Defying the Wall, Palm Sunday demonstrators break out of Bethlehem
By Kimmy and Stefan, Ecumenical Accompaniers in Bethlehem
Echoing Jesus’ ride through into Jerusalem about two thousand years ago, crowds of people waving palm branches accompanied riders on a pony and two donkeys through a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem on Sunday, the Christian festival of Palm Sunday.
The march began with a small group at Manger Square in central Bethlehem. As the crowd, accompanied by music and carrying signs or Palestinian flags, moved through the town, more and more people joined until it numbered about 150 Palestinians, Israeli activists, journalists and internationals.
The march was to protest the limitations placed upon Palestinians – Christians and Muslims – to travel to Jerusalem for worship at the holy sites in the city.
The march was supposed to have stopped at the checkpoint, but once the group reached the checkpoint gate for vehicles, approximately 100 protesters made their way through the gate. Apparently the security guards were unprepared: they were far too few to be able to stop the demonstrators who managed to walk through the second gate and on to the road to downtown Jerusalem, still being led by the donkey and the horse.
About a hundered meters down the road, the Israeli police realized what had happened and blocked the way. The demonstators stopped, although they easily could have marched on as there were only a few police officers on the scene.
In response, the checkpoint was closed for all vehicles and foot traffic attempting to enter Jerusalem. According to Ma’an News, eleven Palestinians have been detained; four Israeli activists and one international person were detained and later released.
The following day, Checkpoint 300 – the main Bethlehem checkpoint – remained completely closed. All of the checkpoints along the security barrier were only open to a limited number of people (international citizens, school children and Palestinians with specific work permits, worship permits or medical permits) for the Jewish holiday of Pesach.
However, the Bethlehem checkpoint remained closed to all Jerusalem-bound traffic, foot and vehicle. Those with humanitarian concerns or who want to enter Jerusalem for worship must attempt to cross at an alternate checkpoint. There is no word yet about when the Bethlehem checkpoint will reopen. Those who want to go to the Holy City of Jerusalem for the Christian worship services during Holy Week may be forced to travel further and longer.
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was launched in August 2002. Ecumenical Accompaniers monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offer protection through non-violent presence, engage in public policy advocacy and stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation. The programme is coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC).
It seems that, in response to international reactions, the Israeli government decided to lift travel restrictions preventing Palestinian Christians from Easter visits to the Jerusalem’s holy sites (NCCUSA release, 31 March 2010)