Israel-Gaza War Records Heavy Death Toll as Nigeria Cancels Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

Israel-Gaza War Records Heavy Death Toll as Nigeria Cancels Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

Ordinarily, the flight from Nigeria to Israel takes five hours and two minutes, covering a distance of 3,642 kilometers. However, the impact of the bombings and shelling in Israel is being felt as if it were a domestic quarrel next door. The war since it broke out on Saturday has recorded heavy death tolls on

Ordinarily, the flight from Nigeria to Israel takes five hours and two minutes, covering a distance of 3,642 kilometers. However, the impact of the bombings and shelling in Israel is being felt as if it were a domestic quarrel next door. The war since it broke out on Saturday has recorded heavy death tolls on both sides with properties worth millions of dollars in ruins.

Here in Nigeria, it was about time for another pilgrimage with would be pilgrims making final departure arrangements. On Monday, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC), Rev. Dr. Yakubu Pam, at the NCPC Conference hall, NCPC headquarters on Plot 1348, Ahmadu Bello way, Garki Abuja, held an orientation for the last batch of intending Pilgrims. He stated that the Commission was monitoring the events in Israel, and this would determine whether the Commission would proceed with the pilgrimage or postpone it until hostilities cease.

The batch that went before before being prepared for the trip, returned Monday night in shock and thanking God for returning home safely. Awaiting their return had cause panic in their families for their safety. For the next batch about to travel, there was anxiety even from some state governors that were sponsoring their citizens on the pilgrimage. It was therefore, inevitable that the pilgrimage had to be terminated.

This last batch of pilgrims about to depart consists of government-sponsored pilgrims, church-sponsored individuals, and self-initiated pilgrims. Two officials of the Commission challenged them to focus on the spiritual aspect of the trip rather than the tourism aspect. When the intending pilgrims were released to go and pack their luggage, they were informed to expect a message indicating the time for the flight or a postponement based on information from Israel.

All of this changed early Tuesday when most international television and radio stations were flooded with stories about the violence in Gaza. By Tuesday morning, over 1,600 people had been killed since the Hamas militant group, Izzy ad-Din al Qassam Brigade, launched a surprise assault on Israel from Gaza early on Saturday, leading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare, “We are at war.”

The Israeli Minister of Defense, Mr. Yoav Gallant, stated that Israel would teach Hamas a lesson they would not forget for 50 years. Since he made that statement, the bombings have intensified, resulting in dismembered bodies and destroyed buildings.

Over 2,000 people have been killed since the war began between Israel and Palestine. Already, dozens of foreigners have been killed, injured, or taken hostage during a surprise attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Saturday. Some of the casualties were Americans.

In early October 2023, a conflict erupted between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist group that had maintained control over Gaza since 2006. Hamas militants launched rockets into Israel and incursions into southern Israeli cities and towns along the Gaza Strip border, resulting in casualties among both military personnel and civilians, as well as the capture of numerous hostages.

This surprise attack prompted a swift and forceful response from Israel. Just one day following the assault on October 7, the Israeli cabinet officially declared war against Hamas. This declaration was swiftly followed by a directive from the defense minister to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to institute a comprehensive blockade of Gaza.

The ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel has had profound implications for the region, affecting various aspects of life, including Christian pilgrimage and tourism. Israel is not only a place of historical and religious significance for Christians but also a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists worldwide. However, the conflict has posed significant challenges and changes to this experience.

Restricted Access to Holy Sites

One of the primary ways in which the conflict has affected Christian pilgrimage is through restricted access to holy sites. The violence and security concerns have led to occasional closures of churches, monasteries, and pilgrimage sites in Israel and the Palestinian territories. This has disrupted the spiritual journey for many pilgrims who come to visit these sites. Rev. Pam confirmed this when he spoke with intending pilgrims in Abuja.

Decline in Tourism

The conflict has also led to a decline in tourism to Israel, including Christian pilgrimage tours. The instability in the region, periodic clashes, and security threats have discouraged tourists from choosing Israel as a destination. This decline has economic repercussions for the local communities and businesses that rely on tourism.

Safety Concerns

Safety concerns have become a significant deterrent for Christian pilgrims and tourists. Frequent rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli territory and retaliatory measures by the Israeli military have made travelers wary of visiting the region. Many pilgrimage groups have canceled or postponed their trips due to these safety concerns.

Lagos state governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, announced on Tuesday that the state government has successfully airlifted 310 Nigerians who participated in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, back home. Mr. Sanwo-Olu made the announcement via his official handle on Tuesday.

“I’m happy to announce that we have successfully airlifted and returned all three hundred and ten (310) citizens who went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Israel,” he wrote.

“I want to thank you all for your concern, and I must also express my joy to our Ministry of Home Affairs for a job well done. We pray for peace in Israel and indeed the world at large.”

Impact on Local Communities

The conflict has not only disrupted the pilgrimage experience but also negatively impacted the lives of local Christian communities. Many Christian Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have faced the brunt of the conflict, leading to displacement and hardship. This has affected the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Shift in Pilgrimage Routes

In response to the security situation, some Christian pilgrimage routes have shifted. Pilgrims and tour operators have explored alternative routes and destinations that are perceived as safer. This has led to changes in the traditional pilgrimage patterns.

Diplomatic Efforts

Efforts by various international organizations, as well as religious leaders, have been made to mitigate the impact of the conflict on Christian pilgrimage. Diplomatic initiatives seek to ensure safe access to holy sites and support the Christian communities in the region.

The conflict between Hamas and Israel has undeniably influenced Christian pilgrimage and tourism to the Holy Land. It has disrupted access to holy sites, led to a decline in tourism, raised safety concerns, and affected local Christian communities. While challenges persist, diplomatic efforts and the resilience of pilgrims and tourists continue to keep the spirit of pilgrimage alive in this historically and spiritually significant region.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, has deep historical roots, dating back to the late nineteenth century.

In 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181, commonly known as the Partition Plan, which aimed to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. On May 14, 1948, the establishment of the State of Israel marked the beginning of the first Arab-Israeli War. Although this war concluded in 1949 with an Israeli victory, it also resulted in the displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians, leading to the division of the territory into three regions: the State of Israel, the West Bank (along the Jordan River), and the Gaza Strip.

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