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WEST BANK: Palestinian Christians denied access to holy places in Jerusalem during Easter

As Christians get ready to celebrate Easter, Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are envious of fellow Christians from all over the world who are able to visit Jerusalem’s holy Christian sites and worship freely while they cannot.

Since Israel cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories in the early 1990s, Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been required to get Israeli army permission before they can enter Jerusalem.

The situation worsened since the turn of the century and restrictions got tighter after a 20-foot concrete wall was built all around East Jerusalem barring both Muslim and Christian Palestinians from reaching their holy sites in Jerusalem and its Old City.

“For Christians, Holy Week in Jerusalem has a special spiritual connection,” said a statement issued by the Christian community in the West Bank. “The Old City, its gates and roads, the Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa and the Holy Sepulchre Church, where pilgrims from all over the world journey to, are equally important to the Palestinian Christians of Gaza and the West Bank, who want to join their Jerusalemite Christian brethren in the liturgical events leading to the resurrection, the holiest celebration in Christianity.”

But West Bank and Gaza Christians reaching Jerusalem even during holidays has become a privilege, rather than a spiritual right. To get to Jerusalem, any Palestinian resident of the West Bank or Gaza of any age or religion has first to get a permit issued by the Israeli military government.

These permits do not come easily. They are usually issued to sick people trying to get treatment in Jerusalem or Israeli hospitals, or to businesspeople. Often they are given to workers because Israel can use the cheap West Bank and Gaza labor force. But for people who want to visit family members living in East Jerusalem or take a tour of the Old City or pray at their holy sites, permits become a scarcity.

“In every country that respects and implements freedom of worship, worshipers of different faiths live their faith and express their prayers without restrictions from the governing authorities,” said the Christians' statement. “In Jerusalem, and for the past decade, this has not been the case. The occupying power is denying free access to holy places of worship to both Christians and Muslims on several important occasions,” the statement said.

“The local faithful … see that the restrictions made against them are violations of basic human rights and religious freedom as well as a violation of … centuries of religious traditions for the indigenous Christians of this land,” the statement continued.

Though Israel began recently issuing between 2,000 and 3,000 permits for Christians to visit Jerusalem holy sites during Christmas and Easter, the figures remain relatively small compared with the number of Palestinian Christians, and permits are issued only to older married people, not the young and single. Christians also have to apply through their churches to get the permit, a process Christians say is done on a first-come first-served basis.

“The permit system instated by Israel is in obvious violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants and treaties to which Israel is a signatory,” said the Christian community. “Regardless of the number of people from the local congregation allowed to participate in the celebrations, we reject the imposition of a permit/quota system to access our churches.”

Unfortunately for Palestinian Christians, Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday. Israel usually imposes a closure on the occupied territories during Jewish holidays, which means permits are automatically canceled and people with permits will not be able to cross checkpoints into East Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its territory since it annexed it after its occupation in June 1967.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Comments () | Archives (43)

Palestinian Christians denied access to holy places in Jerusalem during Easter? Does this writer think real believers are Muslim or something? This is sad commentary on religious education. This is so bad it doesn't rise tot he level of being wrong. Honest believers know that the temple veil was rent. but for a Reason we know too well. Somebody inform Maher Abukhater, or stop publishing rubbish.

Take it from Croom, and the Alabama Church congregation that literally got blown away by the power of God: "Some say the church is over there," Croom said, gesturing toward the ruins of his church several blocks away. "I say the church is wherever you go.",0,55328.story?page=2

We are the holy site, wherever we go. Get it right: Israel has every right to exist. The intolerance of Arabs and clearly ignorant placating suicidal-death-wish liberals playing to their hands, is clear and exasperating deceit.

Last year, when this same subject came up, I looked around, and found this story:
Is it untrue? Or did it not get general readership because it didn't conform to the propaganda? Meanwhile, mainstream churches, Sojourners, etc., were busy hammering in their condemnation.

