July 8th, 2011
10:23 AM ET

Contested Israeli settlements welcome evangelical Christian tourists

By Kevin Flower, CNN

West Bank (CNN) - Boarding a bulletproof bus to travel through one of the Middle East's perennial hot spots may not be most people's idea of a fun vacation activity, but for a growing number of Christians visiting West Bank settlements, it’s becoming an obligatory part of their visit to the Holy Land.

So it was that Marie Louise Weissenbock and a handful of other Austrian tourists came to tour the Israeli settlement of Shilo, where the Bible says the sanctuary for the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written – a place known as the Tabernacle - resided for nearly four centuries.

"It's a very significant place in the Bible,” she said. “And it’s important for us to see where the roots lie and to be here ourselves."

Shiloh is just one of dozens of important biblical locations scattered throughout the West Bank, but the Austrians’ visit was about more than just getting in touch with spiritual roots. It was also about expressing support for the Jewish settlement of land Israel occupied since the Jewish state’s 1967 war with Arab neighbors.

Shilo is home to over 2,000 Israeli settlers who began moving to the area just over three decades ago.

Weissenbock and her fellow travellers are members of Christians for Israel International , a group dedicated to spreading understanding of what it calls “God's purposes for Israel and to promote comfort of Israel through prayer and action.”

The group’s recent tour of Shilo is part of a growing effort by some of Israel's 300,000 West Bank settlers to explain to the outside world why they choose to live on land claimed by Palestinians and continue to build houses that the international community views as illegal.

Shilat Kahalani, a tour organizer, says that last year some 30,000 tourists came through Shilo. This year, she expects that number to increase to 40,000.

"Some groups come out of their own interest,” she said. “They know this is a Bible land and they know that there are deep roots here and they come here to see it with their own eyes. Some come here to understand the politics better."

Kahalani said the decision to open up settlements to tours was necessary to counter what she says is an inaccurate public perception of settlers.

"We know that if people just opened their eyes and saw, then they would see the truth,” she said. “What we see in the media and the picture that is drawn of us abroad is not true and we decided the only way to really take out the story is to open up and say, ‘Just come and look.’ "

As the bus slowly drove past the red-tiled roofs of Shilo's homes, Kahalani explained to the Austrians that most of the world misunderstands the settlers’ relations with Palestinians.

"They enjoy a higher standard of living thanks to the Jewish population that lives here,” she said, referring to the Palestinians.

It's a narrative rejected by the 2.5 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and who say that the scores of settlements like Shilo deny the viability of a future Palestinian state and constitute an Israeli land grab.

But for the pro-Israel Austrian tourists, the settlers’ message is resonating.

"I think that just in the European and American countries, they know too little about the real facts here," said Weissenbock.

"If you come here, you see how much space there is and you really ask the people and get a history of the place,” she said. “It’s really a different picture."

And while the organizers of the tours acknowledge that the majority of the visitors are Christian evangelicals, they argue they are doing more than preaching to the converted.

"I know it has changed many things and I know that people have changed their minds just walking around, without me saying anything," said Kahalani.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Israel

soundoff (152 Responses)
  1. 14Mickey

    Evangelicals are not Christians, they're Republican extremists. Christians do not support the Apartheid racist settlements. Calling yourself a Christian doesn't make you one.

    July 9, 2011 at 2:06 am |
    • Keith

      God made a covenant with Israel giving THEM ti-tle deed to the land-the boundaries of which have never been fulfilled. But they will be some day. True Christians recognize Israel's right to that land and understand that the Lord will once again turn His attention to Israel once the times of the gentiles are fulfilled. Unfortunately, replacement theology has infected the Church like a cancer. Replacement theology needs to be replaced with the Truth. But what do you expect when "Rick Warren" type apostate teachers abound?

      July 9, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • ironsheik

      Keith=christian zionist=totally incredulous. Please show me this deed and prove you were witness to the signing.

      July 9, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Keith

      It's in Genesis. God makes it with Abraham. Any questions?

      July 9, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Keith

      I wasn't there for the signing of the Declaration of Independence....but I'm guessing you weren't either, so what is your point? Is it null and void because I wasn't there to witness it? Moron.

      July 9, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • ironsheik

      Declaration of Independence was between living, breathing...much easier to believe than the claims you're making. Buffoon.

      July 10, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • ironsheik

      ....living, breathing humans that is.

      July 10, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  2. Trish

    Hey, will you guys do me a favor and visit HelpFaye.ORG a friend of mine is fighting for her life... Thank you..

