Jerusalem is a spiritual city for the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is also the center of Palestinian identity and source of its cultural, historical, economic and social life. Despite international calls for Jerusalem to be a shared city among all of these religions, Palestinian Christians still face restrictions and limitations on access, which inhibit them from celebrating Easter in the Holy City.
UN Resolution 476 calls for “the protection and preservation of the unique spiritual and religious dimension of the Holy Places in the [Jerusalem].” Similarly, the World Council of Church maintains that “Jerusalem must be an open, inclusive and shared city in terms of sovereignty and citizenship.”
Moreover, movement restrictions that impede access to religious institutions -and are not necessary for the maintenance of public order – infringe on the rights of the Palestinian population to freedom of religion and worship, according to article 46 of the Hague Regulations, article 58 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, article 75 of the First Additional Protocol (IAP). Restricted access to worship is one of the many areas in which the Israeli government separates Jerusalem from Palestinians in the West Bank & Gaza and undermines the shared character of the city.
The Israeli government did respect the traditions of Easter worship between 1967 and 2005, especially the Holy Saturday celebrations. Since 2005, however, restrictions on Access to Worship have kept Palestinian Christians from celebrating Christmas and Easter freely and in accordance with tradition. Israeli authorities in Jerusalem have tightened the permit system for West Bank & Gaza residents wishing to go to Jerusalem for the holiday. According to Israeli sources 10,000 of the 30,000 permits applied for were granted. Israeli authorities have also increased restrictions on movement in the Old City throughout the celebrations. These increased restrictions culminated in the attack of a Coptic clergy member by Israeli security personnel during last year’s Holy Saturday celebrations , which led the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem to bring the issue of Access to Worship to the Israeli Supreme Court.
Monsignor Bishop William Shomali recommends a unified vision for organizing Access to Worship on Easter:
“As Heads of Churches, we should present a strong collective document, how to best organize the Holy Week. We can mention the organizational role of the scouts for example as in Palm Sunday. They did a great job. We will have to present a vision for Easter week. Complaining about restrictions and disorder is not enough.”
In 2014, human rights monitors of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) and staff of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre (JIC) witnessed reduced tensions, yet restricted access to Jerusalem & the Holy Sepulchre continues to damper the spirit of Easter celebrations.
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