Easter, The Middle East And The Battle For Our Wallets




*Warning*

“The opinions and persuasions expressed in this article are strictly mine, but I won’t be responsible for the deductions and conclusions the reader draws, after reading.”

Today is Easter Sunday, and Christians across the globe are celebrating. Christ is risen, Hossana to the most high. Awesome! I love celebrations.

As part of the preparations for the Easter celebrations, the Vatican authorities, after 300 years, opened the staircase where Jesus was said to have climbed, to be judged by Pontius Pilate.

Millions of tourists are expected to as usual, seize the two months window the stairs will be opened, to catch a glimpse of such holy aura before its closure again. This will come along with millions in revenue, in God’s name.

But that’s far away in the Vatican, back ‘home’ in the middle East, the battle for the *Jesus Revenue* rages between the two factions of *Abrahamism* with the largest followership.

According to a report by the *Los Angeles Times*, parallel to the decades-old political conflict over the Holy Land, an economic battle is now heating up between Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority over the market for Christian tourism.

At 1.1 million a year, the number of Christian pilgrims, now surpasses Jewish tourism to Israel. Many of the top Christian sites are in the West Bank, and tourists have been returning in droves. Many of these visitors spend about $140 a day on hotels, restaurants and souvenirs, according to Israeli figures.

According to LA Times, most visitors to the Holy Land arrive by air in Israel and join Israeli-led tours. So even when pilgrims visit Palestinian territory, local businesses do not necessarily profit the Palestinians.

Israel is moving aggressively to bring more pilgrims to the cradle of Christianity, and the Palestinians are trying to increase their share of what the visitors spend.

Though majority of Israelis aren’t Christians, though majority of Israelis believe Jesus was an errant child who deviated from Jewish culture, the country nonetheless, is in love with the “Jesus Revenue”.

“We are putting a lot of emphasis on Christians,” said Oren Drori, senior deputy director of Israel’s Tourism Ministry, which recently opened a “religious affairs desk” to focus on the pilgrim niche. The ministry has launched Christian-themed websites and a YouTube channel where visitors share their spiritual experiences.

The government also provides free trips for government officials and religious leaders from Latin America, Africa and Europe to help generate interest by word of mouth.

Over the last two years, Israel has spent millions of dollars refurbishing Christian sites in Israel and trying to create new ones, such as the recently launched “Gospel Trail,” which allows hikers, bikers and motorists to retrace what may have been Jesus’ path through the Galilee region.

Recently, Israel reopened access to the banks of the Jordan River, where Jesus was believed to have been baptized. The area had been largely closed as a military zone since Israel seized control of it from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East War.

This Easter, Israel will offer free bus transportation to Bethlehem for midnight Mass, enabling pilgrims to avoid lengthy waits at Israeli checkpoints.

LA Times reports that Palestinians complain that they are being cut out of a market they once dominated. Palestinian tourism officials say Israel is discouraging visits to areas administered by the Palestinian Authority and is promoting attractions in other parts of the West Bank, such as the baptismal site at the Jordan River.

“We have more sites on our side, and Israel is using them to develop their own tourism, leaving us with a smaller piece of the pie,” said Palestinian Authority Tourism Minister Kholoud Daibes, contending that Israel collects 90% of pilgrim-related revenue.

“They are promoting occupied territory as part of Israel.” He said.

Palestinians are trying to increase their share of the market, constructing nearly 1,000 hotel rooms over the last two years. A $20-million renovation of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity is planned.

But Palestinians say that Israel has an overwhelming advantage because of its easy access to the West Bank and its control over security.

Recently, Israel began allowing Israeli tour guides to lead groups in Bethlehem. Only a few Palestinian guides are allowed to work in Israel, and legislation is pending that would require all Jerusalem guides to be Israeli citizens.

“They are trying to steal our tourists, but they can’t steal this place,” said Ziad Bandak, the Palestinian Authority’s presidential advisor on Christian affairs, motioning toward the 1,500-year-old Church of the Nativity. “You can’t be a pilgrim and not come here.”

Bethlehem’s 250-room Intercontinental Hotel, a former Arab mansion decked out with poinsettias and garlands, is fully booked the last two weeks of December. The rest of the year, occupancy hovers around 60%.

The reason, hotel officials say, is that Israeli tourism companies rarely direct visitors to Bethlehem unless Jerusalem hotels are sold out.

“The biggest operators are Israeli and all the traffic starts at Ben Gurion airport, so it’s an Israeli-controlled gate,” said Muhsen Shweiki, the Intercontinental’s office manager.

While these revenue generation efforts are ongoing, many Arab Christians view the competition with an embittered eye, pointing out that the indigenous Christian population in the Holy Land has shrunk from about 20% in 1948 to less than 2% in Israel and the West Bank today.

In neighbouring Saudi Arabia, still in the Middle East, Nigeria’s Punch Newspaper reports that in 2017, Nigeria spent 135.6 billion on hajj. Let me call that “Mohammed Revenue.”

Regardless of the economic recession, the 2017 Hajj seats and fares per state disclosed the package for travellers from Nasarawa State as N1,544,659.85; Niger, N1,525,483.30; Ondo, N1,485,096.07; Katsina, N1,498,502.70; Bauchi, N1,523,122.41; Plateau, N1,529,036.80; Sokoto, N1,521,461.65; and Kwara, N1,501,571.27, among others. That’s what each individual had to cough out to go and pray. That’s a lot of “Mohammed Revenue” from Nigeria.

Bauchi state, spent N262,650,000 on hajj subsidy while Katsina state that is riddle with bandits and kidnapping, spends 1billiion Naira yearly on hajj subsidy.

While these Middle East nations are vigorously reconstructing and retracing every route that will bring us from across the globe to come and give them money and feel temporarily like we are in heaven, it is my fervent hope also that, the resurrection power which raised Jesus from the tomb on this day, will also awaken our own consciousness to retracing our own routes, not just back to God, but also back to where others can also troupe to and give us a piece of their wallets.

Yours sincerely,
Citizen Agba Jalingo.

Thank you and have a wonderful Easter celebration.

 




About the Author

Che Oyinatumba
Liberation wordsmith,committed to self emancipation and provocatively lightening the path for others to find their ways to our common goal;an improved humanity.

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