Travel Warning: Bethlehem & Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine
ISRAEL, THE WEST BANK AND GAZA
This Travel Warning is being issued to update information on the general security environment in Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and to reiterate threats to foreign nationals, especially American citizens. Although the situation in Israel is seemingly calm, the fact of the matter remains that Israel continues to aggressively violate International Humanitarian and Human Rights Laws daily. A disconcerting development is the Israeli practice of denying entry of Palestinian Christians and Muslims to the Holy Land; embodying religious discrimination during the high holy season. As Palestinians, we have always looked forward to your being with us during Christmas, Easter and other holiday feasts. In the past, it has been a time to welcome you into our land, our churches, our mosques, and our homes, despite the troubled times we have witnessed throughout the decades.
In order to visit any of the Holy sites you must pass through an Israeli-controlled point of entry (airport or bridge), since Israel controls all access to the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory, where Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the Church of the Nativity and Holy Sepulcher are located. Since March of this year, an extraordinary number of foreigners have been denied entry through Israeli ports. Many of these foreign nationals have been turned away at the airport or bridges and sent back to their country of residence or to Jordan. The Israeli authorities seldom give a reason for barring foreign tourists, so people find themselves spending money to fly into the Israeli airport or come to the Israeli-controlled border crossings not knowing that they may be turned away without having the opportunity to visit the Holy Land or visit their friends and families.
If this Israeli policy is allowed to continue it can literally empty Palestine of another half a million Palestinians. Given that four decades of Israeli occupation have already successfully reduced the Christian population in Bethlehem from 15% to less than 2%, it becomes clear that Israel’s goal is to reduce the entire Palestinian population to insignificant numbers.
We would like to welcome you to Bethlehem in occupied Palestine this Christmas season. However, to avoid spending money unnecessarily and facing a humiliating experience, we recommend that you call the Israeli Embassy or Consulate nearest you before embarking on your trip this Christmas season. Please ask the Embassy or Consulate if you will be able to pass through the airport or via one of the bridges from Jordan in order to reach Bethlehem, particularly given the fact that thousands who are trying to reach the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory are being turned back.
While speaking to the Israeli Embassy officials, confirm that Palestinians - Muslims and Christians - have not been allowed to worship in their holy places for many years. In fact, no Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza have been allowed to enter Jerusalem without Israeli military permission since 1993 and very few are granted permits to enter Jerusalem, whether for worship during Lent, Advent or Ramadan.
The building of the illegal Israeli Separation Wall (which is mostly built on Palestinian lands acquired by force 1967) has made it even more difficult for Palestinians and internationals to travel to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Separation Wall has not been built for security reasons, but rather to separate people from one another, from their livelihood, from their places of worship, and from their future. Walls do not create the conditions for peace with justice. Historically, walls separate and divide and bring widespread despair, which we are witnessing now.
Although the U.S. State Department’s Travel Advisory for this same area “urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to the West Bank and to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip,” we would ask that you rather not despair and actively attempt to join us in Bethlehem and Jerusalem this Christmas. If we acknowledge the international community’s concurrence to allow Israel to get away with denying the world’s citizens the right to worship and blatant, daily violations of human rights, then we would all be accomplices to the war crimes being committed against Palestinians.
Thus, we hope to see you all this Christmas season. Please contact us when you are here so we visit and worship with you. You may contact us either via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile at 059-817-3953.
If you cannot be with us, then please keep Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Palestinians in your prayers and actions this holiday season.