JERUSALEM – It was much more than a "tour" of the Holy Land.
WND's first excursion to Israel, concluded Sunday, was a pilgrimage and fact-finding trip for what was believed to be the largest American group brought to Israel this year, with nearly 400 participants.
"I was profoundly impressed by the tolerance shown by Israelis toward their Arab neighbors," said George Escobar, vice president of WND Films, who accompanied the group to capture the experience on video.
"City after city and town after town that we visited were populated by mosques and minarets, even around Jerusalem. The calls to prayer for Muslims from these minarets went unabated and without protests. The reverse practice, of course, would not be tolerated in Muslim countries, where [non-Muslims] could be imprisoned or beheaded with such overt calls for their faith," he said.
Escobar said the "love for the land of Israel by residents and visitors alike is palpable."
"Its very existence as a nation reborn is recognized as a modern miracle," he said. "God's handiwork is everywhere: deserts turned into a fertile farms, industrious people building modern cities at the same time uncovering and preserving its ancient past."
With nine buses shuttling pilgrims and the two hosts, Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, author of the bestseller "The Harbinger," and Joseph Farah, the Arab-American chief executive officer of WND, logistics were a major concern.
"We actually cut off registrations for this event in June when we hit 400 because we just weren't sure we could pull it off to our satisfaction," said Farah. "As it turned out, we could have handled more – maybe even multiples. Every single participant I spoke with told me the excursion far exceeded their expectations. And I agree."
"Coral Tours, headed by Shalom Almog, a full bird colonel in the Israel Defense Forces reserves and a logistics expert, handled the massive flock, which dominated every site it visited in Israel from Nov. 10 through 16.
"At the end of a trip packed with action from early in the morning to late at night, everyone was asking when we’re going to do it again," said Farah. "Those who had made previous excursions to Israel said they had never experienced anything like this before."
Farah explained that the tour was set up to recount biblical events in the locations where they took place.
He cited a choppy ride on the Sea of Galilee.
"It was so rough out there on the lake, we were all reminded of the Bible story about Jesus being awakened by a disciple who feared they would all perish. The thought crossed all our minds. We couldn't calm the waters like He did."
The travelers visited Jaffa, where Jonah set sail for Tarshish, and Caesarea, where the ruins of Herod's palace exist.
They visited a Roman theater and aqueducts. They journeyed to Mount Carmel, where Elijah proved to the prophets of Baal that there is only one true God.
Cahn, a highly regarded Bible teacher on the End Times, delivered messages at several points during the trip.
They group also visited Cana of Galilee, where married couples renewed their vows under the olive trees. They then went to Nazareth and climbed the mountain where Jesus was confronted by an angry crowd that wanted to push him off the cliff.
Also included were visits to the Jordan Valley, the Springs of Gideon, the Dead Sea, Masada, En Gedi, Jerusalem, Mount Moriah, the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, Emmaus Road, the Pool of Bethesda, St. Ann's Church, Via Dolorosa, the Old City, the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.