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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)

Good journalism would allow us to know who are these "christians"? this "christian community". no names. no identity.

This is an absurd article. Should Saudi Arabia lift its permit requirement for foreigners who want to perform the hajj? Muslims from other countries can't just wander in and proclaim their "spiritual right" to travel to Mecca. Check it out for yourself. A Saudi permit is required for foreigners to perform the hajj. The Saudis have denied hajj permits on an ad hoc basis for various reasons, some relating to security.

Christians from the US, France, and Brazil have to go through Israeli immigration to visit Jerusalem, just as they have to go through Italian immigration to visit the Vatican. Jews from the same countries have to go through Israeli immigration to visit the Western Wall.

These aren't signs of oppression, or lack of recognition by these governments of the "rights" of religious believers. Israel has the same right to protect its citizens that other countries have.

It is pathetic when the other side (Jewish) side starting whining about their discrimination and their treatment of the Arab (Christian and Muslim) ppl. Why are you complaining, when it is true! I visit Palestine every 2 yrs to visit family. Once I enter Tel Aviv's airport the discrimination starts. Why do you complain when the other side speaks out? They have every right to speak about the treatment that is banned for the world to see. I've been to Bethelem a few yrs back and I took pics of the prison walls that your goverment placed. When I was leaving Tel Aviv, all my photos were deleted. And the same goes, for every picture I took that showed the true side of the "Israeli" government.

The Palestinian Christian and Muslims stand as one against the occupationa dn brutality of the "Israeli" government.

I just can't believe the mentality that some of the commentors have. " your people loved to leave bombs and blow up the jews" - so since some idot beleives in terrorism lets condem all Palestinians and deny people entrance who just want to worship. I guess you guys must also be in favor of racial profiling and the internment of Japanese-American as well?

By the way, when a Palestinian Terrorist does bomb inn't Israel's response to level a Palestinian city?

Finally, also this discussion of Holy Land etc also bugs me at times. This area is very important to three religious groups....stop all this it was our homeland first BS...can't be proven!!!! Plus many of the Jews living in Israel today are converted Europeans, many are NOT the original decedants of Abraham!

If this comment board is moderated, why are some people getting away with writing epic length opinions?

This article is pathetic. It refers to Israeli restrictions without mentioning the reason for their imposition--the murder campaign orchestrated from the West Bank. I remember a Passover in the 1990's when, just as we set down to eat, we heard that a bomb killed dozens of Israeli's in a hotel Seder. And just in case you think the terror war is over, there was a bomb on a bus a few weeks ago. As the article stated, older residents (not likely to participate in terror) are allowed in. So let's put the blame where it belongs--on the terrorist murders who continue to operate. The moment Israel lets it guard down, the wave of terror will continue. If the Palestinians want to reduce these restrictions, they as a society must control their murderers. If not, they have to live with the consequences

I am an Orange County resident who has been traveling around the Middle East for some time now. I live in an apartment in East Jerusalem right now and I have experienced the bad and the good things that both sides complain and boast about right now. The bombing by the Central Bus Station last month occured on the bus that I take to my internship two times a week. There was another threat last week on my way to work that stopped all traffic for about an hour.
However, I also remember the look on my "host-dad's" face when we both heard about the bombing in Jerusalem. He was worried, as any parent would be, about the safety of his children.
It is unfortunate that the sentiment among the responses to this article is that Arabs seem to unite around the bombing of Jews. This is just mindless justification.
If it is a defensive argument that Jews around the world advocate, that is perfectly acceptable. However, the continous inhabitation and acquisition of settlements within the disputed Palestinian Territories makes any such argument invalid. This is a blatant offensive manuever and one that discredits the Jewish-Israeli besieged mentality. And until this incongruity is remedied, a defensive mindset and the threat of security take a back-seat to the continuous annexation of land that almost all Palestinians believe should be theirs to bring to the negotiating table in hopes of establishing some sort of peace agreement.
By the way, one of my English students is a 7th grade Arab girl. Her father is still unable to speak or hear do to his proximity to the blast in Jerusalem last month. I highly doubt that she, or her family, idenitify with the terrorists who carried out such a horrifying act.

Most of the coupons don't even work unless you use good websites some of them Printapons retail me not etc, so do some research before you buy anything!

International Law

International humanitarian law prohibits [an] occupying power [from transferring] citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory (Fourth Geneva Convention, article 49). The Hague Regulations prohibit the occupying power [from undertaking] permanent changes in the occupied area, unless these are due to military needs in the narrow sense of the term, or unless they are undertaken for the benefit of the local population.

The establishment of the settlements leads to the violation of the rights of the Palestinians as enshrined in international human rights law. Among other violations, the settlements infringe on the rights to self-determination, equality, property, an adequate standard of living, and freedom of movement.

