Palestinian Christian organizations, figures and many other Palestinians from the Jerusalem and the surrounding area have sent a letter on March 4, to the heads of churches in Jerusalem, demanding them to encourage all Christians in Palestine to enter Jerusalem for the Easter celebrations without applying for permits from the Israeli authorities.The letter also condemns the Israeli measures of preventing many people from entering the vicinity of the church of the Holy Sepulcher during the holy week,and stresses on the right of worship for all human beings in their holy sites.

A full copy of the letter and the names of the signatories up to date below:

Jerusalem March 4th 2010

H. B. Patriarch Kyrios Kyrios Theopholis III of Jerusalem
H. B. Patriarch Fouad Twal, Patriarch of the Latin Church
H. B. Patriarch Torkom Manoogian, Patriarch of Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church
H. G. Most Rev. Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land
H. G. Most Rev. Archbishop Dr. Anba Abraham – Coptic Orthodox Church
H.G. Most Rev. Archbishop Mar Swerios Melki Murad, Syrian-Orthodox Church
H. G. Most Rev. Archbishop Abba Matthaious – Ethiopian Orthodox Church
H. G. Most Rev. Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayyah – Maronite Church
H. G. Most Rev. Bishop Suheil Dawani – Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese
H. G. Most Rev. Bishop Dr. Munib Younan – Evangelical Lutheran Church
H.G. Most Rev. Bishop Pierre Malki – Syrian-Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
H.G. Bishop Jul Al-Zraa’i – Greek Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
H. G. Most Rev. Fr Rafael Minassian – Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

Your Beatitudes, Graces and Most Reverends

Re: Upcoming Easter Celebrations and Ensuring Participation of Local Faithful

The upcoming Easter Celebrations are most significant for cementing the faith of the local and expatriate faithful who flock to the Holy Land and to Jerusalem, in specific in reaffirmation of old age traditions and in hope for the vigor and strength that these celebrations offer.

As we approach these Celebrations, we are reminded of the infractions imposed by the Israeli authorities on Freedom of Access to the Holy Sites during the Holy Week that particularly target the local Palestinian Christian population residing in the Palestinian Territories. The permit system instituted by the Israeli authorities to allow a limited number of faithful to arrive to Jerusalem or Bethlehem during the high holidays is itself an affirmation of the systemic infraction of basic human rights of access and of religious observance.

From the practices from previous years even the permit system instituted by the Israeli authorities themselves is not honored when Easter coincides with the Hebrew Pessach. Using hermetic closure of the Palestinian Territories as an excuse, all permits issued by the Israeli authorities are no longer respected as the faithful are turned back at checkpoints with the excuse of ‘CLOSURE’. This is further proof of the inherently discriminatory nature of the denial of the basic rights to religious observance. We call upon all of Your Beatitudes, Graces and Most Reverends to encourage the faithful to arrive from the rest of the Palestinian Territories without the need for having 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.

More specific infractions on the rights of the faithful during Easter Celebrations is the order by the Israeli authorities for the encirclement of the Old City of Jerusalem and denial of freedom of entry to the local faithful as well as pilgrims on pretexts of public safety and order. This is particularly the case during the celebration of Holy Fire on the Saturday of Light preceding Easter Sunday. Hundreds of local faithful families from Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country are denied entry to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its vicinity. The pretexts used by the Israeli authorities to deny the faithful participation in the most sacred of the Easter rites are unacceptable and are further proof of the purposeful denial of the basic right of access to religious sites and participation in religious observances. Throughout the Ottoman, British Mandate and Jordanian times thousands of local faithful and pilgrims took part in the celebrations. Never was there a feeling of exclusion as is felt nowadays particularly on celebrating the ceremony of Holy Fire. Tens of Greek Orthodox families traditionally carry their family banners in the ceremony and are among the first to receive the holy fire. These families are not able to access the Holy Sepulcher due to the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities.

The Kairos Palestine Document states: ‘Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.’

We ask Your Beatitudes, Graces and Most Reverends to ensure that all faithful who wish to participate in the different celebrations, rites and rituals of the reinvigorating Easter Liturgy are able to do so without hindrance. Any system which assigns entry permits to Easter celebrations necessarily denies the rest of the faithful their rights of participation in these religious events. We trust that the faithful are cognizant of the issue of public safety and we would ask you to involve the various Boy Scout troupes pertaining to your respective Church communities in ensuring orderly conduct and crowd management. This is done in various celebrations without the interference and restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities that are often unaware and insensitive to the significance of the religious ceremonies in which the faithful wish to participate.
It is befitting to recall at this blessed Lent Season the paragraph in the 1994 Memorandum of Your Beatitudes the Patriarchs and the Heads of the Christian Communities in Jerusalem on the Significance of Jerusalem for Christians:
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. For almost two thousand years, through so many hardships and the succession of so many powers, the local Church with its faithful has always been actively present in Jerusalem. Across the centuries, the local Church has been witnessing to the life and preaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ upon the same Holy places, and its faithful have been receiving other brothers and sisters in the faith, as pilgrims, resident or in transit, inviting them to be reimmersed into the refreshing, ever living ecclesiastical sources. That continuing presence of a living Christian community is inseparable from the historical sites. Through the ‘living stones’ the holy archaeological sites take on ‘life.’

