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Christians demand freedom of access during Easter

April 7, 2011 2:42 P.M. (Updated: April 8, 2011 8:38 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- As Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza await news on permits from Israel to visit holy sites in Jerusalem, local Christians issued a call for the respect of freedom of worship.

"For Christians, Holy Week in Jerusalem has a special spiritual connection," said a statement from the Kairos Palestine group on Wednesday. Holy sites "are equally important to the Palestinian Christians of Gaza and the West bank, who want to join their Jerusalemite Christian brethren in the liturgical events leading to the resurrection, the holiest celebration in Christianity."

Kairos Palestine called for unfettered access to holy sites and an overhaul of Israel's permit system, which the group called an "obvious violation of the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights], Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants and treaties to which Israel is a signatory."

Each year church leaders submit requests to Israel's Coordination Office for Government Activities in the Territories, with only a fraction of the faithful being granted access.

Since 1991 Gaza residents who want to visit, work, or study in the West Bank or Israel have to apply for a permit from the Israeli military. Since the imposition of a blockade in 2007, only a tiny number of permits have been issued.

In 2010, 300 permits were issued for the estimated 5,000-strong Christian community in Gaza. Many could not go, however, as spouses and children from the same family were denied access.

Passover results in restrictions for Christians

The overlap of the Jewish passover holiday with the Easter celebrations for the Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities has also meant that those who do receive permits cannot use them for all of Easter.

For the past several years, Israel has declared a military closure of the West Bank during Passover, which this year falls from April 19-25, while Easter will extend from April 20-25.

Kairos condemned the privileging of Jewish access to Jerusalem over Christians, adding that "Actions taken against Palestinian Christians, the first and oldest Christian community in the world, attack not only the Palestinian people and their rights in the occupied city of Jerusalem, but in reality, the whole Christianity."
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