    July 9, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  3. Colin

    And to think, there are Palestinians who do not want to surrender their land to the Jews, based on the Bronze Age mythology of the latter? How totally unreasonable of them.

    July 9, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  4. DiamondSky

    Evangelical Christians are the safest people for the Jews, and for everyone on earth for that matter. Thank God for the Evangelicals, the best liberator and protector of mankind.

    July 9, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • 14Mickey

      As it happens, however, they're not Christians, and they whole philosophy is based on discrimination, bigotry, and ignoring everything the New Testament taught.

      July 9, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  5. frank

    Lol, "the Holy Land" is a sh</b?it-hole.

    July 8, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • frank

      God zapped my post, maybe I'd better shut up.

      July 8, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • God

      No, you did it. I just watched and played with myself. Am I repeating myself? Yes. Affirmative.

      July 9, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • GOD

      The previous god has been sacked. We now return you to your normal daily programming.

      July 9, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • GØD

      The god that was sacking gods has now been sacked. I am now in charge and proclaim all møøse to be my children.

      July 9, 2011 at 10:14 am |

      Everybody will be scøøped up into my loving antlers just as søøn as I figure out how to do that.

      July 9, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Thor

      This is to report that all the other gods have been sacked.
      All Vikings please report to the nearest pub with all regalia including weapons. Thank you.

      July 9, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Queen of Air and Darkness

      We are not amused.

      July 9, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Jesus

      I need to poop.

      July 9, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Satan

      I gave him lots of cheese. Bwahahaha!

      July 9, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • ALLAH

      وقت متأخر مرة أخرى

      July 9, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Atheist

      All the gods have now been sacked. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please enjoy a little light music while we work to bring you the facts.

      July 9, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Crom

      I laugh at your puny Promised Land! Your crops are paltry! Your people are doomed! Your women are cross-eyed! Your penises are shrivelled kippers! Your land of milk and honey is a decayed barrio! You suck! I laugh from my mountain!

      July 9, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Conan

      Crom, I fight you! Yaaaggghhh!

      July 9, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • ಠ_ಠ

      greetinggs ppl of earth
      you have been sacked
      resistance is useless

      July 9, 2011 at 6:09 pm |


      July 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  6. Will Smith

    Go on an ICAHD tour. Israelis that are fighting against their governments treatment of Arabs. If you don't go and see with your own eyes how the Arabs are being treated, I don't care how educated you are... you have NO authority to speak to this.

    July 8, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  7. Will Smith

    You want a REAL tour in the West Bank. Take an ICAHD tour. That is "Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions". That's right... Israeli's that are fighting against the settlements. When I asked our tour guide (whom was an Israeli) why He took it upon himself to share such a difficult message, He replied "Because I want my kids to grow up in a peaceful land, and if we keep treating the Palestinian's this way... It will never happen!!!" If you won't GO and see how the Arabs are being treated, I don't care what kind of degree you have or what your religious background is, or how many books you have read for that matter... You have NO authority to speak to it.

    July 8, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • 14Mickey

      Nice to know there are Israelis against Nazism.

      July 9, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • matt

      yes there are a group of israelis in israel like that, that are opposed to the settlements in the west bank (called "new left" elsewhere)... there was a law recently past to protect the israel from boycotts in the aforementioned area, that says a citizen can sue for such a boycott/loss of income for business in the west bank, and not even have to provide evidence. the guardian reported that story – where is it on here, cnn? ...it'd be nice for an american news source to put out some unbiased/untailored news about israel for a change, maybe mention some of israel's fascist/apartheid policies?

      July 12, 2011 at 3:31 am |
  8. Noble9

    Germanic tourists have no "roots" in the Middle East. The god of the Christians is a foreigner in Europe...they had their own gods.

    July 8, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  9. Naija

    "We know that if people just opened their eyes and saw, then they would see the truth,” she said. “What we see in the media and the picture that is drawn of us abroad is not true and we decided the only way to really take out the story is to open up and say, ‘Just come and look.’ " Look at what?,how they took their land?,there is a reason the whole world calls it illegal settlements,because you are illegally occupying something that don't belong to you.

    July 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Thinker23

      The best way to give back "something that does not belong to you" to its rightful owners is to SHOW THE LEGAL DEEDS proving that the said property belongs to someone else. As of now no one complaining about the "illegal settlements" was able to SHOW THE LEGAL DEEDS proving that the land where these settlements are located belongs EXCLUSIVELY to the Arabs.

      July 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Keith

      Wrong. God gave it to the Jews. It's God's land and He can give it to whom He pleases. He chose the Jews. And it goes all the way to the west bank.....of the Euprhates. Get over it.