As we wholeheartedly support this statement, we ask for your quick consideration of this issue since we do not want for yet another Easter to pass and the faithful experiencing once again the denial of their basic and natural rights for active and full participation in the celebrations.

Respectfully Yours,

Organizations that have endorsed the letter so far

*Arab Orthodox Union Club – Jerusalem
*Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies – Beit Sahour
*Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People – Beit Sahour
*Arab Educational Institute – Pax Christi Palestine
*National Christian Association – Jerusalem
*Arab Catholic Boy Scouts – Jerusalem
*Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees MECC Central Office
*Near East Council of Churches – MECC Gaza
*Bethlehem Bible College
*The Laity Committee in the Holy Land
*International Christian Committee
*Peace and Democracy Forum Jerusalem
*Arab Orthodox Society
*Norwegian Church Aid
*Al Liqa’ Center – Bethlehem
*Holylanders Society for the Preservation of Christian Heritage
*Wi’am Center –Bethlehem
*Indiana Center for Middle East Peace
*YMCA – Jerusalem
*LDCs – BirZeit

George Rishmawi, Palestinian Center for Rapprochement, Siraj Center for Holy land Studies
Nabil Mushahwar, Head Arab Orthodox Union Club
Fouad Giacaman, Arab Educational Institute (Pax Christi – Palestine)
Issa Kassisieh, Director – Negotiations Support Unit
Andre Batarseh, General Secretary – YMCA Jerusalem
Ibrahim Matar, National Christian Association
Mousa Qamar, Arab Catholic Scouts Group
Fr. Jamal Khader, Religious Studies Bethlehem University
Dr. Bernard Sabella, Palestinian Legislative Member
Sami El Yousef, Regional Director for Palestine & Israel, Pontifical Mission
George Stephan, Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees – MECC
Nora Carmi, Sabeel
Nicola Saba, Lawyer – Jaffa
Bishara Awad, Bethlehem Bible College
Rifat Kassis, Director DCI
Yusef Daher, The Laity Committee in the Holy Land
Ramzi Zananiri, Director International Christian Committee
Afif Safieh, Palestinian Ambassador-at-Large
Issa Samandar, Coordinator LDCs
Simon Kouba, Architect
Sam’an Khoury, Peace and Democracy Forum East Jerusalem
Constantine S. Dabbagh, Director – NECCRW/Gaza, Refugee Work, Gaza
Audeh Quawas, Medical Doctor – Amman/Jordan
Nora Kort, Arab Orthodox Society
Geries Khoury, Al Liqa’ Center – Bethlehem
Liv Steimoeggen, Norwegian Church Aid
Peter Abu Shanab, Holylanders Society for the Preservation of Christian Heritage
L. Michael Spath, Indiana Center for Middle East Peace
Zoughbi Zoughbi, Wi’am Center

