Christians hope for an 'open Jerusalem' for Easter


Christians in Jerusalem said on Thursday that they are hoping for an "open Jerusalem" ahead of Passover and Easter celebrations in the city.

Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza receive special permits to enter Jerusalem for Easter, where the traditional sites of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection are located in the Israeli-occupied east of the city. But Palestinian Christian Youssef Daher said the sparse allocation of permits can sometimes cut across families.

"Many families, in Gaza for example, get them only for some members and are therefore separated for the festival," said Daher of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre.

In 1980, the Jewish state annexed east Jerusalem in an act never recognised by the international community. Israel says the whole city is its united capital, while the Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Sites holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews are on the east side, under Israeli control.

This Easter Sunday falls on 16 April, during the Jewish Passover festival which runs from sunset 10 April until the evening of 17 April.

But during Passover, when Jewish worshippers flock to the Western Wall, even Palestinians from east Jerusalem need a permit to enter its walled Old City, site of the wall and the church of the Holy Sepulchre, said local Christian resident Nora Karmi.

"Gradually, with the occupation and the introduction of permits and checkpoints, we became further and further removed from Jerusalem," Father Jamal Khader, director of the Latin Patriarchate seminary, told journalists in Arabic. "It is awful to see young Palestinians living all their lives without seeing Jerusalem."

"They don't know the Holy Sepulchre or the Dome of the Rock (Muslim shrine) except from pictures," he added. "They are forbidden to enter (by Israel) on the pretext of security reasons. We want an open Jerusalem: Jerusalem should receive all Christian, Muslim and Jewish visitors and pilgrims."

In the past, Karmi said, Palestinians were not the only Arab visitors to the Old City.

"You could hear Lebanese Arabic, Syrian Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, everybody was gathering here," she said. "Since the occupation, sadly the people from Arab countries stopped coming."

Lebanon and Syria, both technically at war with Israel, forbid their citizens to visit Israel or the Palestinian territories, access to which is controlled by the Jewish state, except for a single crossing from Egypt to the Gaza Strip, which is almost permanently closed.

Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, but its Christian leaders do not encourage their faithful to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land as long as the occupation continues.    (AFP)

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