Jerusalem, April 15 – Israel’s tourism is holding steady for the upcoming Passover and Easter holidays despite the turmoil in neighboring countries and recent terrorist and rocket attacks. About 250,000 visitors are expected during “holy month” – about the same number as last year.
Passover begins this year on the evening of April 18 and lasts eight days outside of Israel, and seven days in Israel. Easter falls on April 24 in both Western and Orthodox Christianity, with Good Friday occurring two days earlier. The week encompassing those days, which also includes Palm Sunday – April 17 – is known as Holy Week.
Passover is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar and begins with a festive meal, the Seder, on the eve of the first night of the holiday when the biblical account of the Israelites’ release from slavery in Egypt to freedom in Israel, is recounted. Throughout the holiday, Jews eat unleavened bread, or matzah, to recall what the Bible says the Israelites ate when they escaped captivity in Egypt.
During the Christian Holy Week, adherents recall Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, his crucifixion and resurrection. In Jerusalem, pilgrims participate in traditional processions along the Via Dolorosa leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believe Jesus was buried.
Events in Jerusalem alone are expected to bring about 100,000 visitors.
“Tour operator bookings indicate a good picture for 2011,” Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said.
As part of its new “faith tourism” program, the Tourism Ministry is promoting a hiking trip along the Gospel Trail, also known as the Jesus Trail. The 40-mile (65 km) trail in the Galilee connects sites from the life of Jesus and other historical and religious sites, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Christians, along with adherents of all other faiths, enjoy freedom of religionin Israel. Israel is one of the only places in the Middle East where the Christian population is growing. In 1949, there were 34,000 Christians living in Israel, while today they number about 146,000.
Security will be increased in Israel around Passover, as Jewish holidays have historically been a time when terrorists and enemy countries commit attacks. In March 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 40 people and injured 140 others as they ate Passover dinner at a hotel in the seaside city of Netanya. Iran-backed Hamas took responsibility for the attack.