Nadim Asfour
Nader Butros Tafesh
Laurence Carlos Samour
Khader Giacaman
Khaled George Abu Rdeineh
Hajar Antoine Hazboun
Rafiq Akaleh
Basem Hanna Basem
Khader Hanna Al A’ash
Fareed Ghazi Freij
Marcel Mike George Du’ik
Charlie Rizeq
Charlie Farah Batu
Rami Robert Rama
William Robert Suleiman
George Bishara George Ghazaleh
Khalil George Al Hazen
Jiries Qumsiyeh
Jimmy Issa Jamil Ba’bish
Yousef Antoine Yousef Al Araj
Yousef Antoine Ayoub
Michael Shaheen
Daoud Wakileh
Sami Iskandar George Wakileh
Yousef Butros Yousef Jahshan
Antoine George Suleiman Shammas
George Jahshan
Speer Jahshan
Al Mukhtar Zaki Hazou
Robert Sabella
Zari Calebinyan
Geries Shatara
Fernando Albert
Sami Al Sayeh
Bendaly Baqleh
George Baqleh
Usama Baqleh
Jiries Al Sousou
Antoine Abdo
Samuel Shehadeh
Yacoub Said
Samir Habash
Shehadeh Habash
Issa Habash
Hanna Bawab
Yousef Bawab
Abdallah Said
Adi Said
Rizeq Sara
Faris Mansour
Shehadeh Ibrahim
Therese Abdallah
Elias Wakileh
George Basous
Usama Dalo
Jack Rock
Hanna Rimon Qamar
Issa Majed
Na’im Al Sha’er
Yourgu Hirmandes
Nabil Abdallah
Antoine Hajjar
Yousef Jahshan
Maha Sahliyeh
Shadia Sleibi
Jumana Suleiman
Hadil Moussa
John Dabis
Ellen Zreeq
Vicky Ourshibyan
Ibrahim Azar
Munir Kasabreh
Yacoub El Yousef
Sawsan Musallam
Rania El Yousef
Shadi Khalil
Ra’afat Ibrahim
Antoine Farah
Haroun Manashyan
Hanna Al Beeni
Nabil Ajrab
Issa Khayat
Marline Azer
Jamal El Yousef
Simon Sam’an
Simon Bahbah
Isam Freij
Emil Stephan
Nijim Za’rour
Faraj Nasrallah
George Katanashu
Samer Salameh
Dr. George Nassar
Nader Stephan
Sam’an Basous
Joni Jad’on
Antoine Najib Hazboun
Nizar Khayou
Elias Yousef Zalfo
Issa Naber
George Murad
George Sam’an
Hanna Jamil Musa
As’ad Ibrahim Mahyoub Hazboun
George Yousef Elias Sham’on
Carlos Canawati
William Murad
Joni Elias
Edward Kabesh
Fadi Abu Ayyash
Shadi Abu Ayyash
Saleh Abu Ayyash
Said Abu Ayyash
Jamil Azer
Maha Abdallah
Asa’d George
George Hanna ijha
Isam William ijha
Elias William ijha
Hanna Elias ijha
Issa Fakhameh
Nasib Murad Nasib
Hanna Asmari
Philip Bishara Dahabreh
Bad’ Bitar
Farid Kort
Simon Kurt
Usama Abu Jaber
Nabil Abdulla Antoine Abu Jaber
Elias Farah Ibrahim Al Bandak
George Ramzi Housheh
Ibrahim George Al Bandak
Murkos Jiries
Hagoub Banyan
Wisam Zumot
Rojeh Hazou
Gabi Asmer Adam
Bassam Dahou
Tawfiq Radifi
Wael Fayez Hanoun
Salim Zidan Freij
Adel Bishara Handel
Michael Zreeneh
Samer Jubran
Nourma Beru
Murad Beru
Natalie Beru
Nina Dabri
George Hanania
Agnas Hanania
Shukri Mubarak
Ellen Hanania
Majdi Sleebi
Khamis Salim Kattan
Samer Hananiya
Suheil Hananiya
Nabil Murad
William Al Naser
Zu’bi Zu’bi
Rev. Michael Spath
Mary Sabella
Rami Sabella
Tala Dawani
Shereen Moussa
Hanan Turjman
Juliette Zakkak
Claire Kahwaji
Suha Z|eidan
Randa Hallac
Iyad Qudsi
Mr. Ibrahim Faltas
Mona Sabella
Margo Sabella
William Alonzo
Suad Nino
Nuha Nino
Maro Zacharian
Elias Alawi
Ra’fat Costa Issa
Sonia Abu Dayyeh
Dr. Maurice Sabella
Hanan Taweel
Aida Alawi
Aida Kawwas
Jamal Siniora
Zack Sabell
Antoine Nesnas
Joseph Hazboun
Dina Zreineh
Michael Awad
Nidal Abu El Zuluf
Lucy Thaljieh
Samer Moussalam
Tony Sabella
Randa Makhlouf
Rula Daher
Samia Khoury
Anton Sabella
Mukhtar Sami Barsoum
Rene Zanbil
Michel Zanbil
Nabil M. Aho
Jamil Khano
George Khano
Linda Ishaq
Georgette Bano
Lisa Bano
Aziza Khano
George Ishaq
Johnny Korik
Father Shimon Jilleh
Father Boulos Khano
Ibrahim Jilleh
Nadia Ishaq
Mimi Mrah
Hannah Ghattas
Fr. Mushe Cicek
Mary Ozgul
Ruben Steward
George Malki
George Foteh
Hanna Yousef Khazmo
Farhah Khayo
Hanna Khazmo
F. Khazmo
George Housheh
Siren Awwad
Johnny Hindo
Shadi Basous
Firas Freij
Elias Basous
Peter Hosh
Fadi Safar
Issa Qanawati
Sari Musleh
Issa Maliha
Rami Mirza
Rafiq Tabash
Jado Qara’ah
Elias Hazin
George Thaljieh
Fadi Abu ‘Alis
Aram Safar
George Safar
Shukri El Hihi
Elias Roony
Jadallah Hosh
Tewfiq Hosh
Peter Hosh
Tony Hosh
Marie Claire Habash
Nawal Sahhar
Jalil Habash
Marwan As’ad

Cc: HE Archbishop Antonio Franco – Apostolic Delegate
HE Consul General Geert Cockx – Belgian Consulate
HE Consul General Richard Makepeace – British Consulate
HE Consul General Frederic Desagneaux – French Consulate
HE Consul General Sotirious Athanassiou – Greek Consulate
HE Consul General Luciano Pezzotti – Italian Consulate
HE Consul General Ramon Ansoain – Spanish Consulate
HE Consul General Nils Eliasson – Swedish Consulate
HE Consul General Daniel Rubinstein – United States Consulate