A not-for-profit group established in Bethlehem in 1998, the Holy Land Trust (HLT) was formed out of a merger between the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence (PCSN) and Journey of the Magi (JOM). PCSN, founded in 1984, advocated civil disobedience “against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories”; supported Palestinian “family reunification rights”; and promoted “boycott campaigns of Israeli products.” JOM, founded in 1996, was a Christian organization that sought to “build friendships with the peoples of the Middle East, both Christians and Muslims,” by organizing group tours which retraced the path of the biblical "wise men." By JOM's reckoning, Israel's “military raids,” “blockades,” and “checkpoints” had brought a great deal of needless suffering to the Palestinians.
The new entity, Holy Land Trust, incorporated the worldviews, agendas, and strategies of both its predecessors. HLT's mission is to use “the principles of nonviolence … to strengthen and empower the Palestinian community in developing spiritual, pragmatic and strategic approaches that will allow it to resist all forms of oppression and build a future that makes the Holy Land a global model and pillar of understanding, respect, justice, equality and peaceful coexistence.” In an effort to undo the damage allegedly caused by Israel's “60 years of occupation,” HLT has developed five major programs:
1) Through its Projects for Nonviolence initiative, HLT works with Palestinian organizations, villages, refugee camps, and individuals of all religious denominations to promote “the idea of nonviolence.”
2) The Travel & Encounter (T&E) program, established in 2000, aims “to raise international awareness of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict by providing cross-cultural and experiential learning.” This is achieved by means of religious pilgrimages, fact-finding missions, and “reality tours” to the Middle East for members of U.S.-based evangelical congregations. These highly politicized trips are designed to indoctrinate participants to believe that Israel has long been guilty of innumerable atrocities, while obscuring the truth about Palestinian terrorism and the large-scale persecution of Christians living under Palestinian Authority rule.
3) The Community Outreach program seeks to establish “long-term, sustainable relationships” with Palestinians in the Bethlehem District, so as to help them deal with “adversity.”
4) HLT's Leadership Programs, such as its “Making the Impossible Possible” campaign, facilitate “the emergence of a community of leaders committed to bringing about a nonviolent, transformative, and lasting change within both Palestinian and Israeli communities.”
5) The Independent Media program is responsible for the development of two major projects. One of these, Alkul TV, is a local, Bethlehem-area television station that seeks “to restore a sense of community, self-dependence and regional pride as part of a greater vision for Palestine.” The other—the Palestine News Network (PNN)—was created in 2002 to produce “unbiased and professional journalism that would be set apart from much of the one-sided, often sensational coverage that dominated news both about and from the Holy Land.” Contrary to such professed neutrality and objectivity, however, PNN's reporting is in fact replete with anti-Israel bias. Funded by such entities as the European Union, the Inter News Network, George Soros's Open Society Institute, and Women International, PNN has established working relationships with Al-Jazeera, the BBC, and National Public Radio.
In 2005, HLT financed the so-called Palestine Summer Encounter (PSE) program, an “educational” initiative created jointly by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and the Bethlehem Bible College—and subsidized in part by the PLO—to indoctrinate Westerners against Israel. While PSE participants do volunteer work with Palestinian aid organizations and left-wing Israeli peace groups in the West Bank, they are hosted by Palestinian families.
In October 2006, HLT arranged a tour of Bethlehem for the Swiss Representative to the Palestinian Authority. During that tour, Bethlehem District Governor Salah Ta'amari angrily condemned Israel's “siege on Bethlehem, the attacks, the effects on tourism, and the destruction of the economy.”
In 2011, HLT was centrally involved in the creation of Little Town of Bethlehem, a 77-minute documentary film about “three men of three different faiths and their lives in Israel and Palestine.” The film's underlying theme—that Israeli violence and Palestinian victimization have reached crisis proportions—is reflected in the fact that the only people who were interviewed on-camera were HLT founder and executive director Sami Awad; anti-Israel activist Yonatan Shapira, who participated in the “Free Gaza” flotilla movement in 2010 and 2011; and HLT “activities coordinator” Ahmad Al’azzeh, who advocates a one-state solution and the Palestinian “right of return.” Others who participated in the film's creation included producer Mark Arnold (a Canadian lawyer who has filed a number of frivolous lawsuits against Israel) and HLT office manager Awni Jubran.