A group of Christians from East Jerusalem, on Sunday, said that Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian mobility has resulted in violations of religious freedoms. The statement, signed ‘Palestinian Christian Organizations in Occupied East Jerusalem,’ complained that Christians are often denied access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the Easter holidays, according to a report via Al Ray Palestinian Media Agency.
Each Easter, checkpoints are erected ‘at the Gates and in the alley, thus preventing the worshipers from free access to the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the vicinity of the Christian Quarter.’
Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian Christians are a part of larger strategy of Judaization in Jerusalem, the statement said.
‘The restrictive measures constitute grave violation on the freedom of worship, and amount to discrimination against Christians because the occupation authorities want to negate Christian presence and create the impression of a Jewish-only city.’
Both Christians and Muslims are often ‘unable to worship freely and to be with their families and friends’ during religious holidays because of Israel’s actions, the statement went on to note. The organizations called on Christians to make attempts to attend Easter celebrations in Jerusalem despite the countless restrictions.
Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem filed, last February, a petition accusing the Israeli police of erecting roadblocks and barricades in and around the Old City, on that day, deterring worshipers from even attempting to access the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and other sites, for Holy Saturday celebrations.
In a report published in 2012, the US State Department made similar observations. ‘Strict closures and curfews imposed by the Israeli government negatively affected residents’ ability to practice their religion at holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, as well as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem,’ the report said.
‘The separation barrier significantly impeded Bethlehem-area Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and made visits to Christian sites in Bethany (al-Eizariya) and Bethlehem difficult for Palestinian Christians who live on the Jerusalem side of the barrier.’
According to the PNN, an internal EU report on the situation in East Jerusalem, published on March 18, also cites the Easter restrictions and police aggressiveness in 2013, and stated that the presence of armed Israeli security personnel in the church was very disturbing.
The Israel Police responded by saying, ‘The police is preparing to secure the Saturday of Light event and to assure the security of the many participants, as is done for other events in which it enables all religions freedom of worship, subject to the law and maintenance of public order. As every year, there will be roadblocks around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and participants’ entry will be supervised, to prevent a disaster and maintain their safety.’
The state’s response to the petition, which was submitted on Sunday, is that the Israeli High Court has no reason to intervene in reasonable police considerations. But Judge Noam Solberg decided that a panel of three judges should hear the petition this week.
East Jerusalem, including the historic Old City, was occupied by Israeli forces in 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.
Palestinian Christians are awaiting a High Court of Justice ruling on a petition asking the Israeli occupation and their police to drop the heavy movement and security restrictions which have prevented worshipers from accessing holy sites in East Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, during the past several years.
Holy Saturday, which is the day before Easter, falls this year on April 19.