As the world begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Holy Land is also starting to see an influx of tourists again. However, according to Brendan Metcalfe of Friends of the Holy Land, the region still has a long way to go before it fully recovers from the impact of the virus.
In an interview with Christian Today, Metcalfe discussed the ongoing challenges facing the Holy Land as it strives to bounce back from the pandemic.
Covid-19 restrictions ease, allowing believers to make their pilgrimages to the Holy Land
As of May 21, Israel has relaxed its COVID-19 travel requirements and no longer requires travelers to present a negative test result or self-isolate upon arrival in the country. According to North Star Meetings Group, proof of vaccination is no longer necessary to enter restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, hotels, event venues, or nightclubs. The mask mandate for indoor public spaces has also been lifted. Travelers can find updates about these and other travel-related changes on the government's website.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the Holy Land, with tourism and pilgrimages being disrupted for a prolonged period. According to Brendan, this has particularly affected Christians in the region, who rely heavily on tourism for their livelihoods. Many of these individuals have had to find alternative ways to make a living, such as seeking work as laborers in Israel. The decreased qualified staff in the Holy Land has also caused difficulties for restaurants and hotels that have recently reopened, as they need help finding experienced workers.
Brendan also stated that Friends of the Holy Land is working to support Christians in the region by providing them with vocational training and education through scholarship programs. These programs offer training in various trades, such as IT, carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, and nursing.
By providing education and qualifications in these fields, Friends of the Holy Land aims to help Christians in the Holy Land become less reliant on tourism and better able to withstand future challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Problem of Unemployment
Unemployment is a significant problem in the Holy Land, particularly among young people. A survey conducted by the Palestinian Authority found that around 55% of recent university graduates were unemployed. Brendan said that within the Christian community, approximately half of the population is under 25, and over half of this age group is unemployed.
To address this issue, Friends of the Holy Land focuses on providing vocational training to young people in fields with a high demand for workers. This is intended to help them become financially independent and stay in the Holy Land.
Recovery of The Holy Land
According to Brendan, it will likely be some time before Bethlehem fully recovers from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the city has recently seen an increase in visitors since September 2021, the number of tourists still needs to catch up to the record levels seen in 2019. Several factors contribute to this slow recovery, including economic challenges in various countries that have made it more difficult for people to afford to travel, as well as the fact that fuel prices have increased and airfares have become more expensive. Additionally, the pandemic has resulted in the permanent closure of some hotels and restaurants in Bethlehem, as well as the closure of some pilgrimage operators in the UK.
How The People Can Help
There are several ways that individuals can help support the Holy Land as it recovers from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brendan said that one way is by visiting the region and supporting local businesses, although this may only be possible for some now.
Another way to help is by staying informed about the Holy Land's needs and challenges and using this knowledge to educate others and raise awareness about the situation. This can include reading about the region and its challenges on websites such as Friends of the Holy Land and sharing this information with friends and family.
People can also support the Holy Land by praying for a solution to the region's challenges and donating if they can. It is important to remember that the Holy Land is a place of great spiritual significance. The Christians living there serve as a witness to the faith by remaining in the region where Jesus conducted his ministry, died, and was resurrected. By supporting the Holy Land and its people, individuals can help ensure that these holy places are not simply reduced to museums in the future.