Outrage at Israeli restrictions on Easter church crowds in Jerusalem’s Orthodox churches
Orthodox Easter services will take place on Saturday, and Israeli police will restrict the number of worshipers entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Church leaders expressed their displeasure and stated they would not cooperate.
The decision to limit access to the Holy Fire, the Eastern Orthodox Church’s most important Easter ritual, on Saturday infuriated church authorities. They saw it as a continuation of what they see as Israel’s on-going attempts to restrict the freedoms and rights of the local Christian population.
They said that the police were using “heavy-handed” tactics, and they declared that they would not cooperate.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Patriarchate announced in a joint statement that they would “continue to uphold” their traditions and conduct the ceremony as they have for two millennia. They also stated that everyone who wished to worship was welcome to participate.
In contrast to previous years when as many as 10,000 worshippers jammed into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, this year only 1,800 worshippers will be permitted inside, with an additional 1,200 outside. Additional checkpoints surrounding the Old City will control access to the area around the church.
As Ramadan, Passover, and Easter all fell during a period of heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions, this year’s major festivals in the Old City have been particularly sensitive.
Israel’s decision to revoke 739 licences it had previously issued to Palestinian Christians in the Gaza Strip has infuriated them.
About 1,000 Christians exist among the Gaza Strip’s 2 million inhabitants. Most worshippers at Jerusalem’s Saint Porphyrios Orthodox Church adhere to Greek Orthodoxy and celebrate Easter one week after the West.
Israeli authorities require a permit from Gaza residents in order to leave the territory, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian siege since 2007.
The three churches in Gaza are the Orthodox Church, the Gaza Baptist Church for Evangelical and Protestant Christians, and the Roman Catholic Holy Family Church. The majority of Christians in the Gaza Strip practise Orthodox Christianity.
Samer Tarzi, an Orthodox Christian from Gaza, told Arab News that the Israeli government had officially informed the community that their licence requests had been rejected.