An official of the Israeli Tourism Ministry in charge of Marketing Administration, Amalia Alexander, has urged tourists who have skewed perceptions about the country based on reports of political upheavals with Palestine, to visit the country and see things for themselves.
Although Israel is undoubtedly one of the world’s major tourist destinations due to its geographical diversity, archaeological and religious sites, it is viewed by some as an unsafe place following constant media reports about battles that takes place particularly in the Gaza strip with Palestine, as both countries lay claim the area in question.
Speaking to citinewsroom.com when a group of Ghanaian pastors and journalists embarked on a pilgrimage to the country, Amalia Alexander stated that Israel was a peaceful country where tourism is thriving tremendously.
She thus urged those who have fears due to reports of chaos especially in the western media, to pay a visit to the country.
“Tourism in this country is a big thing, and so I want tourists to come and see that it’s not as bad as it is reported in the news. Here in Israel, the tourists come and they feel free, they enjoy themselves and smile, and they go and come back. But unfortunately, the news about Israel puts us in a bad light and it’s a pity. But as you can see, you walk the streets and you see a lot of tourists from all over the world, and I think it’s beautiful for Israel and for the tourists themselves.”
“We receive over three million tourists yearly and we are working very hard for the industry so that those who come from China, Russia, Africa and the rest can all enjoy themselves. For those who talk about Israel without knowing what is here, I will urge them to come here and see” she said.
Many Chinese tourists were spotted in the country.
Some tourists dip themselves into the Jordan River in which Jesus was baptized.
Amalia Alexander’s claims were confirmed by Victor Satuh, Head of Marketing, Business and Product Development at One People Travel.
The agency took the Ghanaian pilgrims on the familiarization trip to Israel, in collaboration Ethiopian Airlines, Israel Holy Land Travels in Israel, and with support from the Israeli Embassy in Ghana at a reduced cost to patrons.
Mr. Satuh said Israel has generally been a peaceful country, and that the political upheavals with Palestine, doesn’t affect tourists in anyway.
“Yes, there are some political upheavals between the state of Israel and Palestine but you’ve been here, and by God’s grace you’ve been to Israel, you’ve been to the northern part of Israel from Galilee to Judea through Samaria, Tel Aviv; and you’ve also been to Palestine. So where is the upheaval? Israel is a quiet place and a peaceful country. There are political issues, but they don’t necessarily reflect or touch those of us who come here as tourists. And Israel is a major tourist destination with an average of 3.5 to sometimes 4 million tourists a year. This season is just the beginning of the peak season so you wouldn’t have experienced such a crowd. But if you come here in September, October, November, that is peak season, and the crowds are enormous. Israel derives a lot of its capital from tourism” he noted.
One People Travel, which has been in existence for some five years, has sent over 500 people from about 20 different groups to Israel in the last five years.
Victor Satuh noted that his outfit has received positive testimonies from Christians who have embarked on the pilgrimage.
Victor Satuh of One People Travels (R) with Metro TV’s Emmanuel Afriyie in Israel.
“The testimonies have been varied. People’s experiences and expectations are usually different coming from the Holy land. Apart from the fact that it enriches their faith, the main highlight from what we have learnt is that, it actually puts a geographical perspective of places and events that occurred in the Bible that we read.”
“People come in and they are able to step foot in Jerusalem and have a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee so those are all putting geography to the scripture. As to people’s personal testimonies and experiences, from what we hear, people usually come with expectations and a lot go back fulfilled, either physically or by spiritual upliftment. We’ve had instances of instant healing and miracles, so overall it’s been a very fulfilling experience for everyone who has come here. They’ve always gone back with at least an enhanced understanding of the Bible and more profound knowledge of details” Victor stated.
One of the tourists, who’s the Head Pastor of the Heavens Gate Assemblies of God Church at Dote in Kumasi, Reverend Justice Boadi, a first-timer on the pilgrimage, told citinewsroom.com that he was exceptionally grateful for the experience and exposure.
“As a Christian, it has really enhanced my way of understanding the Bible. I have seen things the way they are, and I think that it’s a blessing to touch on this soil as a Christian. Secondly as a pastor, it has also helped me to understand how to teach, and in case of research, I will be able to get into deeper things because the sites that we visited, you look at it and you realize that Jesus was born, he was crucified, he died and resurrected.”
