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Israel bars hundreds of Palestinian Christians from traveling on Easter

In an unprecedented decision, Israeli authorities are denying hundreds of Palestinian Christians the right to travel to Jerusalem for the holiday, while barring all movement between the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian Christians hold candles lit by the holy fire, which was delivered from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, on April 20, 2014. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Palestinian Christians hold candles lit by the holy fire, which was delivered from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, on April 20, 2014. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world are expected to travel to Jerusalem for Easter celebrations. For Christian Palestinians who live no more than hours away from the holy city, however, holiday plans are determined by the whims of the Israeli army. This year, in an unprecedented decision, the army is denying movement for hundreds of Palestinians and barring all movement between the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israeli army limited the holiday travel quota to 200 Christians from Gaza who are over 55, and only for travel outside of Palestine-Israel. Only 120 of the 1,100 Christians in Gaza meet this arbitrary requirement. Palestinians who were planning on visiting the holy sites or their families in the West Bank and Israel, already a rare occasion, will not be able to do so.

“I’ve been applying for permits over the past three years, but nothing has come out of it,” said Samir Abu Daoud, 65, from Gaza, who has a son and grandchildren in Ramallah. Although he meets Israel’s criteria for travel, he has yet to hear back regarding his permit request.

While the army has allocated twice the quota for Palestinians in the West Bank — who will be allowed to travel to Israel and Jerusalem — this only allows approximately one percent of the Christian population there to leave for the holiday. They are not allowed to visit family members in Gaza.

“Imposing such sweeping restrictions on movement cannot be justified by security needs,” said Miriam Marmur, a media coordinator with Gisha, an Israeli rights group that focuses on freedom of movement in and out of Gaza. The decision is based on political considerations, added Marmur, and the limitations are part of Israel’s “separation policy,” which seeks to widen the divide between geographically disconnected Palestinian communities.

Palestinian Christians prayer at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun)

Palestinian Christians pray at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun)

“Israel is increasingly restricting movement between Gaza and the West Bank so as to deepen the separation between Palestinians torn between parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, and by doing so, advance and legitimize its annexation of the West Bank,” Gisha wrote in a statement this week.

Contacted for an explanation, the Israeli army’s “Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories” (COGAT) — the Israeli military body responsible for administering the occupation and Gaza siege — referred +972 Magazine to the Prime Minister’s Office, which cited security recommendations as the reason for the decision.

There are an estimated 400,000 Palestinian Christians worldwide, most of whom are refugees who either fled or were expelled by Israeli forces during the 1948 Nakba and now live outside Palestine and Israel. Around 123,000 are citizens of Israel, and 50,000 or so more live in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Palestinian Christians hold candles lit by the holy fire, which was delivered from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, on April 20, 2014. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Palestinian Christians hold candles lit by the holy fire, which was delivered from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, on April 20, 2014. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

While Israel officially retreated from Gaza in 2005, it has placed the strip under a strict blockade, controlling many aspects of life there, including movement of people and goods. Palestinians there can travel in and out in one of two ways: through the Rafah Crossing with Egypt, or the Erez Crossing with Israel. Until recently, Egypt would only open Rafah intermittently, and in March, for the first time since December 2014, it allowed Muslims from Gaza to travel to Mecca for the Umrah pilgrimage through Rafah.

According to Gisha, COGAT was provided with a list of people who seek to leave Gaza for Easter already last month. The army, however, only announced a few days ago the number of people — although not who — it will allow to travel during the holiday, denying them the opportunity to challenge those decisions in court.

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In 2018, the Israeli army approved 500 travel permits for Easter, also limited to people over the age of 55. Ahead of Christmas it handed out 590 permits, but with no age restrictions. In 2017, it was 700 permits for both Easter and Christmas, also without limitations on age.

Israel classifies the permits it gives Palestinians to celebrate and worship during major holidays not as part of its obligation to enable religious freedoms or the right to free movement and family life, but as special “goodwill” measures. In contrast, during Jewish and Israeli holidays, the army routinely imposes a closure on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, restricting the free movement of even those who have passed security checks and hold army issued travel and work permits.

Palestinian Christians pray at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun)

Palestinian Christians pray at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun)

While travel permits are a happy occasion for the few who receive it, for the many Palestinians who are denied authorization to move through the Israeli checkpoints and terminals separating the various Palestinian territories, the permit system serves as a method of collective punishment. In November, for example, COGAT warned that it would not issue permits to Palestinians in Gaza with family members who had “overstayed” their travel authorization.

Furthermore, the permit system often splits members of the same family during the holidays, as some are given permission to travel while others are not. “If I get a permit, but my wife does not, there is no way I will leave,” said Abu Daoud.

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    COMMENTS

    1. itshak Gordine

      Arab terrorists have always taken advantage of Jewish holidays to try to break into Israel to attack its citizens. It is normal for Israel to take measures that only last a few days. This seems to exceed the understanding of our dear leftists for most of them foreigners.
      Remember that tens of thousands of foreign tourists arrived in Israel to attend the festivities of the Christian Easter. Israel is a state open to peaceful people.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Total nonsense, and you know it, Halevy. Shameless, you are. The move is unprecedented and it’s real purpose is what Gisha says it is: Not based on security needs but on political considerations, part of Israel’s “separation policy,” which seeks to widen the divide between geographically disconnected Palestinian communities; so as to deepen the separation between Palestinians torn between parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, and by doing so, advance and legitimize its annexation of the West Bank.

        Reply to Comment
      • john

        since when is easter a jewish holiday?

