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Position of the local Palestinian Christian community on restrictions on religious rights (especially during Holy Week)

08 April 2011 | Kairos Palestine

The Palestinian Christian initiative Kairos Palestine has issued a statement spelling out the position of the Palestinian Christian community concerning Israeli imposed restrictions on religious rights, especially during Holy Week.

The statement notes that “for Christians, Holy Week in Jerusalem has a special spiritual connection.” It says that the various gathering points to which pilgrims from all over the world journey, namely the Old City, its gates and roads, the Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa and The Holy Sepulchre Church, are equally important to the Palestinian Christians of the West Bank and Gaza.

The statement underlines the strong desire of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza “to join their Jerusalemite Christian brothers and sisters in the liturgical events leading to the resurrection, the holiest celebration in Christianity”.

The statement points out that “in every country that respects (and practices) freedom of worship, they do so without “restrictions from the governing authorities”. It proceeds to bemoan the fact that the occupying power has denied free access to Holy places of worship to both Christians and Muslims on several important occasions over the last decade.

This discriminatory and restrictive policy by Israel allows only 8000 pilgrims and few hundreds of locals to enter the city on Holy Fire Saturday. The Holy Sepulchre Church and other crucial religious sites are rendered “off limits for Christians through a complex network of walls, checkpoints, and security apparatuses”.

Traditionally, Palestinian Christians welcome The Holy Light seated on the roof of the Patriarchate and at the Church of Saint Jacob, adjoining the Holy Sepulchre. This religious tradition is something they are unwilling to forfeit because it is a violation of a fundamental human rights and a restriction on their right to religious freedom. It further upsets a centuries old tradition for the Palestinian Christians.

Kairos Palestine decries this unjust and one-sided policy which compels Christians and Muslims to apply for permits to enter while Jews continue to have free access. At best, not more than two or three thousand Palestinian Christians will receive entry permits. The permit system instated by Israel is in obvious violation of various Human Rights, international covenants and treaties to which Israel is a signatory.

Kairos Palestine rejects “the imposition of a permit/quota system to access our churches and shrines”. The Kairos statement points to how “the heavy presence of Israeli Police and Military forces prevents Christians from accessing the Holy Sepulchre Church and the Old City” thus disturbing the spiritual atmosphere of Easter”. The presence of Israeli commanders in and around the Tomb of Christ under the pretext of security is unacceptable.

The Kairos statement states that such actions taken against Palestinian Christians are an affront not only to them, the first and oldest Christian community in the world, but also to Christianity as a whole.

The Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum urges churches around the world to support the call of Kairos Palestine which invites “all our leaders, friends, brothers and sisters around the world to continue exerting pressure on Israel, to end its military occupation on this land and to respect international law and human rights”. In terms of practical measures, Kairos Palestine urges:

Church leaders not to submit and accept the conditions that deprive indigenous and international worshippers of the joy of celebrating Easter.

Letters to political representatives to pressure Israel by political means to end its restrictions on the freedom to religion in general and with regard to the Easter celebrations in particular.

Letters of protest to Israeli ambassadors in your countries complaining against such actions.

Click here for the full text of the statement from Kairos Palestine.