Palm Sunday + the start of Easter Week in Jerusalem

Today is Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, the start of Easter Week.

Palestinian + Israeli Christians and tourists from around the world are now going to a procession following the path that Jesus is believed to have taken some 1,979 years or so ago, when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey and was greeted by followers carrying palm fronds…

The procession will start in the shadow of the Wall that divides Bethany [Eizariyya] from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shayyah, lying on the Bethlehem side of the Mount of Olives, and will continue down the hill [Suwaneh] and into the Old City of East Jerusalem.

This photo of today’s procession is posted with the AP story that is published on the Times of Israel website, here: Procession down the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday - photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90 published by the Times of Israel[p.s. – that’s Mordechai Vanuni marching just under and to the right of the white megaphone in the photo’s upper center]

The AP story that the Times of Israel used for its coverage reported that “Israel’s Tourism Ministry said it expects 125,000 visitors during Holy Week and 300,000 throughout April, when Jews celebrate Passover — a 5 percent increase from last year”.

While Christians from around the world make the Israeli Tourism Ministry happy, not every Palestinian Christian is able to participate in these religious rites.

    UPDATE: Akiva Eldar reported in Haaretz on 4 April here that “The dwindling Christian community in the territories and East Jerusalem is considered a relatively moderate group. Few of its sons and daughters commit the sin of violence, and few occupy Israeli prison cells. Hence, the palm frond procession that marched from the Mount of Olives to the Old City on Sunday may provide a barometer for the Palestinian mood, in light of the current freeze in diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the leadership in Ramallah, and the reconciliation talks underway between the leadership in Ramallah and the leadership in Gaza. For the first time ever, clergymen violated the permits they received to hold the annual religious march, when they added a political tone to the event by holding up placards denouncing restrictions on freedom of worship in Jerusalem…”

We have reported previously on the difficulties for Palestinian Muslims living in the Ramallah-controlled West Bank or Gaza to enter Israeli territory to worship at the Haram as-Sharif.

Now, here are some of the difficulties for the dwindling communities of Palestinian Christians, as explained by a fact-sheet sent around by the P.L.O. Negotiations Affairs Department [as I wrote, a series of five Tweets, this morning]}

(1) PLO – Negotiations Affairs Dept: “for Palestinian Christians at Easter … being in Jerusalem is central to their religious activities”

(2) PLO: Last Easter, one year ago, 15,000 Christian Palestinians applied for a permit to enter Jlem, but Israel issued around 2500 permits

(3) PLO: Israel issues permits randomly; often to 1 or 2 members of a family, so permits may not even be used, as families opt to stay at home together

(4) PLO: Palestinian ID holders who do get permits can only enter Jerusalem through one of 3 crowded and dangerous military checkpoints…[and they will have to change vehicles and walk through, no matter the weather or congestion, which is not very agreeable while dressed in one’s best Easter finery]

(5) PLO: Bethlehem district Palestinians are the most affected by inability to reach Jerusalem holy sites. [Ramallah area, too, + Gaza]

You know it's Ramadan when … continued (1)

You know it’s Ramadan when traffic problems become unbearable in East Jerusalem (everybody rushes home to eat at the same time, and you’d think their lives depend on their passing on the right and on the left simultaneously — creating a six-lane highway going up to the Mount of Olives, for example, when there is only one lane in each direction.) What would happen if they break their fast ten minutes later? Or bring a little thermos of water or tea, and a few dates, so they could survive an extra 15 minutes without imposing a gleefully aggressive road rage in East Jerusalem?)

You know it’s Ramadan when the Israeli Border Police put extra “flying checkpoints” everywhere in the Palestinian part of the “Greater Jerusalem municipality”. Coming home on Road One on the first night of Ramadan about 7:30 in the evening — just after the breaking of the fast — there was a complete road block in the direction going north, with tire-punctering spikes laid down on the road, flares lit, and guys with guns and lights they shined directly in the driver’s eyes to wave them over. “What’s the problem?”, I asked, after I was pulled over. They replied in Hebrew: “Good evening. We just wanted to say good evening. You can go.” Of course, they do realize how scary this is … and for nothing.

You know it’s Ramadan when you see dozens of mostly men detained at the side of the roads by the Border Police at various interchanges in the northern East Jerusalem, just before the time to break the fast.

