JERUSALEM – Beaten by security guards. Hassled by soldiers. Weary
after spending several tiring days picking olives.
To say the least, International Solidarity Movement volunteer Dan O’Reilly-Rowe had experienced a rough day near the Palestinian village of Felamaya after peacefully protesting the destruction of olive trees and the creation of a new wall separating Israel and the West Bank.
But when looking for a place to rest and heal, he bypassed the hotels in the nearby city of Tel Aviv, instead traveling several more miles to St. George’s Pilgrim Guest House in Jerusalem.
“I knew this was a sympathetic place, and it’s much more like a home than hotel,” O’Reilly-Rowe said of St. George’s hostel. “I definitely appreciated knowing I could go somewhere and not have a front about what I’d been doing.”
O’Reilly-Rowe, who said he discovered the hostel during a prior stay after randomly looking through a guide book, is one of many members of charity and human rights groups this year to stay at Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem-sponsored hostels. The number of tourists and pilgrim groups coming to the diocesan hostels has dropped dramatically, but fact-finding groups and others continue to come, diocesan officials say.
“We’re lucky the (non-governmental agencies) like this place,” Andre Batarseh, finance officer for the Diocese of Jerusalem said of St. George’s Guest House. “It’s how we’ve been able to survive.”
St. George’s has dropped from an average of 60 percent to 70 percent occupancy to about 15 percent occupancy since the Intifada started in September 2000, Batarseh said. St. Margaret’s Hostel in Nazareth and the Schneller Guest House in Jordan also have faced a drop in customers.
The 30-room St. Margaret’s hostel mostly caters toward local churches these days instead of the typical tourist crowd, said Amin Abu Hanna who oversees the guest house.
“We’ve been able to manage the situation for the past two years, but we hope the situation will be better,” Abu Hanna said.
The 30-room Christ Church Guest House near Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City only stays 1/3 to halfway full, though the autumn season has turned out as well as can be expected, according to the guest house staff.
Meanwhile, St. Luke’s Guest House in Haifa has remained mostly full, said the Rev. Shehadeh Shehadeh, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church in that city. However, that hostel has different aims from other diocesan guest homes, seeking to provide housing for Israeli Arabs who attend Haifa University.
In general, the drop in tourists at the diocesan hostels is reflective of the Holy Land’s tourist economy in general, Batarseh said. He noted that many hotels in East Jerusalem have closed. At St. George’s Guest House, the dire economy has meant the diocese has had to half the hours of several staff members.
Despite the struggles facing the hostels, they continue to serve as an important ministry of the diocese, said the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem.
“It’s a window,” the bishop said of the guest houses. “People come here to get to know us, and we get to know them.”
Jeries Arbeed, assistant manager of St. George’s hostel, said he has noticed an 80 percent drop-off in pilgrim groups, but he also noted the quality of most of those who continue to stay.
“They come especially to help the Palestinian people,” he said.
The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem supports peace and justice for all people living in the Holy Land.
For further information, please contact:
Nancy J. Dinsmore
Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem
Fax: (972) 02 627 1670