And, to Cheese_Wonton, regarding the Republican Right's never speaking of the treatment of their coreligionists, it is the same with the Christian Left. The only time they will mention the Egyptian Christians, for example, is if there is a story in the media about Muslims protecting them. If Christians are endangered, as in Egypt right now, not a word from the U.S. coreligionists on the Left! (Because it's too complex. Muslims aren't supposed to be harming Christians! It can only be told if Jews can be accused.)

Ahmad you spoke my mind , they have to recognize our full rights and Nakba so we can move on and accept their existence in Palestine .Thats the only viable solution

I am a Palestinian who lives in Palestine. What motivated me to put a comment was the racism I felt in the comments of some people who commented against the Palestinians. We, the Palestinians have been living on this land for thousands of years. Unlike the Israelis who were collected from all over the world to control a land that they don't have a right in. Moreover, they prevent the origin owners of this land from accessing to it!
However, now we have a different situation, Israel has many great cities, and too many thousands of people on the Palestinian land. There is no way to expel those people out of this country, thus no way other than to accept each other and to live side by side with each other. We must recognize the rights of each other in Palestine as a whole.
It is the right of everyone who lives in Palestine to access wherever he/she wants in this country, no matter what is his/her religion, color, or nationality.
It is a must to all of us to recognize and respect each other in order to live a natural life with no war, no conflict and no violence.

We are constantly reminded by pro-Israel crowd and Zionists that Muslims prevent Christians and Jews from worshipping in Palestine (Jerusalem) and in various Muslim countries.
This report states clearly that Israel restricts Christians from worshipping and the pro-Israel crowd and Zionists hyperventilate into complete hysterical denial.

Tensions between Israel & Palestinians should come down with peace talks only they can gain anything with these tensions & war between them will not find any solution so peace talks should be held between them.

That is a lie.

Fisrt of all, Israel didn't build no wall around East Jerusalem. There are around 250'000 Jews that live in that side of the city (negiberhoods like Ramot, Pisgst Zeev, Neve Yaakov, Gilo etc').

Second of all, You didn't remind all the sucide terroisr that blow themself in the Jerusalem after Oslo Aggriment.

Third, Terrosirt from East Jerusalem are a common thing, Only one month ago a guy lost his hand due to a bomb hidden in the bushes. when Jews go inside this area they more likly to be facing stone and maybe a linch.

But what do we expect when the writer is an Arab..... the truth won't come from here...

"The situation worsened since the turn of the century and restrictions got tighter after a 20-foot concrete wall was built all around East Jerusalem barring both Muslim and Christian Palestinians from reaching their holy sites in Jerusalem and its Old City."

You might ask why there is a 20 foot wall, built 35 years after the war. It is because Israel had to find a way to stop suicide bombers, and it worked. Most of the victims were Arab and Jewish workers who road the bus, and children.

It is too bad that it has come to this, but it was not always the case. As terrorist violence worsened, Israel took stricter measures. During Jewish holidays, the violence is always worse. As you know, Jesus was celebrating Passover at the Last Supper, which is why Easter and Passover often fall at the same time. Because of that, Israel does make it harder, but not impossible to visit Christian holy places, a result of Arab terrorist violence.

Many years ago, I was in Rome and went to St. Peter's. As I approached the doors I noticed that some women were turned away. Their skirt was too short, and their arms weren't covered. I was wearing an over blouse and had a sweater, so I pulled my skirt down around my hips, put on my sweater, and was waived on through. Those were the rules to get in, in those days. Because I was used to the rules in the US, I brought a scarf to cover my head, which wasn't that important. Going into Holy places isn't a Right.

