I recently returned from my fifth trip to Israel. I believe that this trip was not only my most inspirational, but also my most important. The exaggerated newspaper reports of daily violence have scared most tourists away, giving the impression that daily life is anything but normal for an Israel that has faced hostile neighbors for over 50 years. I can assure you that on a trip to Israel you will not only feel safe, but your presence will also be a boom to a devastated tourist economy and a great show of solidarity at a most trying time for Israel.
The purpose of my trip this time was threefold. First, it was to call upon the State Department to modify its advisory against travel to Israel. Our government's policy is too restrictive in light of the actual situation in Israel. A tourist to Israel can expect to be safe at all times. In those areas under Israeli control, one can walk, tour, and explore without any fear. Jewish and Christian tour groups are still coming to Israel, but their numbers are down by over half because of the travel advisory. I have already written to Secretary of State Colin Powell on this issue.
Second, I wanted to show solidarity with our most trusted and loyal ally in the region. In times of uncertainty, friends stand with their friends.
Third, I wanted to once again share in the freedom of worship, which I, as a religious Christian, have always felt in Jerusalem, a city so holy to both Christians and Jews. It is only under Israeli control and sovereignty that I have been able to pray freely at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a site sacred to Christians throughout the world, and to walk safely along the Via Dolorosa, both in the Old City of Jerusalem. This is why I have unequivocally and repeatedly stated my belief that Jerusalem must stay the undivided eternal capital of the State of Israel. This alone will guarantee the rights of Jews, Christians, and Moslems to pray peacefully in their respective holy sites.