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Watch: Christian groups decry Israeli restrictions ahead of Easter
Published Monday 14/04/2014 (updated) 25/05/2014 10:10
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After many Christians were barred from attending Easter week services
in 2010, hundreds walked to the checkpoint separating Bethlehem from
Jerusalem and tried to cross. (MaanImages/Luay Sababa)

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Christian groups in Jerusalem have launched a campaign condemning Israeli restrictions on freedom of worship in advance of Easter, as some fear a repeat of the police violence the holy city has witnessed in years past.

Produced by the local Palestinian organization Ma'an for Development and Progress in the Christian Quarter with the support of a number of Christian Jerusalem youth groups, a new video calls for "freedom of worship for all" in Jerusalem.

"Christians are the indigenous inhabitants of this land and all we want is to be able to worship freely and normally in our holy sites," Benayot Benayot, a member of the group that produced the video, said in a telephone interview.

"There is no more freedom for Christians in reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre," Benayot added, stressing how the combination of checkpoints and police violence had deterred many Christians from coming during the holy week leading up to Easter.

Every year, millions of Christians -- including tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians -- converge upon the holy city to mark the holiest days of the Christian calendar.

In recent years, however, these celebrations have been marred by violence, and at times Israeli authorities have even banned Palestinian Christians from entering the city to celebrate their holidays, even while allowing foreign pilgrims in.

Benayot said that last year when he tried to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he was assaulted at a checkpoint Israeli forces had erected.

"They arrested me, beat me and took me away when I went to go the church with my family and my children," Benayot said, condemning the "brutal" attacks by the police he and other Christians were subjected to last year as they attempted to reach the holy sites.

"Families have stopped coming here for the holy days because they are afraid of what will happen if they try," he added.

Palestinians also charge that Israeli authorities have also erected large numbers of police checkpoints around the Old City of Jerusalem during the festivities, which attracts a large percentage of the 200,000-strong Palestinian Christian community.

"Jerusalem has changed so much that it is difficult for me to see it anymore," Benayot said.



'Persecution against Christians and Arabs is always there'

Amid scenes of police violence against worshipers during last year's Easter ceremonies, the video highlights policies it says are designed to limit Christian access to their sites of worship and interviews a number of prominent Palestinian Christian leaders.

Issa Kassissieh, the Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See, argued that there is "systematic policy" to prevent Christian worship that has escalated in the past three years.

During Easter last year, Kassissieh recounted, "the rooftop of the Church and courtyard were empty, except for checkpoints and police," even while many worshipers were stuck at checkpoints nearby.

Ibrahim Faltas, the General Administrator of the Custody of Holy Land, stressed that the restrictions imposed upon Christians are not, however, limited to Easter time, but reflect wider Israeli policies against Palestinians in Jerusalem.

"Persecution against Christians and Arabs is always there," he said, adding that he believed Easter week was "targeted" because it was the most visible demonstration of Christian presence during the year.

In a report published in 2012, the US State Department highlighted Israeli restrictions on the freedom of worship of Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike.

"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."

A statement released last week signed by major Palestinian Christian organizations in occupied East Jerusalem tied these restrictions into the official Israeli policy of "Judaization" in Jerusalem.

"The occupation authorities want to negate Christian presence and create the impression of a Jewish-only city," the statement said.


'We live here and will remain here steadfast'

The policy of Judaization also involves the denial of construction and long-term residency permits to Palestinian residents while allowing the construction of thousands of settlement homes for Jews in order to shift the demographic balance.

Since Israel first occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, authorities have also increasingly separated the holy city from the surrounding Palestinian West Bank through a system of permits, checkpoints, and a separation wall that have cut the city off from its historic hinterland.

Strict quotas for permits for West Bank Palestinians to enter Jerusalem mean that very few are able to regularly enter the city, including the more than 50,000 estimated West Bank Christians.

The result of these policies has been an effective, albeit gradual, population shift, as thousands of Palestinians have been pressured or forced to leave Jerusalem.