Until June 1967, no Jew was permitted to pray at the Western Wall. No Jew from Israel, America, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, UK, Germany, France, or any other place. What about their right to visit religious Holy places? Israel complained to the UN to no avail. The complaints of Jews were not heard. The UN didn't even ask Jordan to change its policy. There was no pressure for change, no threats, no angry words. There are Jewish Holy places that Jews are not permitted to go, because it would be too disturbing to Muslims. The Dome of the Rock is built on top of the ruins of the Second Temple. Only a few crazy people would think of removing it to rebuild the Temple. Jews are only permitted at the Western Wall, and not on top, which is reserved for Muslims.

Why didn't Jordan create the State of Palestine on the West Bank with Jerusalem as its Capitol before June 1967? I have no answer, but I know Palestinians would never have had any chance of having a State without Israel having had won that war. Palestine would have been in place by now, had there not been violence. Why would Israel put power in the hands of terrorists? They will have to prove they are fit to be neighbors. So far, they have failed.

'When some 60 leading Israeli actors and playwrights signed a letter stating they would refuse to play in the new theatre in Ariel, one of Israel's largest settlements, the attacks from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel's Minister of Culture and Sport and many others were swift and intense.

Over 150 leading Israeli academics and writers- including Amos Oz and David Grossman- came to their defense. It was the first time such mainstream figures had drawn a line around normalizing settlements which are illegal according to international law, and which constitute one of the main impediments to a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.'

It is always great to see the ongoing empathy and at times protests also by the many and various Jewish pro Palestinian groups and organizations.

J.Shlomzion aka Jehudah Ben-Israel is a Zionist settler and a professional propagandist for Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs. His perspective is that there are no Palestinians and that the Arabs are responsible for all the turmoil in the Middle East. He does not believe that Palestinians should have an independent state, a policy which is the official policy of the United States.

Our Israeli friends suffer from an exaggerated feeling of paranoia? No?

Palestinian Christinas get to worship in these Holy places every day. Soon, tens of thousands of out of the country visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime trip will arrive. They deserve priority and are less of a risk than the local Palestinians who applaud and martyrize suicide bombers who disrupt and maim and kill worshipers for the purposes of disrupting tourism, to economically hurt Israel (and concidently Israeli Arabs to make a political point; they can control the situation. So israeli Security controls them, instead in a neat and orderly fashion. W

hat's to gripe about? Religious restriction is not about where you worship, after all, G-d is everywhere, but that you can worship at all, which Christians, Jews and others are not allowed to do in all Arab nations.

And not one word from the so-called "Christian" (ho ho) leadership of the Republican right about the harsh treatment of their co-religionists by the Israelis. Nope, not a peep.
The whole of the Christian right in the US is about acquiring wealth and power without having to actually work for anything. And why not if you can hand the Republicans voters in exchange for "faith based initiatives" funding. It has never mattered to them if the party they tell their faithful (more like gullible) to vote for is harmed by the Republicans, as long as they are able to acquire power through Republican politicians and use this to cram their rotten religion down everyone's throats, willing or not. How many of their own are harmed in the process is no consideration.

Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims are converging on Jerusalem this week from all over the world who are experiencing what for most is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Crowd control first-come-first serve, is applied in a fair allocation system to locals who routinely have access to all the Holy Sites year-round. NOw the palestinians carp that they don't have UNLIMITED access. For security reasons the Israelis are making assumptions that older people with families are less likely to be suicide bombers (stereotyping) and injure those visitors.

That they can worship this week in their own local churches is proof that there is no restriction on the freedon of worship, only restrictions on the freedom to let slip one of their suicide bombers and create havoc and bad PR for Israeli security and thus create an economic and religious issue out of what is their political issue.

When does APAIC get a free column in the LA Times. these article from the Carnagie are clearly political and I resen the fact aht a charity get this money and you make commercial use of it.

Are you going to believe Jehudah or your lying eyes?

Bethlehem Christmas Day circa 1900:

Bethlehem present day from the queue from hell, enter queue at 2 AM and return home at 9 PM.

"Bypass" roads that only Israelis and tourists like myself could use. They are behind the checkpoints and blockades and barbed wire and cannot even go to different parts of the West Bank.

