RAMALLAH: Israeli police have been chastised for their harsh methods after hundreds of Orthodox Christians were barred from celebrating Holy Saturday in a church in Jerusalem’s Old City.
According to videos circulating on news websites, several Coptic Orthodox priests were beaten in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Israeli forces erected roadblocks and barriers at the Old City entrances, allowing only a small number of Christians and those with admission credentials to enter.
According to local sources, they also halted traffic in Khan Al-Zeit market and assaulted scores of worshippers attempting to cross the checkpoints.
Thousands of believers flock to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believe Jesus was buried, for the millennium-old commemoration.
In contrast to previous years, when up to 10,000 attendees filled the cathedral, only 1,800 will be permitted inside this year, with an additional 1,200 outside. Access to the area around the church will also be restricted by additional checkpoints located around the Old City.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called it a “blatant attack on freedom of worship.”
The ministry called it a “flagrant attack on the existing political, historical, and legal status quo in occupied Jerusalem, as well as on Israel’s obligations as an occupying regime in Jerusalem.”
These actions “violate international law, international humanitarian law, and signed agreements,” according to the report.
The churches have stated that they will refuse to comply with the police limitations, which they perceive as part of a long-standing effort to drive out the local Christian community.
In the wake of growing acts of violence and vandalism targeting Christians and their properties in Jerusalem, several church leaders have expressed worry about what they call an environment of impunity.
Despite Israeli limitations, the highest presidential committee for Palestinian church affairs has urged for widespread Christian involvement in Saturday of Light celebrations.
The Holy Sepulchre is located in East Jerusalem’s Old City’s Christian Quarter.
After hours of waiting, Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox patriarch emerges from the sealed empty tomb with a lit candle, a strange deed considered an annual Holy Saturday miracle preceding Orthodox Easter Sunday.
The light is then immediately distributed among the devout gathering inside and outside the darkened cathedral.
Israeli police claimed they were striving to protect the safety of Holy Fire event attendees.
“The safety of all participants is critical to Israel police.” Officers are striving to help the flow of participants coming in big numbers, according to a statement.
Nonetheless, the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land expressed deep outrage and grief when Israeli occupation authorities turned Jerusalem into a military barracks and banned entry to the church, in what appeared to be an intensification of state-sponsored religious persecution.
The coalition’s president, Dimitri Diliani, criticized the repressive measures as “blatant violations of the most basic human rights.”
He stated that the international community “should express deep concern about the racist nature of the Israeli occupation authorities, which is manifesting itself these days in religious persecution against anyone who is not Jewish.” The National Christian Coalition advocates for the protection of all Palestinians’ rights, including Muslims and Christians.”
Despite the Israeli occupation forces’ ruthless suppression, he noted, the alliance “has worked tirelessly over the past week to mobilize as many worshippers and celebrants as possible, challenging the tyrannical restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation.”
Diliani congratulated the patriarchs and leaders of Jerusalem’s churches for taking a united stance against the occupying forces’ choices and refusing to acknowledge their authority over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
“We will continue to exercise our natural right to freely worship in Jerusalem, regardless of the risks and challenges we face,” he stated.
In other news, Israeli authorities entered the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque again on Saturday, removing banners and flags that had been raised on the Dome of the Rock on Friday.