Gazan Christians still waiting for permits to visit Jerusalem for Easter
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Gazan Christians still waiting for permits to visit Jerusalem for Easter

MK sends letter to deputy defense minister demanding pilgrims in enclave be allowed to enter the West Bank and Israel

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, attends Sunday mass ahead of Christmas at the Latin church in Gaza on December 16, 2012. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, attends Sunday mass ahead of Christmas at the Latin church in Gaza on December 16, 2012. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry has yet to approve any permits for Christians living in the Gaza Strip to visit Jerusalem or the West Bank for Easter, less than five days before the holiday.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced on Tuesday that it would issue 200 permits for Palestinian Christians in the coastal enclave for those 55-years-old and over to travel to the Allenby border crossing between the West Bank and Israel for Easter, but made no mention about whether it would allow Christians in the Strip to visit the West Bank and Jerusalem.

COGAT, the Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians,  did not respond to a request for comment.

Most Christians will celebrate Easter, a holiday marking Jesus’s resurrection, on Sunday, but some Orthodox Christian communities, who follow a different calendar, will mark it on April 28.

A Palestinian Authority official in charge of requesting permits from COGAT, who asked to remain nameless, told The Times of Israel no Palestinian Christian in Gaza has received permission to travel to the West Bank or Israel for Easter.

However, he added that it was “still possible” that Israel could issue permits for Palestinians Christians in the coastal enclave to visit the West Bank and Israel before the festivities.

Palestinian Greek Orthodox worshipers attend Christmas services at a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City on 7 January 2011. (Mohammed Othman/Flash90)

Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that deals with Palestinian freedom of movement issues, said in an email that it was not aware of a previous situation in which Israel flatly denied all Palestinian Christians in Gaza permission to visit the West Bank and Israel for Easter or Christmas.

Israel maintains heavy restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials hold that the limitations on movement aim to prevent terror groups from transferring weapons into the coastal enclave.

Gisha, however, argued that denying “the movement to the entire Christian community [in Gaza] cannot be justified by security reasoning.”

According to a February 2018 report issued by the Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics, 1,138 Palestinian Christians live in Gaza,.

Outgoing Joint (Arab) List MK and incoming Hadash-Ta’al MK Aida Touma-Sliman sent a letter to Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, demanding he “act immediately…to permit [entry] into Israel and the West Bank.”

A Palestinian Christian in the Strip said that he was frustrated that he has not received a permit to travel to the West Bank for Easter.

“I do not understand why I have not been granted a permit. I am an old person and I have done nothing wrong,” the Palestinian Christian, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in a phone call. “I want to meet my relatives in Ramallah and spend the holiday with them.”

Many Palestinian Christians in Gaza have family members in the West Bank.

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