This week, my family and I were in Jerusalem to experience the Passover holiday festivities. We were particularly excited for the Priestly Blessing at the Kotel. Even though the days prior to our visit were filled with images and videos of riots on the Temple Mount and Jews being attacked in the Old City while on their way to prayer, I knew that it was important to be in Jerusalem at this time.
Staying away would only accomplish what those who hate Israel wanted.
However, as my son and I stood in the men’s section during the priestly blessing at the Western Wall, I couldn’t help noticing that there weren’t as many people as normal. I don’t particularly like crowds, and in previous years during Passover and Sukkot, the priestly blessing drew some of the largest gatherings that I’ve ever seen. Typically, not only are the men’s and women’s prayer sections jam-packed, but the rest of the Kotel plaza is also filled with worshippers. Usually there is no room to even move. Whilst there were still thousands of people participating in the blessings this year, it was much smaller than in years past. There were also mostly Jews there, with hardly any Christian tourists in sight - at least that we saw.
When Israel opened their borders to everyone on March 1, I fully expected that Christians would return to the Holy Land in masses. After two years of international travel being virtually non-existent, and visits to Israel impossible, I expected that tourists, Christians especially, would flock to Israel immediately.
However, after nearly two months of open borders, I realized that there are several issues that are making the Christian world hesitant to book their plane tickets and climb on a flight to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Traveling is still difficult
Even though vaccines are not required to enter Israel, one must fill out long entry forms before their trip and obtain a PCR COVID test within 72 hours of their flight. Facilities that will perform PCR tests with fast results can be difficult to find, especially depending on where you’re flying out of in the United States.
After passing these hurdles, you still have to take another PCR test after landing in Israel. Even though you can move about freely as soon as you receive your results (and they come very quickly), there are still questions such as, “What happens if I test positive just before getting on my flight?” Or, “What if I test positive after landing in Israel?”
Israel is experiencing a new wave of violence
Besides the terrorist attacks that have happened in the last months, the last week has seen riots on the Temple Mount and a few rockets shot from Gaza. The Israeli police have had to enter the Al Aqsa Mosque to put down riots, and the government has closed the Temple Mount to all non-Muslims in an attempt to please the international community as well as their Muslim colleagues in the government. There have even been calls for intifada amongst the Israeli Arab community in Israel. It can be unnerving to plan a trip to Israel at a time when you’re unsure how safe your travels will be.
It can feel overwhelming and intimidating to come to Israel right now. And it’s easy to be frustrated with Israel after the borders have been closed for two years, and maybe a previous trip that you had planned was canceled or postponed. However, as Christians who believe in the Bible and the promise that God gave to Abraham, it is time to revisit why we decided to stand with Israel in the first place.
Do we support Israel only when we agree with their current government? Do we stand with Israel only when there is no violence and things remain calm? What about if we don’t agree with Israel’s government policies or COVID restrictions?
We should stand unequivocally with Israel because we believe that God made a promise to Abraham and his descendants forever. No matter who is leading Israel’s government, whether their borders are open or shut, or whether there is calm or upheaval, that promise does not change. Our stance should not change either.
I can assure you that it is worth going through the extra hassle that it takes to get to Israel. Getting tested multiple times and filling out paperwork is worth the chance to not only stand in God’s holy land but to stand with His people.
Israel needs to know that millions of Christians around the world support it. When we show up during times of upheaval, that is when Israel knows with absolute certainty that we have its back. When rockets are being shot or Jews are being attacked in the streets and we come and stand with Israel, that is when we make the greatest impact.
Also, remember, what you see on the international media is nothing like what is actually happening in Israel.
If you have a trip planned to Israel this year, don’t cancel it.
If you’re still on the fence - make plans.
Now is the time to plan a trip to Israel. Not only will you be standing with the land and people of Israel, you’ll also experience the land where your faith was born and your Bible written.
Christians support Israel because we believe that God made a promise to Abraham. Circumstances, governments, policies and upheaval cannot change that.
Now is the time to come to Israel.