Israel’s Fragmentation of Christian Presence & Centuries-Old Religious Traditions in Palestine

Israel’s harassment of Palestinian Christians celebrating Holy Fire in Jerusalem is neither a new, nor a stand-off incident on its own. Rather, it is a deliberate policy that is well-documented every year. Yet, what can be considered a new escalation is the intensification of Israeli restrictions and attacks on religious rights and freedoms this year for Christians and Muslims, but not for Jewish-Israelis. For Christians this year, the restrictions included a significant limitation on the number of ‘permits’ for celebrants who are allowed in the Holy Sepulcher Church for Holy Fire Saturday, strict limitation of access to surrounding areas of the Church, preventing the access of celebrants within the surroundings of the Church, and the physical assaults on celebrants who gathered in the area.

Such intensified attacks on Palestinian Christian celebrations do not only constitute flagrant violations of religious freedoms and the right to worship, but are also actively changing centuries-old traditions that have shaped the Christian identity in Palestine and its very rich heritage.

By severing Jerusalem from the rest of Palestinian cities for decades now, the number of Palestinian Christians able to access Jerusalem has already significantly decreased, as for many thousands of Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Gaza, access to Jerusalem is very restricted to begin with – unless they obtain a ‘permit’, and manage to cross the checkpoint designated by Israel. Those who actually access Jerusalem are encountered with the annual harassment and assaults on celebrants, which contributes to further decreasing the numbers of celebrants.

Contrary to international law and calls made by the international community, such restrictions come in a context where Israel, as the occupying power, is intentionally and relentlessly altering the demography, character and the Status Quo of Jerusalem to assert the supremacy of the Israeli-Jewish character and demography.  This means that, as a result, the Palestinian Christian presence in a central city for Christianity is fragmented. On the one hand, extremist Israeli-settlers organizations are seizing Christian properties in Jerusalem for the benefit of Israel’s illegal settlements enterprise, which comes at the expense of Christian presence[1]. On the other, the arbitrary policies that Israel upholds against all Palestinians, including Christians, are a major factor why Palestinian Christian presence is fragmented in Palestine. Such policies include revocation of residency status for Palestinians, house demolitions, land confiscations to enable the construction of settlements and their infrastructure, severe restrictions on movement, violation of religious and cultural rights, arbitrary arrests, violence perpetrated by Israeli forces and settlers , among many others.

As a result of the framework of policies that dictate Israel’s occupation over the occupied Palestinian territory, including occupied and illegally-annexed East Jerusalem, not only are the most fundamental rights of Palestinians -collectively and individually- being violated on a daily basis, but also the presence of one of the oldest Christian denominations in the world, and their ancient religious traditions are also significantly threatened by Israel, which are executed with total impunity.  

[1] For example, see “Statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches of Jerusalem on the Illegal Seizure of the Little Petra Hotel”, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, 4 April 2022.


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