Every Easter season, the streets of Jerusalem are filled with Christian faithful carrying huge palm leaves and walking the path of Jesus as he entered the holy city. For hours, marching bands from all denominations walk through the streets with their drums and trumpets, carrying cross-adorned flags to mark the beginning of festivities ahead of Easter Sunday.
This year, the festivities took place, but with noticeably less people. While Christians from all parts of the world are free to enter Jerusalem and exercise their right to worship and freedom of movement, these same rights are denied the people who should have first bids on them: the Palestinians.
According to the PLO, only 30-40% of requested permits were granted to Christian Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza to enter Jerusalem for Easter. There are so many layers of wrong with this, it is difficult to know where to start. For one, Palestinians, the indigenous people of Palestine, should not have to get an Israeli-issued permit to enter their own city. Palestinians – both Christian and Muslim – have lived in Jerusalem and in all of Palestine for thousands of years; there is no other place in the world they call home. The fact that Palestinian Christians who happen to live in the West Bank or Gaza are denied entry into the city where Christ died on the cross and was later resurrected, is blasphemy in every sense of the world. This is not to mention Palestinians who were forced from their homes in Jerusalem during 1948 and 1967 wars and are now either in refugee camps or in the Diaspora. They know their homes are there, they can almost touch them, but also know they are a world away. Jerusalem is off-limits to those who know it the best.
Christian Palestinians, just like their Muslim brethren, are for the most, deprived of a basic right: that of worship. Christians and Muslims from all other the world – Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and the Americas – come freely to Jerusalem, pray at its holy sites, smell the distinct aromas of Jerusalem and walk its historical alleyways, while Palestinians just kilometers away are forced to watch Easter mass on their living room televisions.
The injustice of this situation was made even worse this year. Perhaps because Easter this year coincided with the start of Passover, Israeli authorities were even more stringent on the entry of Palestinians. So, not only do Palestinians have to ‘ask’ for an Israeli permit to enter their own city, they were mostly denied this request. Israel sets no specific criteria for granting or denying permits but suffices to churn out the all-too hackneyed excuse of “security considerations” for turning Palestinians down. The Palestinians of course, have no legal recourse to challenge this system, which is forced upon them at random. If you want a permit, you try your luck. If they deny you, you can expect no good reason for why.
The injustice is particularly cruel given that the week is also Passover. Any Jew, everywhere and anywhere is free to come to Jerusalem, roam its streets, pray in its synagogues and even visit Christian sites, with complete freedom. Jews don’t need passes or permits. On the contrary, they are encouraged to visit and hopefully to stay, exercising their “right of return.” Israel is always seeking to control the demographics of Jerusalem with, at most, a 70-30 ratio between Jews and Arabs. What easier way then to systematically deny Palestinians entry while encouraging Jews to take their place?
This Easter, just like every Muslim Eid, many Palestinians are denied the joy of visiting their most loved city. While Israel allows this right to foreigners, Christians and Jews and even Muslims (as long as they are not Palestinian) and boasts of being the only sustainable democracy in the region, the world forgets how each year thousands of Palestinians from both faiths feel the sting of being close enough to Jerusalem to see the tops of its minarets and churches but realize, if they reach for it, their hands and feet are shackled to the ground.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com.