Christians call for protest against Israeli travel permits for Easter

By on March 29, 2010

Holy Land Christians are calling on their religious leaders to protest against the travel permit system imposed by Israel during Easter celebrations.The situation is complicated in 2010 by the overlapping of Easter with the Jewish feast of the Passover.”Any system which assigns entry permits to Easter celebrations necessarily denies the rest of the faithful their rights of participation in these religious events,” they wrote in a letter that has been circulated during the month of March.Some 103 Christian lay leaders and 21 Christian organizations of all denominations, including the Near East Council of Churches, Gaza and Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees, Sabeel, the YMCA-Jerusalem, Bethlehem Bible College, Norwegian Church Aid and Arab Orthodox Society, signed the document.Like all West Bank Palestinians, Christians must have permits to travel to Jerusalem. During Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter the Israeli Civil Administration normally issues special permits which theoretically allow Christians to travel back and forth to their holy sites and to visit family freely during the holiday period.However, the lay leaders noted in their letter that the permit system is not honoured when Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday under the pretext of security concerns.Easter is considered the holiest of Christian feasts, when believers mark the raising of Jesus from the dead.  Passover is a Jewish festival commemorating the Hebrews’ escape from enslavement in Egypt during Old Testament times. “This is further proof of the inherently discriminatory nature of the denial of the basic rights to religious observance,” they wrote, calling on religious leaders to “encourage the faithful” to boycott the permit system and to arrive at checkpoints without permits. “This could be an occasion to confirm that religious observance does not need permits and that the selective process of permit issuance is categorically unacceptable,” the Christians say in their letter.They note that more “specific infractions” on the rights of faithful occur during the Greek Orthodox Easter observance of the Holy Fire, when tens of thousands of pilgrims and local people flock to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to witness the Holy Fire brought forth from the site believed to be Jesus’ tomb. Restrictions are placed on local Christians by Israeli authorities under the pretext of security during the ceremony and many are not able to attend.Quoting from a 1994 Lent memorandum of the Patriarchs and church leaders, the lay leaders said: “For Christianity, Jerusalem is the place of roots, ever living and nourishing. In Jerusalem is born every Christian. To be in Jerusalem is for every Christian to be at home.”

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