Early on Easter Saturday morning we found the Muristan Quarter of the Old City completely blocked off, all entrance ways to our churches closed, and crowds of pilgrims waiting behind police barriers.
Re: "Easter ceremony in Jerusalem"
With regard to your report on the "Easter ceremony in Jerusalem" I would like to add a few observations from the perspective of our Redeemer Church, located in the immediate vicinity of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Early on Easter Saturday morning we found the Muristan Quarter of the Old City completely blocked off, all entrance ways to our churches closed, and crowds of pilgrims waiting behind police barriers. We learned that the pilgrims, who had been waiting through the night inside the Sepulchre Church for the ceremony of the fire, as it has been a traditional part of the service, had been ordered to leave.
Waiting and arriving worshippers were confronted with cordons of heavily armed police forces, who in their efforts to keep the crowds back resorted at times to unseemingly rough behaviour. As the number of pilgrims increased the pressure at the barriers grew unbearably. People felt trapped; there was no place for them for hours to move or to get food and drink. Those who managed to work their way out of the crowds in search of public toilet facilities (which even the police had a hard time to find) were not allowed to return and lost their chance to enter the church. Questions and complaints were often ignored. We observed that even residents with specially issued permits were sometimes not allowed to return to their home or place of work. Policemen and .women were either unwilling or unable to contact, on our request, officers in charge.
Where ever we looked, police forces took up al lot of space which could have served the worshippers. Stands to supply the police with food, set up in the center of the access ways at a corner of our church instead of in a quieter part of the Muristan, added to the commotion. Tractors pulling the carts with the food supplies forced their way recklessly through the waiting crowd. Police units constantly squeezed their way in and out through the people pushing them aside often enough.
Even the paramedics had great difficulties to bring people who suffered from exhaustion and shock to our church, where they treated them in lack of any other shelter against the sun. Consequently, whenever the police opened the barriers for a moment to admit a limited number of pilgrims the people who had been waiting for hours broke loose, rushing towards the narrow entrance to the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre, thereby endangering the safety of the many elderly among them. We could not avoid the impression that the police's handling of the situation produced the hazards it was supposed to prevent.
In spite of repeated announcements that everyone would be able to enter the church, hundreds were hindered to do so and were kept fenced in and waiting into the afternoon hours / even until after the ceremony had ended. We saw many of them weeping from frustration and exhaustion.
The request from the authorities to open our church for a screening of the events inside the Holy Sepulchre for those who had to stay outside proved futile since the police would not permit people through the barriers to enter our church.
At the end, when the worshippers rushed out of the Holy Sepulchre, burning candles in their hands, the only way open to them through the Muristan was alongside our church, this outlet being blocked by obstacles such as garbage piles left from the police food strands, tractors, police and ambulance vehicles, and groups of boarder policemen through which the pilgrims had to squeeze at times almost single file.
We could not help to think that these hours of confusion, chaos, and frustration could have been avoided if the pilgrims had been allowed to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre through the night and morning hours as they arrived, the way it has been the custom in earlier years.
We have seen individual policemen acting helpfully and with understanding. Yet, the overall impression remains that those pilgrims who could make it into the Holy Sepulchre Church could celebrate the ceremony of the Holy Fire not because of but in spite of the police presence.