Because of travel restrictions in past years, the vast majority of Christians living in the West Bank have been stopped at checkpoints and prevented from attending one of the most important religious services of the year. Israeli authorities require permits for entering Jerusalem. Local Christians estimate that only 2,000 — 3,000 permits are provided, despite the overwhelming desire among the 50,000 Palestinian Christians to travel from the West Bank and Gaza for the Easter week celebrations in Jerusalem.
Those who make it across checkpoints and into Israel are still barricaded by numerous walls and other security obstructions. As a result, even many who have permits are unable to make it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 2010, a Palestinian colleague of mine at World Vision, who had warm memories as a child of the Holy Fire service, was able to return to the Holy Sepulchre. She described the scene for those able to gain entrance to the church: “The crowd, striving to stay joyful, could still feel the change of what Easter had now become and the dark cloud of checkpoints, police forces, and denial of entry that had obscured the joy of this holiday.”
While the ancient Christian communities around Jerusalem await the miracle of the Holy Fire this week, I pray for another miracle — one that would give full religious freedom to the Christians in the West Bank and Gaza. Holy Week has long been a time of pilgrimage to Jerusalem; Christians have worshiped there since the birth of the church, and these sites are a core aspect of the devotion of Palestinian believers.
Christian Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza need an entry permit, generally freely granted by the Israeli authorities, to attend religious festivals in Jerusalem.
From Times of Israel:
Israel’s ambassador to the United States on Thursday denounced as “libelous” an article that appeared in The Washington Post which claimed that Israel prevents “the vast majority of Christians living in the West Bank” from entering Jerusalem to attend Easter holy week ceremonies.
“It’s a libelous article,” Ambassador Michael Oren said of the piece.
“The army and security services have created a situation where virtually any Christian in the West Bank can visit the Holy Places in Jerusalem on Good Friday and Easter.” He estimated that some 20,000 entry permits had been issued this year.
Officials said only West Bank Christians suspected of posing a security risk were denied permits. They said Israel also annually issues hundreds of permits for the diminishing Christian community in Hamas-controlled Gaza to come to Jerusalem at Easter.
History repeats itself. See my piece from 2010 disproving a Reuters article claiming that the number of Christians visiting Jerusalem during Holy Week has plummeted since Israel controlled Jerusalem. In reality, it has gone way, way up. And that was when Israel only gave out 10,000 permits for Palestinian Christians - half the number given out this year.
And you may want to read my related 2010 article that destroys a lie about access to holy places in Jerusalem under Jordanian rule that was propagated by an Arab who is in no way an extremist - but that doesn't make him less of a liar.