The sound of warning sirens are no longer only heard in southern Israel, on the border of Gaza. Now, they have also reached the capital, the Holy City, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Danger is on the rise throughout the entire country and many local residents and tourists are filled with fear.
“I am living this with concern and uncertainty because we do not know what is going to happen or how this situation is going to evolve,” Father Juan Antonio Ruiz, the Director of the Spanish Biblical Institute in Jerusalem, said. “The atmosphere is very tense and we can see that this situation is getting more and more complicated. Just now, while I was connecting for the interview, the anti-aircraft alarms were heard again and this is really worrying.”
Hours before, Father Ruiz had to leave his home in Jerusalem and stay with groups of religious and pilgrims. He explained what it is like to deal with the climate of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, not only in recent days, but for years.
“The Bible Institute, known as the House of St. James, is in East Jerusalem, on the other side of the Mount of Olives, and it is very close to the wall, which separates Israel from Palestine,” Father Ruiz said. “So, there has been a bombardment of stones. That’s what they usually do, in moments of great excitement and tension, the Palestinians throw stones from the other side of the wall and, well, until they become very big stones, very thick. And they also start burning cars and car tires. In short, it always creates a very tense situation.”
Father Ruiz pointed out that the pilgrims who were caught in the escalation of the conflict were very frightened. The authorities in their countries asked them to stay in their hotels. Many took the opportunity to pray for peace.
“Just now, they were leaving and I went to see them off and to cheer them up a bit because they were very discouraged,” Father Ruiz said. “Two days in a hotel, they told me: ‘We are living this with great concern.’ They say: ‘What was a pilgrimage has turned into a retreat because the two days spent in a hotel have been used to pray, to show the Blessed Sacrament, to pray, because it is very good to pray for peace at this moment.’”
The Holy Land is one of the most important places for Christians. Between pilgrims and tourists, this area has reached record numbers, such as in 2019, when it welcomed 5 million people in one year.