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Perhaps you can explain, Halevy, why it is that Israel is then not open to peaceful person, peaceful American, Elaine Zoughbi, and why she “endangers public security”? You know you can’t, so don’t bother.

        This American-Palestinian Endangers Israeli Public Security
        Elaine Zoughbi is married to a Bethlehem native and has lived in the city for 30 years. Two weeks ago she landed in Israel and was sent back to the U.S. ‘because you married a Palestinian’
        https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/this-american-palestinian-endangers-israeli-public-security-1.7143855

        Reply to Comment
    2. Peter Reilly

      Another gross violation of human rights: UN Declaration of human rights, Article 13.
      (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
      (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      OK, this is as fucked up as it gets. It is totalitarian. It is Orwellian. It is apartheid. It is cruel. It is evil. ==>

      This American-Palestinian Endangers Israeli Public Security
      Elaine Zoughbi is married to a Bethlehem native and has lived in the city for 30 years. Two weeks ago she landed in Israel and was sent back to the U.S. ‘because you married a Palestinian’
      Amira Hass
      https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/this-american-palestinian-endangers-israeli-public-security-1.7143855

      Having said that, realize that it is no more totalitarian, Orwellian, apartheidist, cruel and evil than the things Israel does to non-American Palestinians every day, day in day out.

      Conclusion: Israel is a totalitarian, Orwellian, apartheid, cruel, evil regime.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Walid

      Because it’s not about being anti-Muslims, it’s anti-Arab. Israel is a colonial power and pretend to be make it about religion. That’s why other colonial powers in the West will remain silent. They don’t care about Christians either.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jim Robertson

      Omar, please read your Bible. The Jews have an unalienable right to their land endowed to them by their Creator.

      Reply to Comment
      • Chaz Hoosier

        “You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”—Leviticus 19:34

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Hey, Itshak Gordine, why don’t you and your friend Jim Robertson here get together and discuss the finer points of what happens in the exciting sequel when “The Rapture” comes?

        And when you don’t come to agreement on that one you could both trade notes on how to selectively use the Bible to be an all-around massive self-dealing hypocrite. On that you’ll find agreement I’m sure.

        Reply to Comment
      • William

        -ZIONISM IS NOT CHRISTIAN
        (Supporting Israel the ‘Fig Tree’)

        THE VINE is a symbol of Israel’s Spiritual privileges.
        THE FIG-TREE is a symbol of Israel’s National privileges.
        THE OLIVE TREE is a symbol of Israel’s Religious privileges.

        Luke‬ ‭13:1-9
        “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered,
        “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!
        But unless you repent,
        you too will all perish.
        Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!
        But unless you repent,
        you too will all perish.”
        Then he told this parable:
        “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard,
        ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.
        Cut it down!
        Why should it use up the soil?’ “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied,
        ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine!
        If not, then cut it down.’ ””
        ‭‭Luke‬ ‭13:1-9‬

        Jesus came to Israel ‘the fig tree’ for three years.. no fruit found because Jews rejected him—

        Reply to Comment
    6. Jeffrey Nicholas

      The only country to benefit the so called on terror is Isreal. Funny that.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Harvey

      Your facts are wrong
      There are not hundred if thousands of Christians in Jude’s and Samaria
      Population data state 50,000 at most
      Sadly because of religious persecution by the PA and Palestinian residents most Christians have fled and emigrated Arab lands- see Lebanon , Syria and all countries.
      From 1948-1967 not one Jew was let into the old city of Jerusalem to pray – even though Jerusalem is mentioned over 500 times in the Old Testament

      So if you raising money people should donate to Israel where all 3 of the Abrahamic religions worship freely

      Reply to Comment
      • Sam

        Saying something does not make it a fact!
        What persecution by the PA against Christians? Is there an article you read? Where did you get this from?
        How is what happens in Syria or Lebanon relevant to this?

        Reply to Comment
      • Tom

        The palestian christian are persecuted by the israeli occupation (please go in Bethlehem and see by yourself ) not the PA (they are part of it anyway and among the most powerfull family of the palestinian society).
        You can also compare with the number of palestinian christian in Israel that have declined allong the years, in Haifa, Jaffa, Jérusalem etc.

        From 1948-1967 not one Jew was let into the old city of Jérusalem, so it give the righ to Israel to do the same for muslim and christians ? Jérusalem should be a open city for all religion, Jérusalem do not belong to jewish people only.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Brien Doyle

      https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cogs.12138

      ”…exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.”

      Keep the Lies about gods away from children!

      Reply to Comment
    9. Lou

      Uhm…huh.

      Maybe the closures were a response to the Easter services terror bombings in Sri Lanka.
      After all, a ‘Western intelligence agency’ (probably Israel) secretly informed the Sri Lankans about a pending terror attack somewhere in the world against Christian worshipers.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This response by ‘Lou’ was predictable—the inevitable, hackneyed propaganda attempt to blur the Palestinians with ISIS.

        You think maybe it was actually what Gisha says it is?:
        Not based on security needs but on political considerations, part of Israel’s “separation policy,” which seeks to widen the divide between geographically disconnected Palestinian communities; so as to deepen the separation between Palestinians torn between parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, and by doing so, advance and legitimize its annexation of the West Bank.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          And contrary to Lou’s “probably Israel” narcissism (never mind his peculiar concept of time running backwards), it was the Indian intelligence services that warned Sri Lanka about the possibility of the Sri Lanka Easter bombings.

          Reply to Comment
    10. Chaz Hoosier

      Meanwhile, the far right sneers and says “Why won’t they peacefully accept this treatment?”

      Reply to Comment
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