Hundreds of Palestinian Christians Granted Permits to Celebrate Easter in Israel

A Palestinian Christian woman lights a votive candle during Orthodox Christmas celebrations at the Saint Porphyrios Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City on January 7, 2016.

TEL AVIV – Eight hundred and fifty Christian Palestinians from the Gaza Strip will celebrate Easter in Bethlehem and eastern Jerusalem after Israeli authorities agreed to grant them permits, a Palestinian Authority official said on Saturday.

Muhammad al-Maqadma, a public information officer for the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, told independent Palestinian news agency Ma’an that Israel granted the permits to travel in Israel to Gaza Christians of various ages, the first time such a large number of permits have been issued.

Al-Maqadma said the permits were the result of “dedicated efforts” by Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh that have enabled hundreds of Christians to celebrate the holiday over the period of a month and a half.

The influx of permits comes on the heels of Israel’s recent decision to rescind travel permits for Gazan Muslims to visit Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque. As part of a ceasefire agreement that ended the 2014 war with Hamas, a few hundred Gazans above the age of 60 have received weekly permission to enter Israel for Friday worship. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said the decision was due to “inappropriately misusing the permit and exploiting inappropriately Israeli civil policy.”

The rector of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Father Jamal Khader, said on Thursday that in past years the number of Gaza Christians who could travel to Jerusalem for Easter was very low.

“In previous years, permits (for Gaza Christians) were given randomly, and if they don’t have them for the whole family, they cannot come,” Khader said.

“Can you imagine some members of the family coming to celebrate in Jerusalem and leaving behind their family? It’s not in our traditions; we celebrate together. So we had the experience in previous years when very few came. This year I’m not sure.”

Jerusalem traditionally holds large celebrations during the week leading up to the holiday, which this year falls on March 27.

Around 200,000 Palestinian Christians live in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.