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12/24/2019 Gaza (International Christian Concern) – Only a few days after Israel announced that Gaza Christians will not receive permits to travel to Bethlehem on Christmas Pilgrimage, the authorities have walked back their original statement. According to a church spokesperson on Monday to the AFP, 192 out of 951 applications have been approved.

The permit restrictions is part of an increasing general trend by the Israeli authorities which limit the ability of Palestinians to travel. National security reasons were cited when the authorities had first said that no permits would be issued this Christmas season.

For Palestinian Christians, the political relationship between Palestine and Israel is deeply impactful on their ability to freely practice their faith. Palestinians are heavily regulated in their movements, which means that for Christians, the opportunity to flee persecution does not exist unless one emigrates. Indeed, such has been the case over the past several decades. Gaza Christians are especially isolated, facing some of the harder versions of these kinds of challenges. It is estimated that there are only 1,000 mainly Orthodox Christians living in Gaza out of a population of 2 million.

The Christmas travel restrictions on Gaza Christians is a notable development. Three years ago, Israel had issued 600 permits to Christian in Gaza, provided they met certain age requirements. Pilgrimages are a common practice for Orthodox Christians, especially during the Easter and Christmas seasons.

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