RAMALLAH: Christians of all denominations prepared to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem, with the expectation that, as in previous years, Israeli officials would limit the number of Palestinian Christians permitted to attend.
With Christian families from the West Bank and Gaza Strip required to secure permission to access the Old City, and military checkpoints stationed there and on roads leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, many were discouraged from taking part in the festivities, according to Arab News. Ghadir Al-Najjar, a Bethlehem-
born Christian living in Jerusalem, noticed that this year’s Easter celebrations coincide with Ramadan, making it extra memorable.
She said that Christians who wanted to attend the Holy Saturday celebrations at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would have arrived a day or two early and hid in a relative’s or friend’s house in the Old City so that they could get to the church without going through the checkpoints on the day.
According to Jack Nassar, a Christian from Ramallah with a Jerusalem identity card, Jerusalem is more important to Christians than Bethlehem or Nazareth.
He stated that during the Easter season, Israelis would not always offer entry permits to all family members; sometimes they would grant permits to parents but not children, and vice versa.
Many Christians in the West Bank, according to Nassar, no longer attend Easter celebrations in Jerusalem due to traffic jams at the Qalandia and Bethlehem checkpoints leading to Jerusalem, and Israeli police at checkpoints in the Old City discriminate between Arab Christians and foreign Christians.
“During the Holy Saturday celebrations in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, an Israeli police officer stood and shouted at the thousands of Christians who flocked to the church to attend the celebrations, saying, ‘The Arab Christian stands on the right and the foreign Christian stands on the left,’ which enraged the Palestinian Christians,” Nassar told Arab News. Nassar stated that five years ago, while participating in Good Friday celebrations, he was beaten by Israeli police in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
He claimed that when the police asked him and his two friends what religion they belonged to, and he answered them they were “Arab Christians without a sect,” a police officer shoved him “violently” out of the church and battered him.
According to Israeli authorities, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre can only hold a limited number of people – significantly fewer than the throngs who flock to it during Easter.
“They refuse Palestinian Christians entry into the Old City on the grounds that the church cannot accommodate thousands,” Archbishop Munib Younan, former head of the Lutheran Union, told Arab News. Nassar also rejects the Israelis’ claims.
A scout band on the streets of Ramallah for Easter 2022. (Supplied) “Why do they not limit the number of Jews allowed to enter the Western Wall to pray, but do limit the number of Christians allowed to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?”
Limiting the amount of Christians allowed to participate in Easter celebrations is immoral, he said.
Nassar went on to say that because the leaders of the Holy Land’s Christian churches are not Arabs, they do not appreciate the suffering of Palestinian Christians under Israeli rule. As a result, they do not put pressure on Israeli authorities to enable Christian transit to and from Jerusalem and to secure freedom of movement between the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.
“All that matters to them are their own interests and the interests of the countries from which they came,” Nassar explained.
The Christian Palm Sunday march, which drew hundreds of Christians from around the world, took place on Sunday, April 2, commencing from Beit Faji Church on the Mount of Olives and ending at the Church of St. Katrina in the Old City.
Participants carried palm and olive branches as well as their national flags. However, Palestinians carrying the Palestinian flag were likely to be arrested by Israeli police, therefore many donned T-shirts with the Palestinian flag instead.
Father Ibrahim Faltas, the Custos of the Holy Land’s attorney general, told Arab News that Christians were outraged by the recent spate of attacks on Christian churches and cemeteries in Jerusalem, noting that church leaders sent letters of protest to Israeli authorities, who described the attackers as “mentally ill.”
“We don’t know what motivated the attacks,” Father Faltas told Arab News. Faltas revealed that negotiations were made between church leaders and Israeli officials to allow large numbers of Christians to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Holy Saturday (April 8), and to ensure that last year’s bloodshed would not occur again.