planning a trip that ensures you meet with a diversity of people and hear different stories.

  1. If you are going with a tour company, do some research and ask questions about their approach to the itinerary:
    • Will they provide exposure to a range of Palestinian and Israeli perspectives and people?
    • Will the itinerary allow and encourage you to meet with Jews, Christians and Muslims?
    • Will the itinerary make use of both Israeli and Palestinian services, such as restaurants, hotels, local tour guides, transportation, and shops?
    • Are they flexible to meet the priorities and specific requests you have as travellers?
  2. The majority of tours to the Holy Land use mainly Israeli tourist services and tour operators. However, Palestinians are experienced in providing safe and knowledgeable services and have strong connections to local Christian groups. Consider using one of these groups when planning your trip. A good place to learn more about a Palestinian perspective on planning a trip to the Holy Land is the Alternative Tourism Group’s website.

    The Siraj Center is a Palestinian alternative tourism operator that offers a variety of travel and pilgrimage opportunities. Their vision is “to welcome international visitors to immerse themselves into Palestinian hospitality, our cultural heritage and unspoiled nature, bringing about a life-enriching exchange and understanding between Palestinians and visitors from other cultural, religious and social backgrounds.” The Siraj Center has pre-planned tours but will also work with groups to create an itinerary that matches their specific needs.
  3. The Alternative Tourism Group has developed a Code of Conduct that applies to both travellers to the Holy Land and to Palestinians receiving travellers to their communities. This Code was developed by a number of Palestinian groups who encourage travellers to the Holy Land to be sensitive to local realities and experience a diversity of people. It is a short guide to help you plan an ethical pilgrimage.

Connecting with Partners

If you would like to connect with United Church partners when you travel to the Holy Land, please contact:

Wendy GichuruProgram Coordinator Africa & Middle East Partnership Program416-231-7680 ext. 4038
1-800-268-3781 ext. 4038
wgichuru [at] united-church.ca