The IDF and Christmas in the Holy Land

The IDF has announced its “goodwill gestures that will be implemented for the Christmas holiday … from Sunday, December 19th 2010 until Thursday, January 20th 2011 [i.e., through the Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian celbrations of Christmas]:
* Christian Palestinian residents of the Judea and Samaria [West Bank] Region (regardless of age) will be permitted to cross into Israel for the duration of the entire Christmas celebrations, including lodging.
* 300 Christian Palestinians will be permitted to travel via the Ben Gurion International Airport for the duration of the holiday, subject to security assessment.
* 500 Christian Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip over the age of 35 will be permitted entry into the Judea and Samaria [West Bank]region and into Israel for religious and family gatherings. The permits will be given subject to a security clearance.
* 200 Christian residents of Arab countries will be permitted to enter the Judea and Samaria Region [West Bank] during the holiday.
The IDF will continue to operate in order to ensure that the Christian population in the Judea and Samaria Region [West Bank] can celebrate the Christmas Holiday”.

Though the Christian population in the Holy Land has dwindled from over 20 percent to something like 2 percent now, those quotas given in the IDF “goodwill gestures” listed above are very, very small — if they are even implemented [for the past couple of years, the Gaza quotas were not filled, or, not in an appropriate way] …

Total closure of West Bank continues

Total Closure of West Bank continues:
(1) AFP reported that “Israel maintained a general closure of the West Bank imposed for the week-long Jewish Passover holiday, but the military said it issued more than 10,000 permits allowing Palestinian Christians to enter for up to two weeks … The Palestinians have however complained of restrictions, including long waits at the hundreds of checkpoints scattered across the occupied territory. ‘My family got permits to come to Jerusalem but they decided not to because they will suffer at Qalandiya’, said Rimas Kasabreh, 34, a Greek Orthodox woman living in Jerusalem, referring to the main checkpoint outside the city. Her family hails from a village near the northern West Bank town of Jenin. ‘The lines take hours. It would spoil the happiness of the holiday’, she said … In an Easter message from the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI called for a ‘true exodus’ from the Middle East conflict. ‘I pray… that in the Middle East, and especially in the land sanctified by (Christ’s) death and resurrection, the peoples will accomplish a true and definitive ‘exodus’ from war and violence to peace and concord’, he said”. This AFP report can be read in full here.

(2) In an email over the weekend, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) wrote that “Palestinian Christians say that Israeli security measures have obstructed their access to Jerusalem and its holy sites, especially the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, long believed to be the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In response, the National Council of Churches asked the Israeli government to provide access for Palestinian Christians who wish to visit Christian sites in Jerusalem during Holy Week. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, acknowledged Israel’s need to provide strict security during the religious holidays but said, ‘I hope the Israeli government realizes that it is unacceptable to us that Christians be denied the right to worship in Jerusalem, especially Christians whose roots in the region go back to the time of Christ’. Since then, the NCC General Secretary has said that Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has said that travel restrictions preventing Palestinian Christians from visiting Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem have been lifted”.

(3) Ma’an News Agency wrote about that there was confusion about the prevailing rules of access: “Rumors abound about whether or not Palestinian Christians from the West Bank will be able to access Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over Easter, as crossings into the city remain locked and a general closure prevails on the West Bank. Access restrictions will be implemented by several arms of the Israeli military, police and Border Police units, many of which overlap or cancel each other out. The Israeli military imposed a general closure on the West Bank on the start of Passover that will last until 7 April. According to a military spokesman, Palestinians issued permits for family visits and religious services will not be subjected to the general closure as of 1 April … As of Thursday, the spokesman said, the general closure of the West Bank would no longer prevent Palestinians with permits for the holidays from leaving the area. [But] Border police operate the checkpoints that prevent West Bank Palestinians from accessing Jerusalem. Police ordered main Bethlehem checkpoint (Rachel’s Tomb) closed as of Wednesday, and said at the time that the terminal may open for the Saturday of Light celebrations observed by Orthodox Christians. As of Thursday, it was not clear if the terminal would open. On Wednesday, two German nationals and a pregnant Palestinian woman were denied passage through the checkpoint and told to use the Beit Jala ‘tunnels’ terminal. The Germans were permitted to pass through but the pregnant woman with a hospital permit was not. In February, Israeli officials announced the closure of the Beit Jala crossing for passport and holders of medical permits. On Wednesday, a crossings spokesman said travelers should be allowed to pass through the terminal. Border police also enforce closures on the Old City, setting up and manning barricades around the gates to the ancient quarters where pilgrims hope to enter for Good Friday,  Saturday of Light and Easter Sunday worship. A spokesman for Israeli Border Police in the Jerusalem area said no decision had been made as to whether restrictions would be put in place during Easter, and could not confirm or deny reports that Muslim worshipers had been instructed to use the Lions and Herod’s Gates to access the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while access for Muslims at other gates would be restricted … Israeli national police, alongside Border Police, guard the Old City and arrange security for the Sepulchre Church. A spokesman for the body denied reports from Sepulchre officials that Christians would be barred from the Old City, saying the facts were ‘incorrect’, but declined to clarify as to what restrictions would be in place at the Old City Gates”. This Ma’an report is posted here.

(4) Haaretz reported today that “The IDF is investigating the circumstances of the death on Saturday of a 63-year-old Palestinian man who had been delayed earlier at the Al-Hamra checkpoint in the northern Jordan Valley, Army Radio reported. Mohammad Damen Abed Al-Karim E’lieyat, a diabetic with high blood pressure, made several attempts to pass through the checkpoint but was held up by Israeli authorities because he held French citizenship, according to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency. E’lieyat, who suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, was allowed to pass after several hours, but later died in a taxi. Palestinian medical officials said he died of a heart attack and dehydration”… This Haaretz report is published here. The Jerusalem Post adds that “According to eyewitnesses, the man was held back since he also held French citizenship and was therefore required to receive special clearance to pass through the checkpoint”… This is posted here.