Arab Christians from Jordan Risk All for Easter Sunday Pilgrimage to Israel

Article excerpt

Hundreds of Arab Christians from Jordan are risking their careers and reputation to complete an Easter Sunday pilgrimage to holy sites in Israel.

Many of the Arab Christians flocking to holy sites in Israel this Easter Sunday come from neighboring Jordan.

But they do so at a price.

Those who make the trek - and, as part of a broader rise in religious tourism, more are making it every year - risk their professional reputation and their family's disapproval.

For a country whose 1994 peace treaty with Israel was never accepted at the popular level, receiving an entry stamp, let alone a visa from Israel, is considered "treason" to the Arab cause.

But despite a growing movement to discredit those involved with the "Zionist enemy," hundreds of Jordanians risk their careers and reputation to complete a pilgrimage to holy sites in Israel's occupied territories.

"I cannot help it," says Daoud Yazeed, a Jordanian Christian who disguises his pilgrimages as business trips. "Jerusalem is calling."

Religious tourism

In 2009, 15,000 Jordanians traveled to Israel, the most of any Arab or Muslim country. While a majority of them were visiting Palestinian relatives, a significant number are part of a growing trend of religious tourism.

According to tour operators, an increasing number of Jordanian Christians and Muslims - Jerusalem is Islam's third holiest city - are taking part in all-inclusive week-long trips through Nazareth, Hebron, and Jerusalem, priced at $600.

But under the Anti-Normalization movement, spearheaded by Islamists and professional associations opposed to Jordan's 1994 peace treaty - or "normalization" with Israel - those found to have normalized are disbarred from their union and lose their professional licenses, which are required by Jordanian law.

Families further face the public humiliation of being added to a once-publicized blacklist of individuals and companies that deal with the "Zionist entity."

'Anti-normalization' activists

Anti-Normalization activists are determined to crack down on the practice this holiday to bring to light those who have "normalized with the enemy," according to Muslim Brotherhood and National Anti- Normalization Committee leader Hamzah Mansour.

"This is supporting Zionist efforts to rid the holy lands and Palestine of its inhabitants, and it is forbidden," he said. …