Israel’s Fragmentation of Christian Presence & Centuries-Old Religious Traditions in Palestine: Increased Restrictions on Easter Celebrations

Updated April 14, 2023

Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian Christians celebrating Holy Fire in Jerusalem are neither new, nor “unfortunate decisions” of its new right-wing government. Rather, they are part of a deliberate policy that has been imposed on Palestinian Christians over decades to assert an exclusive Jewish narrative over Jerusalem. However, in a new alarming escalation, Israel has announced intensified restrictions on Easter celebrations in Jerusalem, which include a significant decrease by 80% on the number of celebrants allowed in the Holy Sepulcher Church for Holy Fire Saturday, strict limitation of access to surrounding areas of the Church, and preventing the access of celebrants within the surroundings of the Church. Every year, Israeli forces physically assault celebrants who gather in the area, which discourages more Christian families from taking part in Holy Week Celebrations.

The intensification of Israeli restrictions on Christian celebrations does 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. However, issuing a ‘permit’ is still no guarantee for access; this week, over 700 hundred ‘permits’ issued by Israel for Palestinian Christians from Gaza to celebrate in Jerusalem were revoked during Holy Week, barring Palestinian Christians from access to one of their holiest sites in their own capital city. 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 deliberately fragmented. Jerusalem Church leaders have denounced such Israeli attacks on Christianity in Palestine, which include restrictions and harassment on religious celebrations, vandalism, assaulting clergy, attacks on Christian sites and the seizure of Christian property by the Israeli-settlers organizations for the benefit of Israel’s illegal settlements enterprise [1],

As a result of the framework of policies that dictate Israel’s prolonged 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 ” Jerusalem Church Leaders Decry Israel’s “heavy handed” Restrictions on Easter”: Middle East Eye website, 12 April, 2023, and “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. Link: