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Thousands of Christians from across the globe are flocking to Jerusalem to follow the footsteps of Jesus during the Easter festivities. But while pilgrims from Africa, Asia, the US and Europe can easily spend the most important Christian holiday in the historic city, Christian Palestinians living only five to 15 miles away cannot. According to Palestinian priests, the number of permits available have been greatly reduced for this holiday.
Christian pilgrims marked Palm Sunday, March 24, by dancing and singing songs of worship in a long procession from the top of the Mount of Olives down to the Old City. Among them were also Palestinian congregations carrying banners with the messages: "Ramallah — 15 kilometers from Jerusalem," "Beit Sahour — 9 kilometers from Jerusalem" and even one holding a picture of the permit Palestinians must obtain to access Jerusalem. Their aim was to spread awareness of how close the Palestinian Christian parishes in the West Bank are to the Holy City, though most are not allowed to go there.
In a news release on March 24, Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) expressed frustration that some parishes had received only 30% to 40% of the permits they had requested.
“There should not even be a question of needing permits to visit one’s own city,” she said: “East Jerusalem is the occupied capital of the Palestinian people and freedom of worship is a basic human right for all of our Christian and Muslim citizens, a right which is being systematically and increasingly denied by a foreign occupying force.”
According to the Catholic News Service, the Israeli government said it had dismissed only 192 of the 19,000 requests it had received, citing security reasons.