A group of tourists, including two individuals from San Antonio, Texas, are currently facing the need to take shelter in Israel as the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalates. The group, led by George Mason, a Baptist pastor from Dallas, had initially planned a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the purpose of gaining insight into the region’s history, cultures, tensions, and potential avenues for peace. However, they have now been compelled to seek safety due to the intensifying war.
Reflecting on the situation, Mason expressed his belief that the group has become firsthand witnesses to a historical event, albeit one that they cannot take pride in. He emphasized the importance of bearing witness to such events and learning from them. Mason is the founder of Faith Commons, an organization established in 2018 to provide a safe and inclusive space for individuals of all religious backgrounds. Together with a Dallas rabbi, he leads the group.
The pilgrimage was organized by Mejdi Tours, a tourism company based in Florida. The co-founders of the company have Palestinian and Jewish backgrounds, and they offer tour guides who possess expertise in both historical narratives. Prior to the group’s arrival, Mason had been attending a conference at a Palestinian University near Bethlehem. However, on the day they were scheduled to begin their pilgrimage, violent clashes erupted, leading some members of the group to reach Jerusalem. Unfortunately, not everyone, including the rabbi, was able to make it due to the cancellation of flights.
Mason recalled how the group initially felt safe in Jerusalem as the Iron Dome, a security system, intercepted rockets before they could reach their target. However, the attacks became more frequent and intense. Consequently, on Monday, they received advice to leave the war zone and travel north. Mason emphasized the gravity of the situation, acknowledging the loss of life, the grieving families, and the traumatized country.
Having experienced the horrors of war firsthand, Mason now believes that promoting peace is more crucial than ever. He stressed that violence is violence, and it is imperative to care for the humanity of all people, even those considered to be enemies. The group has made plans to travel to Jordan on Tuesday and is hopeful to secure a flight back to the United States by the end of the week.