Rev. Justice Boadi at the Wailing Wall.
“I also believe that God is going to bless me because I have prayed here. The way I will worship will change, and I am happy that in my lifetime I have been here. The people were friendly, and socially I tried to compare Ghana with Israel. Even in terms of Israel’s roads; the nature of their land can discourage you from developing but they have been able to do greater things, and that challenges me as a leader, a Ghanaian and as a Christian, and I thank God for that” he noted.
Tourism in Israel
Tourists are attracted by Israel’s geographical diversity, its archaeological and religious sites, the almost unlimited sunshine and modern resort facilities on the Mediterranean, Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the Red Sea, and the Dead Sea.
In the year 2000, the largest number of tourists ever – 2.41 million – visited the country (compared to 33,000 in 1950, 118,000 in 1960, 441,000 in 1970, 1.18 million in 1980, and 1.34 million in 1990). This figure was topped in 2008 as Israel opened its doors to more than 3 million tourists.
Visitor figures continue to rise. In the first half of 2010, 1.6 million tourists visited Israel, 39 percent more than in the same period last year, and 10 percent more than in 2008. Americans make up 21 percent of the tourists in Israel, with Russians making up 15 percent and other European countries making up much of the rest.
Tourism provided foreign currency earnings of $2.8 billion in 2006, i.e. 5 percent of the income from all exports and 16.8 percent of the export of services. In the first half of 2010, incoming tourism brought in about $1.55 billion.
Some team members joined several tourists in the dead sea.
Although this industry contributes less than 3% to the GNP, it has a foreign currency added value of 85 percent (making it the added-value leader among the country’s export industries) and employs some 80,000 persons. This industry’s large potential is yet to be exploited, as it is a major factor in Israel’s economic growth plan.
In 2017, Israel came 19th in United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report out of 168 countries.
The visited sites
On the seven day trip, the team first visited the traditional location of the Mount of Beatitudes, which is on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, was identified as the sermon place Since 4th century CE.
On the Mount of Beatitudes.
It is on this Mountain that Jesus is believed to have spoken words such as Blessed are the pure in spirit for they shall see God- an account given in Matthew chapter 5.
Magdala was an ancient city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, North West of Tiberias Sea. It is believed to be the birthplace of Mary Magdalene.
Archaeological excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted in 2006, found that the settlement began during the Hellenistic period (between the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE) and ended during the late Roman period (3rd century CE).
The remnant of the ancient synagogue at Magdala.
Later excavations in 2009–2013 brought perhaps the most important discovery in the site: an ancient synagogue, called the “Migdal Synagogue”.
It is the oldest synagogue found in the Galilee, and one of the only synagogues from that period found in the entire country, as of the time of the excavation. They also found the Magdala stone, which has a seven-branched menorah symbol carved on it. It is the earliest menorah of that period to be discovered outside of Jerusalem.
The team later visited Capernaum, which is described as the hometown of Jesus.
Though no longer a functioning town, Capernaum’s importance in modern times is based on its rich history in antiquity and its multiple mentioning in the New Testament. Most notably, Capernaum is believed to have been Jesus’ home for three years and the centre of his ministry after leaving his birth town of Nazareth.
Reference to Capernaum as Jesus’ home and the place where He performed many of His miracles is made in the Gospel of Mathew chapter 8, where it is said that Jesus was approached by a Roman officer who asked Him to heal his servant when the latter fell ill. Jesus’ ability to cure the feverish servant serves to this day, as a reminder of His ability to work miracles. In the Gospel of Luke too, the town of Capernaum is mentioned several times with regard to Jesus prophetic abilities.
According to Luke, in the town of Capernaum Jesus healed a man who was possessed by the devil, as well as curing Peter’s sickly mother in law.
Capernaum is mentioned twice more in the New Testament, once as the home of Peter, Andrew, James and John, as well as the dwelling place of Matthew the tax collector. The second time Capernaum is referred to is as one of the three cities damned by Jesus for its inhabitants’ wrong doings and lack of faith in him. For all its importance in Jesus’ life and His ministry, Capernaum is a destination not to be missed when on a Christian tour to Israel.