      July 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • ironsheik

      @Keith, well let God get his @ss down here and lay claim to it.

      July 10, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  10. Reality

    Historical reviews and rational thinking will eliminate religions all together.

    It has begun: an example-

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment."

    July 8, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  11. Toolfan

    What a bunch of nonsense. Exploitation of religious zealots in name of land and power.

    July 8, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  12. Lord Magister

    Also, this: Proverbs 26:4, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him (her).”

    Well played, Bucky. Bravo. /no sarcasm

    Furthermore, @ DiamondSky:: Most understand that Catholicism is the most legitimate sect of Christianity. Everyone else might be properly categorized under the qualifier "heathen." And, honestly? You're likely en route to hell.

    <('.' '.')>

    July 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  13. William Demuth

    God is good, but amonium nitrate backpacks filled with ball bearings ain't so bad either.

    Let the slaaughter commence!

    July 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Keith

      That's why there are vats of hog lard on the buses in Israel. Kind of deters them. You know-no paradise, no virgins, do not pass go....

      July 8, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • ironsheik

      @Keith, that's not nice to talk about Israelis like that.

      July 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  14. William Demuth

    Kill two loons with one backpack!

    July 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  15. Naija

    The Caption should read Contested Israeli settlements welcome evangelical Christian terrorist,this damn Evangelical nuts are the one helping Israel to perpetuate Apartheid.

    July 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Thinker23

      What is your definition of "apartheid" and WHY do you believe that forcing people of one ethnicity ( in this case, the Jews) while allowing people of another ethnicity ( in this case, the Arab) to live in certain areas is NOT "apartheid" while allowing BOTH peoples to live there IS?

      July 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Karatenor

      Israel cannot be defined as an apartheid state. Under the apartheid government, black South Africans were denied their citizenship and basic rights. It was illegal for black South Africans to attend school with white childrena and it was illegal for them to attend University. Black and white South Africans couldn't compete against each other in sports, marry each other or even perform together on stage.

      Israeli Arabs receive the same rights as the Jewish citizens of the country. They can vote, go to school, marry whoever they want and are even elected to office and have seats in the Kinesset.

      I'm not saying Israel is perfect by any means. But it cannot be called an apartheid state.

      July 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Keith

      Naija, there's no such thing as a "Palestinian". They are contrived.

      July 8, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  16. Lycidas

    I say go. The vast majority of the Israelis and Palestinians will welcome all tourists and their dollars. In 1997 I went over there and the ppl were quite friendly.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  17. DiamondSky

    @Israel: Jesus, your God and your Messiah, loves you. He gives you eternal life and lasting peace and comfort. Forever. Trust Him.

    July 8, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • jimtanker

      I dont trust in anything that doesnt exist.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Lycidas

      Hmmm, and yet "jimtanker" doesn't exist.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • ironsheik

      @Diamond Sky, allow me to complete your sentence into layman's term, " Jesus, your God and your Messiah, loves you. He gives you eternal life and lasting peace and comfort....and if you don't believe that, you will be consumed in everlasting hellfire forever and ever. Trust Him or else.

      July 10, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  18. DiamondSky

    Jews, what is happiness to you? I grew up with the knowledge of Holocaust and I lose my a p p e t i t e for happiness in life. How can anyone dream about being happy again on a planet where Holocaust happened? What are you going to do with the on-going nerve-breaking crisis that seems to last forever?

    July 8, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  19. tony

    The "settlements" are islands of self-righteous greed and abuse of power created by a bloody and vile 60 year period of Israeli Government directed Ethnic cleansing. Every human law of the Blessed Ten Commandments is broken to create and defend them. Get thou behind us, Evangelicals!

    July 8, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • DiamondSky

      You blood-thirsty mankind, when will you stop bullying Israel?

      July 8, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Ron

      Oh please diamond sky,
      I really think the only reason Evangelical Christians support Israel, is it is necessary that Israel exist so that Evangels can have their apocalypse. No Israel, no apocalypse.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Lycidas

      @Ron- Heck..I like Israel because I like Israel. No religious reasons whatsoever.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • JohnR

      @Ron You are right and it is both alarming and sad that anyone would be eager for the end of the world and would encourage recalcitrance on either side of this vexed struggle just in order to encourage it.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • DiamondSky

      Ron, Evangelical Christians love Israel because Israel is the people of God's covenant, and Jesus was from them as Man. For no other reason.

