The Israel Government Tourist Office (IGTO) has begun promoting a series of pilgrimages to the Holy Land, with itineraries that do not include Bethlehem, Hebron or Jericho. Instead, parts of illegally annexed East Jerusalem do feature, including the controversial 'King David's City' controlled by the Elad settlers.
The pilgrimages, which have been advertised in the Church press, are listed on a new website: www.WalkWhereJesusWalked.com
The website features some pictures of Bethlehem - but the itineraries do not include any time there. (There is advice on how to get there independently.)
Concern about the tours, and the advertising for them, has been expressed by Pax Christi, the Amos Trust, and Sabeel UK, as well as the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI) which includes the two Jewish organisations Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).
The IGTO initiative follows the Vatican Synod on the Middle East in which Pope Benedict XVI pleaded for recognition of the 'Living Stones' within Israel/Palestine, the dwindling population of Palestinian Christians. This was echoed by Catholic Archbishop Kelly of Liverpool, the English and Welsh Bishops' representative at the Synod and also Franciscan Father Pizzaballa, Custodian of Holy Places.