Christians in the Holy Land and throughout the world are remembering the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem this week. However, not all those hoping to travel from Palestine have been granted an entry permit by Israel.
Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
“Pope Francis, Palestine wants justice!” Holding up large posters, Palestinian Christians drew attention last weekend to the plight of people living in the occupied territories, in an appeal to the Pope, who will be travelling to the Holy Land at the end of May this year. They had travelled in buses from all over the West Bank to Jerusalem in order to take part in the traditional Palm Sunday processions commemorating the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. On Sunday afternoon, thousands of Christians, both native and pilgrims from all over the world, joined together for this reason to process from Bethphage, where Our Lord is believed to have mounted the donkey, to the church of Saint Anne in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“We are looking forward tremendously to Pope Francis. It is so important that he is visiting us in Palestine and making the world aware of our situation, behind walls and barbed wire“, Suzanne, a Catholic woman from Bethlehem, explains excitedly. Her family, her daughters and grandchildren, are clearly in sympathy with her heartfelt words, for they all nod in agreement. “It is sometimes easier to travel to America than to Jerusalem, which is just 6 miles away,” says her daughter Marcelle. “And yet for us, as Christians, Bethlehem and Jerusalem belong together like brother and sister. It should not even be necessary to have an entry permit in order to be able to travel to the Christian Holy Places.”
It is a view shared by Rifat Kassis. He is a member of the interdenominational Christian human rights organisation Kairos Palestine. Speaking to ACN on Monday, he commented: “Only in Israel do you have to have a permit in order to pray. Our interdenominational organization has therefore been calling on the international community for years to put pressure on Israel to change this practice. Palestinian Muslims and Christians should be able to visit their holy places in Jerusalem without difficulty, in order to pray. “
16 000 applications for entry
Since the Second Intifada, the rebellion against the Israeli occupation by Palestinian Muslims, which lasted from 2000 until 2005, and the subsequent building of the wall, entry for Palestinians from the occupied territories into Israel has been made enormously more difficult by the Israeli government. Whereas, prior to this, tens of thousands of Palestinian workers used to travel daily between their homes in the West Bank and their place of work in Israel, this movement has almost entirely ceased today. Now Palestinians from the West Bank and from Gaza must apply to the so-called civil administration for permits to enter Israel. These are in fact the Israeli authorities responsible for the administration of the occupied territories, and they are the ones who grant travel and work permits for Israel. But, again and again, there are complaints on the part of Christians that entry permits for the Christian Easter ceremonies in Jerusalem are deliberately treated restrictively. For example, Yusef Daher, a Catholic and a member of the Jerusalem InterchurchCentre, based in Jerusalem, explains to ACN that the system of granting permits often makes no logical sense. “Some members of the family are granted permission, while another member is forced to remain behind the walls,” he tells us.
When asked on Monday by ACN, a spokesman for the Israeli civil administration informed us that this year 16,000 applications had been received from Palestinian Christians from the West Bank for entry into Israel for the Easter ceremonies. “Of these we have so far granted 14,000, and we are working on the rest. After all, there are still a few days to go before the Christian feast of Easter.” The spokesman added that some 500 Christians were also expected from Gaza. Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has been given lower figures, however. The bishop, who is responsible for the Palestinian territories, told ACN that according to information from the Israeli Interior Ministry, by Sunday only around 10,000 entry permits had been granted. “This is fewer than requested,” he told ACN.