FOR the last 18 years, during every celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, they have come in their thousands from nations around the world--Christians of many denominations united in the strength of their faith in the Bible and love for Israel as God's chosen people.

Judging from their response this year, and every year, the Israelis lining Jerusalem's streets were warmed in their souls by the sight of hundreds of gentiles waving their flags and marching in colourful national costume under the walls of the Old City. Many carried banners proclaiming to the Jews Bible verses promising that peace and security will one day come to Israel.

But it is a spectacle that leaves reporters cold. Ignoring the news value of the event itself, if they do refer to it, generally it is in terms deriding the pilgrims as Christian fundamentalist opponents of the peace process, with their heads in the clouds and their feet out of touch with reality.

One such journalist this year characterised the Christian visitors as "slant-eyed", "pot-bellied" and absent-minded" people who worshipped Prime Minister Netanyahu, and who lived for the coming Gog and Magog war which would soon ravage the nation and force the Jewish survivors to accept Jesus as Messiah. He based his article on interviews conducted with a handful of people.

It is easy to find individuals with extreme views in any thousand-strong crowd, and just as easy to paint the whole assembly as supportive of such views. Lost behind this type of yellow journalism however is the truly remarkable story of growing support for Israel in the Christian world after nearly 2000 years of church-encouraged anti-Semitism.

The Christians who attended Tabernacles 1997 came from more than 100 nations, and represented the beliefs of many thousands, and often millions, of the Christians in their lands.

For the vast majority of the pilgrims the visit was the highlight of a lifetime. Their love for Israel is genuine and faith-inspired. Strong supporters before they arrive, they leave even more fervent in their desire to pray for and defend Israel back home.

Their presence is undeniably a phenomenon. The press may refuse to accept it, may sneer at the religious beliefs they do not share, and may have difficulty in comprehending the significance of their act of solidarity with a nation persecuted by gentiles down the ages. But it encourages the Israelis and brings a little light and hope into a place where both are scarce.

Just to be able to do this much, many of the Christians believe, makes their long and expensive journey to Israel well worthwhile.

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