Holy Land Christians respond to Israeli police restrictions during Easter celebrations
Holy Land Christians, after hundreds of years of celebrating Easter in Jerusalem as the
most important and significant holy week for Christianity, are being denied freedom of
worship during this period by the Israeli occupation police.
Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Holy Fire Saturday, and Easter Sunday are the Holiest days
celebrated in Jerusalem for Christians. The uniqueness of Holy Fire Saturday in
Jerusalem has been celebrated as far back as 1106 AD. The celebrations have been
governed for the past decades by the status quo of 1852 covering the processions within
the boundaries of the Holy Sepulcher Church in addition to traditions by the local
community and pilgrims in its vicinity. Tradition during this holy day claims the right for
the local community to wait for the Holy fire on top of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
roof since for generations Palestinian Christians have been welcoming and making space
for visiting pilgrims down in the plaza of the Holy Sepulcher.
The tradition also includes the right of local worshipers to reach St. Jacob’s Arab
Orthodox Cathedral through the roof of the Orthodox Patriarchate to share the morning
prayers of the Holy Saturday, including the sharing of the local community in the
“Zaffeh” starting by the Christian Quarter, marching with the Arab Orthodox Priest of St.
Jacob’s Cathedral and the head of the local community ending at the Holy Sepulcher. It is
also known that the local Choir of St. Jacob’s and representatives of the traditional
Jerusalemite Orthodox families are entitled to encircle the Holy Tomb. During the past 5
years all these arrangements have been jeopardized, minimized and made impossible due
to the Israeli police restrictions implemented on the ground.
Israeli Police and in addition to their full control of the city on that day restricting and
limiting the movement of all Christian worshipers claims that the roof of the church can
only accommodate 500 people and thus the permit system was applied during the past six
years. Last year there were only police on the roof where everybody else were denied
entry through the check points. Now they are not applying the permit card system
anymore due to the fact that the local community refrained from accepting this system.
Their claim that the Patriarchate needs to approve the access in the first place was also
challenged through direct communications between the community and the Patriarchate
where free access as a historic tradition is granted and the Patriarchate civil engineer
testified that the rooftop usually accommodates about 2000 people.
Today when a debate has been initiated regarding the freedom of worship in Jerusalem
due to the constant settler aggressions against Al Aqsa Mosque (Al Haram Al Sharif) and
despite the fact that Israeli officials such as Prime Minister Netanyahu and President
Peres have assured to international media that “only Israel” can keep freedom of religion
in Jerusalem, we the Holy Land Christians denounced the Israeli discriminatory policies
against our community. At the same time that Christians are denied from their right of
freely exercise their religion through road blocks in the old city, police presence with
machine guns, as well as rude and hostile attitudes from police and Army officers, the
Israeli occupying power allows Jews to freely access their temples even by imposing
severe restrictions on the daily lives of Palestinians, including curfews and forced
In response to these unilateral and discriminating Israeli actions, Palestinian Christian
organizations in occupied East Jerusalem have initiated a legal process “to preserve the
right to freely access our churches and shrines”. The legal actions on the Supreme Court
level will be against everyone who is involved in this discriminatory policy, including the
Israeli police and the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality.
We call upon the International community, and particularly to the Christian World,
including its churches and civil society to put pressure on Israel to end the illegal
occupation of East Jerusalem as well as in this particular case to stop limiting Holy Land
Christians from exercising their basic religious rights.
We, Palestinian Christians, greet the world with Easter blessings from Jerusalem, from
the City of the resurrection. May God end the suffering of the Palestinian people; bring
about justice to this troubled land and peace to the whole world.
For more information please refer to the letter addressed to the Jerusalem Heads of
Churches and diplomatic corps in the same respect:
Footage from the blockade on Saturday Holy Fire celebrations 2006:
For further information you can contact:
Hana Karkar: +972-54.4546.349
Xavier Abu Eid: +972-59.8950.300
Yusef Daher: +972-50.5545.179