Border Control: An Unholy Mess

Border Control: An Unholy Mess

article on access to Jerusalem for Easter from Ha’aretz

[The following story appeared in the April 3, 2012 issue of Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper. Click here for the full article.]

The dwindling Christian community in the territories and East Jerusalem is considered a relatively moderate group. Few of its sons and daughters commit the sin of violence, and few occupy Israeli prison cells. Hence, the palm frond procession that marched from the Mount of Olives to the Old City on Sunday may provide a barometer for the Palestinian mood, in light of the current freeze in diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the leadership in Ramallah, and the reconciliation talks underway between the leadership in Ramallah and the leadership in Gaza.

For the first time ever, clergymen violated the permits they received to hold the annual religious march, when they added a political tone to the event by holding up placards denouncing restrictions on freedom of worship in Jerusalem. They were protesting against Israeli occupation authorities who they say are too often tight-fisted with permits they issue to Christian Palestinians that want to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

In the period leading up to Easter, which is this Sunday, Israel has displayed a bit more munificence. Still, this year, as in past years, not every Christian believer that lives in Nablus will be entitled to pass through the “via dolorosa” of the checkpoints to visit the Via Dolorosa.

The heads of some 80 churches in the territories signed a letter of protest last month against Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, who in an article published in the Wall Street Journal charged that Muslims were harassing the Christian community. The church leaders wrote that Oren’s attempt to blame the Muslims for the dire situation of West Bank Christians was “a shameful manipulation of the facts intended to mask the damage that Israel has done to our community.”

A report issued by the European Union earlier this year quotes Palestinian church leaders as saying that the main reasons their community members are leaving the territories include: Israeli-imposed restrictions on family reunifications, confiscation of church properties, building restrictions, taxation issues, and difficulties obtaining residency permits for clergymen. They did not mention the practice adopted by extremist settlers of spitting at passing Christian clergymen.