      July 8, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Unfortunately this has been going on FAR longer than 60 years. Ever since Deuteronomy 34 / Joshua 1, (and earlier in Genesis ?), apparently is been all about a real estate contract, (or am I wrong ?) Did the Hitt'ites foreclose or something ? Moses went up on Mount Nebo, and was shown the "Promised Land". Good enough for him. For thousands of years they have been fighting over this narrow strip of land, and there is no reason to expect that will stop any time soon. When I go out West next week I'm going up on Mt. Helix and view my "promised land". Beware property owners in La Jolla.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Keith

      Ron & John R, We look forward to His glorious appearing. He will come back and stop mankind from destroying itself. The world does not end. Jesus will reign from Jerusalem for 1,000 years, then eternity begins, but the world does not end. Anyone who survives the Great Tribulation will be separated-the sheep from the goats. Are you a sheep or a goat? This world is getting darker and darker with each day that goes by. I look forward to things being set right.

      July 8, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Keith It'll never happen. Trust me on this.

      July 8, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • DiamondSky

      @Bucky, those tribes were the human-sacrificing vicious perverted barbarians they were destroyed for the good of all others. Tribes get routinely destroyed by God Himself if they are too immoral and cruel. USA should worry for her future. @John Richardson, you're such an evil stupid blaspheming atheist why should anyone trust your word at all? No thanks.

      July 9, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Bucky Ball


      (Human sacrifice played no part in Hitt'ite worship.)
      Zelda, have you ever heard of the English word "credibility" ?

      July 9, 2011 at 5:52 am |
    • Keith

      John Richardson, I'd rather trust Casey Anthony to babysit my kids before I'd trust you.

      July 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  20. DiamondSky

    Jews, encourage the Gentiles to read the Bible. Reading both the Old and New Testament Bible gave me immense love for the Jews without being told by anyone to do so, really. I mean, who cannot cherish and love the Jews after reading the Bible and understanding its text? Please make Americans provide Bibles to any enemies of Israel. The last task.

    July 8, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Ron


      Exactly why would Jews encourage gentiles to read the 'bible'? The old Testament is the Christian version of the Tanakh, the Jewish book and the new Testament is specifically Christian, which has no relevance to the Jewish peoples. I don't know where you got this idea but it certainly isn't something I could see Jews doing.
      Also, "please make Americans provide bibles to the..." After reading this comment, I can't help but wonder what makes your religion/beliefs any difference from the Taliban? They seek to force others into submission to their beliefs, much like conservative/evangel Christians seek to do this in the U.S.? I see this as another attempt to push forward the thoughts of the apocalypse so conservative/evangels can have their precious apocalypse. Honestly, a religion that seems obsessed with death and destruction so your god can return. I see no love here. All I see is we won and the rest of you can burn in our hell. No reason to give up my religion for such perverted beliefs.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      Proverbs 26:4, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him (her).”

      July 8, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • DiamondSky

      Ron, you are angry because Christians interfere with your sinful lifestyle. All men and women need Bibles, both OT and NT to know God and His way and ob-tain the wisdom for salvation. Terrorists need Bibles to be saved and come to love God's people, Israel. Americans are working on the world's security; nothing is more effective than providing enemies the Bibles. Taliban and atheists hate and force, Christians love and teach the truth.

      July 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Joe

      Adeline, I mean, FairGarden, no wait, Zelda...rats, DiamondSky, you realize that anyone could say the same about you and their religious text, right? Using an argument that can only be applied to your book, tell me why the is bible right and the Qur'an wrong.

      July 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • The Guy

      First a foremost, the former posts are why people think Christians are crazy.

      Secondly, stop quoting the bible to a man who doesn't believe in it. It's like reading a passage from the Night Before Christmas and Ron believing magical presents will be left under a pine tree in his living room by a fat old man in a red overcoat.

      July 8, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • DiamondSky

      @Joe, I had many more user names. Mine get regually hijacked. Please enjoy the array of beautiful names and phrases from me. They all have meanings. Qu'ran is kind of okay if you don't take the commands to kill infidels part literally; it just NEVER provides anything right and complete about God and salvation. Mankind needs the Bible for the vital Truth. The Bible is far superior in content and effect that any other literature or info is nothing comparing to the Bible. @The Guy: Proper education is duty in a civilized society. Likewise you need to be told the Biblical truth no matter how much you hate studying. You have no rights to stay barbaric.

      July 9, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • ironsheik


      You surely are not schooled in the art of persuasion. Your assertions are absurd, "you're just angry because God gets in your way of sinning". Where did you learn this tripe? You apparently attended one to many Jesus Camps.

      July 9, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.