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Palestinian Christians vow to mark Easter in Jerusalem

March 27, 2010 12:45 P.M. (Updated: March 30, 2010 6:00 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Orthodox organizations in Palestine have called on Palestinian Christians to celebrate Holy Fire Saturday in Jerusalem, in spite of Israeli restrictions placed upon worshipers.

The traditional Orthodox ceremony, which takes place after Palm Sunday, is the transfer of fire that is said to emanate from Jesus' tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City, by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch to the congregation through candles and torches.

Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip are made to apply for permits allowing them entry to the occupied part of the city. Gaza residents are less likely to receive approval from Israeli authorities.

The Council of Arab Orthodox Organizations urged the heads of churches in Jerusalem "to stand by the rights and aspirations of their congregation and to stand up to the discriminatory policies of Israel with the freedom of worship."

"We urge Palestinian Christians to celebrate Holy fire Saturday in Jerusalem despite all the Israeli occupation policies aiming to restrict our historic rights and push us toward immigration," a statement read.

"Easter is the most important holy celebration for Christians. Unfortunately, the Israeli authorities have been taking actions during the last years to prevent Palestinian Christians of reaching to the Holy Sepulcher and its environs under the pretext of security," in violation of the 400-year-old status quo that entitles Palestinian Christians to Easter rituals and processions for Holy Fire Saturday. Palestinians are also often prevented from participating in processions conducted throughout the Old City of Jerusalem, the statement added.

On 4 March, Christian organizations asked the heads of churches in Jerusalem to protect "the very existence of Christianity and take a clear stand" on access to holy sites and on conducting religious rites, particularly the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. "We have not received any response."

"No Palestinian, Christian or Muslim, should be forced to apply for a permit to have access to occupied East Jerusalem," the organization wrote, adding that checkpoints in the Old City of Jerusalem and the request made by the Israeli police for Jerusalemite Christians to reduce the number of local worshipers at the Holy Sepulcher is "against the status quo ... We reject any party who wants to either change our traditions or compromise our rights."

The organization called on the international community, the Quartet, and the Christian world to take all the needed measures to "prevent illegal and discriminatory policies" affecting the freedom of worship in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of occupied Palestinian territories, and urged Arab League summit conveners to take a "firm stand regarding policies taken against Palestinian traditions, heritage, and against the Judaization of Jerusalem."
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