The Israeli authorities on Monday announced measures aimed at relaxing severe movement restrictions on Palestinian Christians during the Christmas holidays.
Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement that the measures would “facilitate” visits by Palestinian Christians to and from the occupied Palestinian territory to allow them “to participate in religious ceremonies.”
The measures, which COGAT said were agreed upon following consultations with Christian representatives, will see a limited number of Palestinian Christians cross between the occupied West Bank and Gaza and travel abroad over a month-long period. COGAT said 500 Palestinian Christians would be able to leave the West Bank for Gaza, while another 800 will be permitted to make the opposite journey.
Some 400 Palestinian Christians will be allowed to leave Israel through Ben Gurion Airport, and an unspecified number living in the West Bank will be allowed to cross into Egypt. Some 50 Christians from Gaza will be allowed to leave the occupied Palestinian territory, but only via the Allenby crossing, into Jordan.
Meanwhile, COGAT said that 400 Palestinian Christians would be allowed to visit their families in the occupied West Bank and another 50 to visit the Gaza Strip. The measures will be seen by some as highlighting the severe movement restrictions that Palestinians of all religions face on a daily basis. Severe unrest across the occupied Palestinian territory has already overshadowed this year’s Christmas celebrations, which are normally a major tourist draw.
“We cannot forget what is going on, that there are people suffering,” Father Jamal Khader, the rector of the Latin Patriarchate, which traditionally leads Bethlehem’s Christmas celebrations, said earlier this month. “People are losing hope in a future of peace.”
A subdued Christmas will compound an already difficult year for Palestinian Christians, who have suffered the full brunt of Israel’s policies, most notably land seizures and, for those in Jerusalem, the revocation of residency rights.
There have been several attacks on Christians holy sites this year, and many Palestinian Christians have chosen to emigrate abroad following nearly 50 years of Israel’s military occupation. MAAN