By Gal Sitty
This weekend, Israel welcomed record setting numbers of Christian tourists to the Holy Land to celebrate Christmas. All told by the end of the year Israel will have warmly hosted over 2.5 million Christian tourists.
To facilitate and accommodate the many faithful Israel provided free shuttles to Bethlehem’s Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, for midnight mass. Israel also organized a massive Christmas celebration in Nazareth and reopened to tourism the baptismal site of Jesus Christ on the Jordan River. These pilgrim tourists received the unique Christmas experience of celebrating in the actual places where miracles took place.
One of the things that is so special about so many Christian tourists coming to Israel to retrace the steps of Jesus and celebrate his birth in the land of his birth is that this may be the first time in history that Christians from all over the World can freely come and make a peaceful pilgrimage.
Indeed, many of the sites holy to Christians are mere steps away from places holy to Muslims and Jews. In fact at the same time Christians were partaking in Christmas celebrations all over Israel, Jews were celebrating Hanukkah, a holiday which commemorates another miracle that took place in the Holy Land. This miracle took place at the ancient Jewish Temple of which today only the Western Wall remains.
While Jews gathered at the Wall to commemorate, literally on the other side of the Wall Muslims were praying at the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Just for comparison, Saudi Arabia, which lies mere miles from Israel’s southern border, does not permit non-Muslims to even enter Mecca or Jews to enter the country at all.
Never before in history have these three religions been able to practice their faiths so freely at sites so holy to them. This fact is a result of the modern day miracle of the State of Israel. Israel has successfully safeguarded the holy sites under its jurisdiction and has allowed people of all religions to worship at them. All this underscores the important role Israel plays in ensuring World Peace and upholding freedom of religion for all.