Thousands of evangelical Christians from 100 countries have participated in a 30th "Feast of Tabernacles" event, organized by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, a group strongly supportive of a united Jerusalem under Israel.
The ICEJ says the event, held from Sept 23-29 to coincide with the Jewish holiday of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), has become Israel's largest annual tourist event, and the largest solidarity mission to Israel.
The local Palestinian churches have criticised some evangelical Christians, including the ICEJ, for being pro-Israeli to the extent that they ignore the plight of local Christians. Many Palestinian Christians believe Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem should be part of an independent Palestine.
Organizers expect the festival to have injected an estimated US$15 million into the local economy. The event takes place with the assistance of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and, in 2010, about 1000 pilgrims from Brazil made up the largest group at the embassy event.
Numerous Israeli leaders attended, including tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov and other members of the Israeli cabinet. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a video greeting.
The Rev. Malcolm Hedding, ICEJ executive director, said, "The Christian Embassy has established a remarkable record of standing in support of Israel and a united Jerusalem over the past three decades, whether through our many humanitarian projects ∑ our advocacy efforts worldwide, or our annual feast gathering in Jerusalem."
The ICEJ was founded in September 1980 at a time when 13 countries moved their embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to protest the passage by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, of the "Jerusalem Law," which declared Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
At that time, the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem announced it would open, "as an act of comfort and solidarity with the 3000-year-old Jewish claim and connection to this city".
This year's ICEJ festival included seminars, performances and prayers. Participants joined the traditional Jerusalem March on 28 September.
Some also toured a West Bank settlement to learn about the impact of the 10-month-long settlement-building freeze the day after it was scheduled to expire. Festival goers were also due to take part in an interfaith dialogue with Orthodox Jewish settlers in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.
The interfaith contact did not extend to Muslim leaders.