Lets look at some documented facts about Palestine and the rise of its illegal occupation (and not more messianic and contorted myths that Zionists use to justify continued breaking of International laws)

'During the 1980s an earthquake shook these founding myths. The discoveries made by the “new archaeology” discredited a great exodus in the 13th century BC. Moses could not have led the Hebrews out of Egypt into the Promised Land, for the good reason that the latter was Egyptian territory at the time. And there is no trace of either a slave revolt against the pharaonic empire or of a sudden conquest of Canaan by outsiders.

Nor is there any trace or memory of the magnificent kingdom of David and Solomon. Recent discoveries point to the existence, at the time, of two small kingdoms: Israel, the more powerful, and Judah, the future Judea. The general population of Judah did not go into 6th century BC exile: only its political and intellectual elite were forced to settle in Babylon. This decisive encounter with Persian religion gave birth to Jewish monotheism.'
Then there is the question of the exile of 70 AD. There has been no real research into this turning point in Jewish history, the cause of the diaspora. And for a simple reason: the Romans never exiled any nation from anywhere on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. Apart from enslaved prisoners, the population of Judea continued to live on their lands, even after the destruction of the second temple. Some converted to Christianity in the 4th century, while the majority embraced Islam during the 7th century Arab conquest.

Most Zionist thinkers were aware of this: Yitzhak Ben Zvi, later president of Israel, and David Ben Gurion, its first prime minister, accepted it as late as 1929, the year of the great Palestinian revolt. Both stated on several occasions that the peasants of Palestine were the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Judea'

'The smokescreen of national historiography hides an astonishing reality. From the Maccabean revolt of the mid-2nd century BC to the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century AD, Judaism was the most actively proselytising religion. The Judeo-Hellenic Hasmoneans forcibly converted the Idumeans of southern Judea and the Itureans of Galilee and incorporated them into the people of Israel. Judaism spread across the Middle East and round the Mediterranean. The 1st century AD saw the emergence in modern Kurdistan of the Jewish kingdom of Adiabene, just one of many that converted.

The writings of Flavius Josephus are not the only evidence of the proselytising zeal of the Jews. Horace, Seneca, Juvenal and Tacitus were among the Roman writers who feared it. The Mishnah and the Talmud authorised conversion, even if the wise men of the Talmudic tradition expressed reservations in the face of the mounting pressure from Christianity.'

Although the early 4th century triumph of Christianity did not mark the end of Jewish expansion, it relegated Jewish proselytism to the margins of the Christian cultural world. During the 5th century, in modern Yemen, a vigorous Jewish kingdom emerged in Himyar, whose descendants preserved their faith through the Islamic conquest and down to the present day. Arab chronicles tell of the existence, during the 7th century, of Judaised Berber tribes; and at the end of the century the legendary Jewish queen Dihya contested the Arab advance into northwest Africa. Jewish Berbers participated in the conquest of the Iberian peninsula and helped establish the unique symbiosis between Jews and Muslims that characterized Hispano-Arabic culture.'

'The most significant mass conversion occurred in the 8th century, in the massive Khazar kingdom between the Black and Caspian seas. The expansion of Judaism from the Caucasus into modern Ukraine created a multiplicity of communities, many of which retreated from the 13th century Mongol invasions into eastern Europe. There, with Jews from the Slavic lands to the south and from what is now modern Germany, they formed the basis of Yiddish culture'

Until about 1960 the complex origins of the Jewish people were more or less reluctantly acknowledged by Zionist historiography. But thereafter they were marginalised and finally erased from Israeli public memory. The Israeli forces who seized Jerusalem in 1967 believed themselves to be the direct descendents of the mythic kingdom of David rather than – God forbid – of Berber warriors or Khazar horsemen. The Jews claimed to constitute a specific ethnic group that had returned to Jerusalem, its capital, from 2,000 years of exile and wandering.

This monolithic, linear edifice is supposed to be supported by biology as well as history. Since the 1970s supposedly scientific research, carried out in Israel, has desperately striven to demonstrate that Jews throughout the world are closely genetically related.'

The Rise of Zionism - Jews had never stopped coming to "the Holy land" or Palestine in small numbers throughout the exile. Palestine also remained the center of Jewish worship and a part of Jewish culture. However, the Jewish connection with the land was mostly abstract and connected with dreams of messianic redemption.

According to B’Tselem's 2010 summary, there are 124 official Israeli settlements and 100 informal outposts, and 12 Jerusalem settlements on Palestinian land. Peace Now’s interactive settlement map shows the name, location, and population for each settlement and outpost on Palestinian territory, all of which are considered illegal under international law.