"...Palestinian territories..."

Perhaps the author can share with us where are those "territories", and if that can't be accomplished, because such a phenomenon doesn't exist, why use such language...??

Indeed, UN Security Council Resolution, 242, that was designed to resolve the Arab Israeli conflict, that passed unanimously at the Security Council and has been accepted by ALL relevant parties to the conflict, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and that has served as the basis for ALL peace talks to date and actual peace treaties does not mention such a concept.

One couldn't find in 242 phrases such as "Palestine", "Palestinians", "Palestinian state" or "Palestinian territories" for the simple reason: no such entities have existed in reality.

If such entities exist, they do so only as part of the wishful thinking of those who use them, and journalism, to the best I understand it, is to report reality and not wishful thinking and "narratives", i.e. fictional stories woven into patches of fabric that are then stitched together into large quilts full of fabrications.

I, therefore, would expect the author of this story to, next time, realy on factual based material and not wishful thinking and "narratives".

Wouldn't this more informative...??

Here's the indigenous Christian leaders that support the statements above. I visited Israel and the West Bank recently. When I talked with the indigenous Christians they confirmed that the reason why they are all leaving is the occupation and not Muslims. (They lived in peace with Muslims for centuries.) The Christian Palestinian guide at the Church of the Nativity expressed a wish to be able to see my Israeli guide. But the wall kept him not only from him worshipping a churches in Jerusalem but also to have the conversations and relationships necessary for a lasting peace. The wall is an abomination.

BTW, This is where the LA Times got the article above.

The same organization has this document signed by all the indigenous Christian leaders below.

1.1.5 Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem .

1.3 Emigration is another element in our reality. The absence of any vision or spark of hope for peace and freedom pushes young people, both Muslim and Christian, to emigrate. Thus the land is deprived of its most important and richest resource – educated youth. The shrinking number of Christians, particularly in Palestine, is one of the dangerous consequences, both of this conflict, and of the local and international paralysis and failure to find a comprehensive solution to the problem.

1.4 In the face of this reality, Israel justifies its actions as self-defence, including occupation, collective punishment and all other forms of reprisals against the Palestinians. In our opinion, this vision is a reversal of reality. Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity. This is our understanding of the situation. Therefore, we call on the Israelis to end the occupation. Then they will see a new world in which there is no fear, no threat but rather security, justice and peace.

His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox
His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Church
His Beatitude Patriarch Torkom Manougian, Armenian Orthodox
Very Revd Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custody of the Holy Land H.E.
Archbishop Dr Anba Abraham, Coptic H.E.
Archbishop Mar Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox H.E.
Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayah, Maronite H.E.
Archbishop Abba Mathaious, Ethiopian H.E.
Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek Catholic
Bishop Gregor Peter Malki, Syrian Catholic
Bishop Munib A. Younan, Lutheran
Bishop Suheil Dawani, Anglican
Bishop Raphael Minassian, Armenian Catholic

A fair article, though the bias is shown towards the Palestinian side overtly without even asking why these restrictions are in place. I do not personally agree with this, but understanding why may make things more understandable. However, the settlements are no issue, they are illegal. I do not understand how anyone tries to make the lame brain argument they are worthwhile. If it wasn't for the settlements we would all be at peace probably. My point of view is people need to condition themselves to move past their emotions, paranoia and specious statements used by extremists both Jewish and Muslim and look at the issues for what they are. Lack of compromise, over-use of force, violations of people in Palestine, support of terrorist groups. People cannot keep playing this game from opposite sides of the field. No its not easy and yes we're all tired, but that is no excuse to give up.

@Brendan Geck

Awesome post below, thank you.

For a country whose citizens have know discrimination for centuries, the fact that Christians cannot practice their religion by visiting holy places is the height of hypocrisy. The Israeli's should practice for all that which they hold dear to themselves. Shame on the government.Shame!

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