Evangelical Christians to develop biblical park in Galilee
By The Associated Press
Israel is offering evangelical Christians a chunk of the Holy Land.
Fourteen hectares (35 acres) of rolling hills and rocky shores of the Sea of Galilee, tucked between key sites in Jesus' ministry, would be leased to an association of evangelists led by American religious broadcaster Pat
Robertson, Israeli tourism officials say.
The potential deal for turning over biblical lands to develop a tourist destination underlines how ties have strengthened in recent years between Israel and evangelical Christian groups.
For other Christian denominations, which represent tens of thousands of Arabs living in the Holy Land, the deal raises questions about possible threats to the sensitive status quo in the Galilee region where they have owned land for hundreds of years.
The land envisioned for the lease also is near a politically contentious area.
It lies about three kilometers (just under two miles) from territory that Syria wants returned in any future peace deal with Israel, said a Syrian expert on geography, Hamed Halaby.
Israel says evangelical leaders have agreed to raise US$50 million (-42 million) to build a Heritage Center on the site, hoping to attract tens of thousands of religious pilgrims a year.
Robertson said in a statement that he was "fully cooperating" with the project but no deal had been formalized. He added that he is thrilled "there will be a
place in the Galilee where evangelical Christians from all over the world can come to celebrate the actual place where Jesus Christ lived and taught."
Tourism Minister Avraham Hirschson said he expects a contract to be signed soon.
"There is no central place today in Israel for the evangelical Christians," Hirschson said. "Here they will be able to re-enact what happened."
Israel is considering leasing the land for free, said Ari Marom, director of the ministry's North American department.
He said the site could eventually draw as many as 1 million pilgrims a year. That many visitors would spend about US$1.5 billion (-1.3 billion) in Israel and support almost 40,000 jobs, he said.
"It's a win-win situation," Marom said. "Israel is giving over public land to a more or less public organization that will be used by millions of people."
The park area is on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee northeast of Capernaum, a favorite site for pilgrims because the New Testament calls it Jesus' "own city" (Matthew 9:1) and they can view the foundation of
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