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World News

Christians urged to visit Holy Land after second Christmas with no visitors

by Sophie Drew

UK Friends of the Holy Land - a Christian organisation completing relief work in the Middle East - are urging people to visit the Holy Land as communities struggle to make ends meet during the pandemic. 

It comes as the Israeli government relaxes laws around travel to the region.

The organisation has been telling Premier about the challenges people are facing in areas of Israel where tourism once flourished. 

Due to the pandemic and the resulting travel restrictions, the usually bustling Holy Land could be in for an incredibly quiet Easter - a time of the year where you often cannot even book a stay due to the number of people visiting. 

Many of those that pilgrimage to the Holy Land are within Covid "high risk" age groups, and some may have been put off by Government advice suggesting people do not visit certain areas of Israel, including Gaza. 

However,  Brendan Metcalfe from UK Friends of the Holy Land is urging people to take the opportunity for a quieter visit, and embark on a pilgrimage.

He said: ""The challenge, to some extent is that the typical person who goes on pilgrimage tends to be the older generation and they seem to be the ones who have been a little bit more cautious at the moment. But I would say to anybody that you know, in normal times, Easter week in Jerusalem is absolutely rammed. Your chances of going and getting a booking and visiting Jerusalem for Easter, you would need to book up at least a year beforehand. I would imagine this is going to be one of those years where if you want to go, it's a perfect opportunity where people effectively come off the fence and say 'yes, we can go and visit now.'

"The Christmas just past the second Christmas where Bethlehem has not had any foreign visitors, and that is the lifeblood of so many people; not only the people who directly work in tourism, the bus drivers or taxi drivers, the people in the hotels, but also the people who support those industries -  the people who who do the vegetable growing for the hotels, who carve the souvenirs, who do the cleaning.

"It's been calculated that it's about 72 to 80 per cent of the people in Bethlehem, and around the same level in Jerusalem and Nazareth, who are dependent on tourism.

"It's very important that we engage with the Mother Church, the place of our where our faith was founded. So if you ever thought of going, this is a perfect time to go because it won't be busy. So if you want to experience Easter, in Jerusalem, this is a perfect time to go.

Presently, all passengers arriving into Israel will need to take a PCR test and quarantine for 24 hours, or until their results are returned. 

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