Capernaum – The Ancient Synagogue
Of particular interest when on a Bible Land tour to Israel are the ruins of Capernaum’s ancient synagogue. Though there is no finite knowledge of the time the synagogue was built, archaeologist estimate that it dates back to the 1st century AD.
It was the Roman officer who asked Jesus to heal his servant that is credited with building the synagogue as a token of good faith and gratitude to Jesus for his miracle work. Liturgical documents indicate that Jesus held regular sermons in this synagogue, most notably the famed sermon on the Bread of Life (John 6: 35-59).
Of this ancient synagogue, only the western wall remained intact. It has been the foundation for a later synagogue built on the same grounds some three centuries later. The ruins seen in Capernaum today are of the later synagogue.
Capernaum – The House of Peter
Of the many residential structures uncovered in Capernaum, the one that drew the most attention is the house believed to have housed Peter, a place where Jesus is said to have visited often maybe even lived in.
The ruins of the building believed to have housed Peter.
Inside the new church built on the old structure believed to be Peter’s home.
Members of the team, who were already enjoying the experience, then moved to the sea of Tiberias, Galilee, where Jesus, after resurrecting from the dead, met the disciples including Peter, and performed the miraculous catch of 153 fishes. At the location stands a church that has a rock inside, believed to be that rock on which Jesus prepared the fish and bread and ate with the disciples. This account is given in the Book of John Chapter 21.
The team visited many other places including Tabgha, which is traditionally accepted as the place of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as mentioned in Mark 6:30-46, and the fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus (John 21:1-24) after his crucifixion.
In the Church at Tabgha, built at the location where the multiplication miracle is said to have taken place.
The team had an experience of a 30 minutes boat ride on the Sea of Galilee on which Jesus walked, and then visited an area in Canaan, Nazareth where Jesus is believed to have performed the miracle of turning water into wine for wedding guests as narrated in the Gospel of John.
Team Members in the boat at the sea of Galilee were welcomed with Ghana’s national anthem.
The exact location of Cana has been subject to debate among scholars.
There is the “Wedding church” in Kafr Kanna, a pilgrimage site believed by many Christians to be the site of the biblical marriage.
The “Wedding church” in Kafr Kanna, Nazareth.
Two couples on the team, who have married for nearly forty years, took the opportunity to renew their marriage vows in that historic church. The team later visited Israel’s biggest church also in Nazareth, the Basilica of the Annunciation.
The team then visited the biggest church in Israel, the Basilica of the Annunciation located in Nazareth.
A front view of the
Mount Carmel, Gethsemane, Bethesda Pool
Other places visited were Mount Carmel, where Prophet Elijah defeated Ball and his prophets, the Mount of Temptation in Jericho and the dead sea also in Jericho, the River Jordan, the Mount of Olives located on the eastern slopes of the Jerusalem mountains, Gethsemane in Jerusalem, and the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem, identified as the scene where Jesus healed the paralyzed man who had waited for 38 years for someone to help him into the pool “when the water is stirred” — an event believed to have curative powers.
The remains of the Bethesda pool where Jesus healed the Man who has been crippled for 38 years.
The Wailing Wall
There was a brief prayer at ‘The Wailing Wall’ in Jerusalem, a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ is believed to have risen from the dead, the Shepherd Fields in Bethlehem where an angel announced the birth of Jesus, the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem where the team had a prayer and communion service, and a visit to Ein-Karem, the hometown of John the Baptist.
Prayers at the Wailing Wall.
Some team members joined several tourists in the dead sea.
The entrance of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Team members had the chance to view and touch the Calvary rock (The Golgotha).
Entrance to the tomb of Jesus in the Holy Sepulcher.
The Temptation Mountain at Jericho.
The statue stands on Mount Carmel in honour of Elijah at the location he defeated the prophets of Baal.
The awesome experience was finally climaxed at the Government Village in Jerusalem, which houses major institutions such as the Israeli Parliament, the courts and various ministries.
The delegation at the Israeli Tourism Ministry.
The team was there to specifically visit the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to familiarize. They were treated to beautiful Israeli songs and dance, and presented with Israeli souvenirs and certificates for participating in the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The aim of the familiarization trip was for the pastors and media personnel to have an opportunity to visit the Holy Land at a reduced cost, and also to have a first-hand experience of the Travel Agency’s services.