“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

- Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949

Here's the issue: the reason the Christian Palestinians don't have access to Israel from the West Bank is because of the security concerns resulting from the various Arab rebellions and terror attacks that have resulted from the Palestinians refusal to unify, accept peace as a an option, and learn to live and let Israel live in spite of the real history.

As usual the L.A. Times has published an article with the angle that life is difficult for people living in the occupied territories. It's an interesting story in terms of pure story, however it doesn't present the political environment from a neutral point of view.

What we really need to be asking is why the Times doesn't print more stories that clearly presents the situation for what it is. The well intentioned reporting leans toward sympathizing with the tortured population of the West Bank and Gaza, but excuses them of the responsibility and self determination that has brought the residents to this condition.

It's like reading a human interest story that tells the tale of a homeless guy nobody wants to help, but the article doesn't delve into how he became homeless and the lives he ruined before his recovery.

The time to make peace is now. The Israelis do know this and are working on this. Can the same truly be said for Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, and all of the Al-Queda members living in Gaza and the West Bank?

The good old LA Times publishing one sided false propaganda against Israel. So what else is new?

This is really weird. Isn't it accepted journalistic practice to get both sides of the story? All I see here is a statement from an Arab group. I live in Israel and I remember that until the outbreak of the terror Intifada Al Aqsa I would see lots of Arab people from the West Bank and Gaza in Israeli cities. Israelis used to complain "How is it that they feel so free to visit our towns when it is so dangerous for us to visit theirs?" It is also sad to see how the Christian Arabs, who live in fear of their Muslim neighbors, try to become acceptable to other Arabs by complaining about Israel. It is also amazingly hypocritical of Arabs to preach Israel about the right to access to holy places. Back in the days of the British Mandate, Arabs rioted over the idea of improving Jewish access to the Western Wall (Judaism's holiest site). The Arabs expelled the Jews from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and while under Jordanian control Jews had no access at all to the Western Wall. The Cave of Machpelah (Judaism's second holiest site) in Hebron was off-limits to Jews as long as that city was under Arab control. It is only Israel which has allowed Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike access to these sites. Unfortunately, Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza have a history of abusing their visits to holy sites as opportunities to engage in violence, such as throwing rocks down off the Temple Mount at Jews praying below by the Western Wall. It is that threat of violence which has forced Israel to limit the access of young people (who are much more prone to violence) to holy sites.

This article lacks the depth and explanation of context that would give a full and complete understanding of the whys and wherefores of this situation. The denial of open and free travel to the Palestinian Arabs is a result (a result, not a cause!) from terrorism and murder coming from within Palestinian areas. The restrictions are in place to keep suicide bombers and murderers from infiltrating into Israeli society as they have so often done in the past.
The Palestinian Authority needs to crack down on the violence and hatred aimed at Israelis and to root anti-semitism out of its society (they have not only not done this, they are one of the chief instigators of a violent sentiment against Israel!). If this were done there would be no need for walls, checkpoints or inhibition of travel and their children could be playing happily together on the streets without any restrictions.

So where are all the people who are forever raving about how the Muslims allegedly treat Christians? Which, if true, is also to be condemned.

why does this article, that appears without context...allowed a place in the la times

this would be like writing an article about the increased security at dodger stadium and the decision not to have half price beer days, without discussing the increase in violence.

there is a wall because of terrorism

arabs from the west bank cannot get travel passes...because of terrorism

i feel bad for the christian arabs...really i do

maybe they should move to saudi arabia or egypt...i hear they are really welcomed there.....not

Just like any other country would do- Israel must have the safty of its people first. when Israelies cities are being bombd day and night (including today) and children are being killed, family of 5 - the mother , the father the children and a 3 month old baby is being murderd, a bomb get exploded in Jerusalem (all in 30 days) than the government (like any government in the world) would not let the population that is doing it go out freely into its land.
Unfortunatly , the innocent are paying the price also. The Palestinians should put an end to this situation and then the Christians and the Muslems (who are good people) will have the ability to go inside Israel and visit not only the holy places but all of the country. Happy holiday to all nations.

A fair question to ask is why does Israel need to restrict access to Palestinians into Israel?

The article gives the impression that Israel does it for no other reason than to oppress the Palestinians. However, the article fails to mention the very real security concerns that necessitated such measures. The last paragraph gives pa hint of the unfortunate reason that Palestinians have continually used Jewish holidays as a time to conduct terror attacks on Israeli citizens, such as the terrorist attack on families celebrating their Passover meal in Netanya a few years back.

Similarly, another fair quesiton to ask is how do the Palestinians treat their Christian bretheren? Christians in the Palestinian territories are systematically subject to vilence and intimidation and there numbers have continues to drop over the years as they flee fanatic muslim persecution.

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