ICC NOTE: In a move which has been viewed as a first for the region, Israel has granted a substantially large number of Christians living in Gaza to visit Jerusalem to celebrate Easter. approximately 850 Palestinian Christians will be able to enter the holy city and celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Typically, travel permits have been given at random for Christians in Gaza but with the amount given this year it could be a first step towards a more relaxed holiday travel. Passover and Easter have coincided the past two years, placing a heavy burden upon Israeli security forces working to maintain security among the holy sites. It is a blessing to see so many Christians able to celebrate Easter where Jesus walked 2,000 years ago.
3/22/2016 Israel/Gaza (Christian Post) – Israel has granted approximately 850 Palestinian Christians who live in the Gaza Strip permits allowing them to visit Jerusalem for Easter.
“Muhammad al-Maqadma [spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs] said the permits were the result of ‘dedicated efforts’ by Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh in order to enable hundreds of Christians to celebrate the holidays within a span of 45 days,” reported the Middle Eastern publication Ma’an News.
“This is the first time such a large number of Christians from Gaza received permits to travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem,” al-Maqadma told Ma’an Saturday.
For years Israel has garnered controversy for how it oversees access to Jerusalem on various holy days for Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
The U.K.-based publication the Catholic Herald ran a story Monday alleging that Israeli officials are purposely restricting Christians access to the holy city.
The Herald cited Yusef Daher, secretary-general of the Jerusalem Interchurch Centre, who argued that officials were not allowing sufficient access to sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
“Over the past two years the Jewish Passover and Easter holiday have coincided and while the Jews entering the Old City have had complete freedom of movement, the movement of Christians celebrating Good Friday and the Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony have been restricted by the barriers, Daher said,” noted the Herald.
In a press briefing last week, the rector of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Father Jamal Khader contrasted the recent distribution of permits by Israel to past years.
“In previous years, permits (for Gaza Christians) were given randomly, and if they don’t have them for the whole family, they cannot come,” stated Khader.
“Can you imagine some members of the family coming to celebrate in Jerusalem and leaving behind their family? It’s not in our traditions, we celebrate together. So we had the experience in previous years when very few came. This year I’m not sure.”