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Tough road to Jerusalem for Palestinian Christians

ICC Note:

While Israel works to secure its borders, most Palestinians from the West Bank, Christian as well as Muslim, must get Israel's permission to visit Jerusalem, the National reports.

By Hugh Naylor

4/2/2012 Palestinian territories (National) – If he could, Ibrahim Khoury would bring his family to this city every Sunday.

But in his way are Israel's walls and bureaucracy that restrict him and other Christian Palestinians from entering Jerusalem.

Unlike the 280,000 Palestinians who hold Jerusalem residency, he - like most Palestinians from the West Bank, Christian as well as Muslim - must get Israel's permission to visit the city that is his cultural and spiritual home.

But yesterday, the Khoury family was part of a group of Roman Catholics from Ramallah allowed in to celebrate Palm Sunday.

Although a joyful experience a week before Easter, it was also bittersweet for Mr Khoury: he lamented the obstacles to visiting his most important holy sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Stations of the Cross.

"Israel tells the radio and the newspapers that there is freedom of religion here, but in reality, it's not like this at all," said Mr Khoury, 68, an architect who lives in Ramallah. It was his first visit to Jerusalem in more than a year.

Like Christian communities in Egypt and Iraq, those in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories have dwindled as people moved away.

There are fewer than 60,000 Palestinian Christians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Members of the 13 Christian denominations here now collectively form less than 2 per cent of the Palestinian population. Their numbers have continued to fall since Israel's creation in 1948. That was when as many as 60,000 Christian Palestinians were expelled or fled because of the fighting, part of a wave of 750,000 Palestinians who became refugees.

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