Christians Flock To Israel To Offer Support

An evangelical Christian from Pennsylvania named Shawn Landis is among a growing trend of religious “voluntourism” visiting Israel, which consists of planned pilgrimages that have a volunteer component linked to the Gaza conflict.

According to Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, between one-third and half of the 3,000 people anticipated to visit the country in March will be participating in volunteer trips organized by religious groups. Statistics from the Tourism Ministry show that daily, over 15,000 tourists visited Israel before the conflict, with approximately 50% of those tourists identifying as Christians.

Around 25% of tourists arrived in 2019 on prearranged tours. Nearly half of Israel’s population stepped up to volunteer during the war’s early weeks, according to a study out of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In this year of the presidential election, evangelical Christians in the United States have made supporting Israel their number one priority. Republicans have been under pressure to adhere not only to their traditional support for Israel but also to ideas grounded in the Bible, and they are among the most vocal supporters of Israel’s approach to the conflict. The violence started when militants from Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing about 1,200 and taking 250 captive. In retaliation, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, claiming the lives of over 30,000 Palestinians.

The public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the biggest evangelical religion group in the United States, gathered dozens of prominent evangelicals on October 11 to sign a statement endorsing Israel. Christians United for Israel, headed by evangelical pastor John Hagee, is a well-known American pro-Israel organization. First responders, healthcare providers, and survivors in Israel who were affected by the incident on October 7th have reportedly received about $3 million from CUFI.

Israel is facing mounting international pressure to alleviate the suffering of the Gazan people, particularly by permitting more aid, as the war enters its sixth month. The conflict, according to aid organizations, has driven a quarter of the territory’s inhabitants to the verge of starvation and forced the displacement of the majority of the people. Volunteer initiatives have sprung up in Israel over the past five months in response to the widespread fear that the world is ignoring the events of October 7. On these trips, visitors help sort donations for evacuees still living in hotels, cook meals for families with a parent serving in the reserves, or lend a helping hand to farmers who are struggling to harvest crops.