And, you know it’s Ramadan and at the checkpoints from the West Bank into Jerusalem (especially in and around the main Qalandia “border crossing”), and at the Jerusalem internal checkpoints (Dahiet al-Bariid, also known as ar-Ram), are completely blocked for no visible reason — other than the fact that there is no Palestinian police presence, or even the presence of just traffic cops, allowed anywhere near the vicinity of these checkpoints, because this might threaten the heavily armed Israeli soldiers, border police, and private security contractors (in navy blue bullet-proof vests) at the checkpoints.

Massive — really huge, almost unbelievable — logjams are created, and they are not untangled for hours, as everybody swelters and sweats in the dust and confusion and tension and stress and diesel fumes, while trying to avoid being crushed by the huge trucks loaded with cut stone or building materials, under the hot, hot, burning hot sun, while most of the trapped people are fasting.

Young men or “shebab” from Qalandia came out and voluntarily coordinated the traffic direction around Qalandia on Monday afternoon to untangle the mess. This time, they did not ask for cash contributions. But people remember when, during the height of the Intifada, there was actually a toll — ten shekels were demanded, and receipts were given to those who paid, so they would not have to pay twice. All this under the eyes of a heavily armed and substantial Israeli military presence, which does not care what happens to those in and approaching their checkpoints.

When I finally got to the military control point at my checkpoint the other day, I complained to the soldiers about people cutting in the line — the long, long line, of 20 cars or more under the hot sun. (I actually had complained to the driver who let them cut, and his reply was that the did not want his car rammed — under the watchful eyes of the soldiers, of course, who would do nothing.)

In response to my complaint, the soldier replied that he didn’t care what we did (while waiting in line). “If you don’t care what we do, then why are you here, and with your guns??”, was my reply. “Khalass” (stop it), he replied (in Russian-accented Arabic) with a weary patronizing tone.

Overheard in the Muqata'a

U.S. officials who had been present in the just-concluded meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Palestinian President Mahmoud today in the Muqata’a presidential palace in Ramallah, but who were waiting for the two principles to appear for a press conference, were joking around — with one or another of the five journalists who composed the U.S. traveling Press pool.

David Welch (Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs), Rice’s aide, jokingly revealed to one of the traveling press corps traveling with Rice a small glimpse of a healthy-looking Cuban Cohiba cigar in his suit jacket pocket. Ohhhhhh, one of the journalists exclaimed … Cuban cigars are, I believe, still banned in the USA.

Then Walsh said (in a manner that clearly indicated that the punch line was meant as a joke): “I get one of these for every checkpoint”…

Festival of Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank – Jenin

You could get the impression, from some of the statements made by the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Israeli Defense Forces, that Israel’s checkpoints in the West Bank are monitored by attractive and polite young people in crisp uniforms and maybe even wearing white gloves, holding baskets of hard candies (it is too hot for chocolates), and aiming to please their Palestinian “customers” with their impeccable polite, friendly and efficient customer-oriented service.

So, we took our cameras out into the West Bank to investigate this story, and see the actual situation on the ground.

Here are Rajai’s photos of the Jenin Checkpoint:

Jenin checkpoint - Photo by Raja'i Mukahal

Jenin Checkpoint - Raja'i Mukahal

Gaza: EU to complain to Quartet about humanitarian crisis

As talk continues among Israeli military officials about an eventual total reoccupation of Gaza — or, alternatively, about a complete sealing-off of Gaza from the outside world — the European Union Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero Waldner has indicated she would raise a cry of alarm at the next meeting of the Quartet at UNHQ/NY about the deteriorating humanitarian situation inside the Gaza Strip.

Waldner, the former Austrian Foreign Minister who was also previously one of the UN’s Chief of Protocol at UNHQ/NY — she would escort heads of state to the podium in the UNGA Hall, among other duties — gave a speech to the European parliament in Brussels yesterday in which, Israel’s Ynet news reported, she noted that “Since Israel had committed to the international community to remove checkpoints [in the West Bank] … they had added 44 new inspection points Only 30 of some 800 European parliamentary members were at the meeting.”

According to the Ynet report, “Waldner reviewed the humanitarian crises in Gaza, including the lack of medical equipment in hospitals and the serious sewage problems. Although humanitarian aid was reaching Gaza, it was in not nearly sufficient quantities, she said. Waldner demanded that crossings into Gaza be opened, chiefly the Karni Crossing, which have been closed for some four months”.
Waldner’s statements criticizing Israel’s policies in the oPt are reported here.