Despite this, Christian Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem remain determined to maintain their presence in the holy city and protect their freedom of worship.

"I see myself and all of us, the Christian families in Jerusalem, as the guardians and protectors of the Holy Land and the custodians of the holy places," Issa Kassissieh, the Palestinian ambassador to the Vatican, said in the video.

"We live here and will remain here steadfast."
Print
1 ) Colin Wright / USA
15/04/2014 00:13
This can't be right. The Zionists keep assuring us that all Christians wuv Israel the bestest and appreciate and enjoy the fine treatment they receive from her.

2 ) Colin Wright / USA
15/04/2014 07:05
Obviously, Christians need to learn their place. I'd advise Israel to bring that whip down real hard. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

3 ) tsfardea / UK
15/04/2014 09:48
"We live here and will remain here steadfast." Because we well know how badly Christians are persecuted in the neighbouring Islamic countries.

4 ) d'Arc / USA
15/04/2014 10:12
Holding services outdoors and closing the buildings in protest may be necessary to wake up the western tourists to the reality of how Christians are treated, with homilies about the effects of the restrictions on Palestinian Christians, translated and simulcasted into multiple European languages on Christmas and Easter. For each denomination's calendar. Holding services outdoors is completely non-violent. Just a little embarrassing to the Israeli propaganda machine.

5 ) Mel / USA
15/04/2014 15:52
My fellow Christians,what do you expect of Zionist-led Israel?You somehow believe that Israel treats Christianity with any more respect than Islam,or Buddhism?If it wasn't for so-called'Christian'whackjob MONEY to Israel's ongoing apartheid of pluralistic,multicultural Palestine,then Ashkenazim& their Mizrahim,Ruskie Jim Crow KKK pawns'd gas Christians WITH Muslims! Parasite Israel's HOSTS are 'Christians'&imperialists.W/out them Israel'd LYNCH all 'untermenschen',incld.it's own ultra-OrthoJews!

6 ) Rami / Palestine
16/04/2014 13:34
#3 Your comment makes no sense. So according to you, the reason that I consider myself a son of Ramallah and that it is my home is because if I moved to Zimbabwe or Albuquerque, New Mexico or Uzbekistan, I'd be treated differently? Wow, great logic.

7 ) Concepta Flynn / Eire
18/04/2014 19:06
I couldn't imagine having to endure such trials in order to attend Mass over Easter, so sad for the Palestinian Christians. However, we should remember that many of our brethren have been persecuted for their faith, and this brings the message home to us. It is a pity that they cannot send this video all over the world, including the US, it might wake the Evangelicals up a bit. Let us pray for peace in the Holy Land, so that all people can worship without fear or intimidation.

8 ) Mohammed Yousef / USA
05/05/2014 22:24
Thanks for Maa'nnews: I was born in Bethlehem, the city of peace and forgiveness. I have Christian friends more than Muslim, Israel's dirty policy is the same towards anyone who is Palestinian in the ID. They broke the international low beside no one cares. Please pray for the peace of the Holly Land.

9 ) Outlier / USA
20/05/2014 02:09
How many of these restrictions are the result of Palestinians usurping religious sites for often violent political demonstrations? It all hinges on security.

10 ) milan / canada
21/07/2014 04:03
video URL's are: http://youtu.be/7KckSrzlwbo http://youtu.be/VUZxolnnleY http://youtu.be/SVQIvEdxsrA Pray for the psychiatric patients so that they receive A. MEDICATION IS NECCESARY AND MUST BE TAKEN REGULARALY TO PREVENT PERMANENT DAMAGE TO THE BRAIN BY PSYCHOSIS MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WHO SUFFER FROM SCHIZOPHRENIA DO OT KNOW THEY ARE ILL SO THEY DO NOT TAKE THE MEDICATION C. THE ONLY WAY TO DELIVER THE MEDIATION AND PREVENT THE PERMANENT BRAIN DAMAGE IS WITH A LAW THAT PROVI
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