JERUSALEM, Oct. 16 (RNS)--Garbed in Native American dresses of buckskin and beads, Jodi Scott and Tara Randolph arrived in Jerusalem this week to pray, drum and dance for peace.
Scott, of Atlanta, and Randolph of Ossian, Ind., were among the 4,500 evangelical Christians who defied media reports of Middle East violence and instability to attend the International Christian Embassy's annual Feast of the Tabernacles celebrations here in the Holy Land.
Amid reports of a 30 percent overall drop in tourism to Israel, most of the evangelical Christian delegations scheduled to arrive this week from some 120 countries worldwide did indeed make it to Jerusalem, said Christian embassy director Johann Luckhoff.
"Many Christians came because of the situation, not in spite of it," Luckhoff said. "They felt this was the time to take a stand with Israel and to pray for the nation, and hope through prayers and goodwill to somehow help alleviate the situation."
"Less than 10 percent canceled," he added. "And in many cases, that was because their tour operators simply called off the trip."
A delegation of Native American drummers and dancers, a steel band from the Caribbean and puppeteers from Singapore were among the delegations attending the nine-day event, which includes performances, seminars and a parade through downtown Jerusalem.
At Saturday evening's kickoff, Luckhoff presented Israeli government minister Rabbi Michael Melchior with a petition calling for a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty as part of any final Israeli-Arab peace settlement.
Luckhoff said that the petition had been drafted by the Christian Embassy (which has no official standing) several months ago, while the peace process was still in full swing, and has since been signed and endorsed by organizations representing some 15 million Christians worldwide, including American evangelicals Pat Boone and Pat Robertson. The Christian Embassy has maintained its staunchly pro-Israel line in the recent period of violence, defending Israel against charges that police and soldiers have shot indiscriminately at Palestinian demonstrators.
"Our observation is that Israel is showing much restraint and is not initiating problems, but is defending herself when there are attacks, and this is not well enough reported in the media," Luckhoff said. But the participants attending the Feast--which coincides with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot-- reflected a wide rainbow of views. Some, like 64-year-old Betty Ward of Ocala, Fla., saw the recent instability as a harbinger of end days scenarios.
"You may not want to hear this," said the gray-haired grandmother, garbed in a long purple smock and a gold tiara that vaguely suggested a biblical dress theme. "But things are going to get worse, before they get better. It's the beginning of the end."
Others, like Scott and Randolph, are approaching the situation with greater equanimity.
"As Native Americans we can empathize with both sides," Scott said, as she awaited the arrival of fellow drummers and dancers in a flashy "modern" native dress of feathers, shells and shimmering red sequins. "We have been through our own holocaust and we also know what it is like to give up land for peace. We love the Palestinians and the Israelis and want to see the two brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, reconciled."