Israeli limitations, according to Palestinian Christians, impede them from practicing their religion.

Gaza/Jerusalem – Palestinian Christians observed the Sabbath of Light on Saturday amidst severe limitations enforced by Israeli authorities in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and other Palestinian communities.

Following the Holy Light’s inundation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, its flames spread to Ramallah and numerous other Palestinian villages, as well as to a number of nearby Arab nations and other European nations.

Israeli forces tightened procedures and closures to restrict Sabbath of Light celebrations in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and keep worshippers from entering the building for the second year in a row.

Videos of Israeli troops assaulting and kicking priests on their way to church, shoving ladies bodily, and punching young men went popular on social media.

A member of the Arab Orthodox Christian community and former vice director of the Palestinian Orthodox Club, William Khoury, told Al Jazeera that what transpired was “nothing new” in Jerusalem.

“We have endured the occupation authorities’ placement of metal barriers, police, and armed soldiers on the day of the Holy Fire for more than ten years,” he stated.

During the Sabbath of Light in Jerusalem, Christians were stopped from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera).

“For Christians in this holy nation, it is the most important day. We declare to the world that this city, this church, and this sacred occasion are all ours as Orthodox Christians and Arabs. On this day, no one has the right to interfere with our celebrations.

We are proud of our identity as Palestinians, Khoury remarked.

Nearly 80% of Palestinian Christians were stopped from entering the Church of Holy Sepulchre by the dozens of checkpoints set up by Israeli police, according to security analyst Fadi Halabi, who is stationed in Jerusalem.

According to Halabi, “Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian Christians are nothing new and are a result of the regrettable choices made by the nation’s right-wing leadership.
They are a part of the intentional, decades-long efforts to obliterate other local populations in Jerusalem in an effort to demonstrate that the city is only home to Jews.

According to Halabi, Israeli attacks and damage to churches and Christian sites have grown recently, “with little or no efforts to arrest the perpetrators clearly filmed on security surveillance cameras.”

In the past, Christians made up 20% of Jerusalem’s population; today, they make up fewer than 2%.

fewer Palestinians are permitted to travel from Gaza to Jerusalem

Holy Saturday was observed in Gaza by the Greek Orthodox community at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in the Zaitoon area of the Old City of Gaza. According to the Bible, dozens of families were present at the festivities marking the manifestation of Christ’s light. The scouts’ demonstration and the bishop’s welcome signalled the start of the festivities.

In the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza, the Greek Orthodox Christian community observed Holy Saturday [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]
Father of two and independent graphic designer Khader Nasrawi, 45, told Al Jazeera that his family enjoys celebrating Easter and the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This event, according to Nasrawi, “shows the sanctity of Palestine, Jerusalem, and Jesus Christ,” and is not merely a special celebration for Christians.

Although Nasrawi and his family hold this holiday in particular affection, he claimed that because they are Christians who live in Gaza, their happiness isn’t complete.

In order to travel to Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity, or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to attend the Holy Light celebrations, Nasrawi noted that it is impossible to leave the Gaza Strip and receive permits from the Israeli side.

Israeli officials have tightened their restrictions on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre this year, allowing only 1,800 individuals to attend the Holy Sabbath, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Christians in Gaza submit applications every year in the hopes that the authorities will let them go to Jerusalem or Bethlehem to observe the holy days. Normally, only a small number of licences are issued, but this year, according to Wafa, fewer than ever were issued, breaking the hearts of many Christians in Gaza.

This Easter, Nasrawi was given permission to visit Jerusalem, but he chose not to go because his wife and kids were not also granted permission.

In Gaza, it was Holy Saturday (Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera).
He remarked, “There’s no fun in going to the celebration without them. My wife hasn’t received a permit in three years, and neither did my kids.

Easter is a time to underline Christ’s sacred message, which is one of love and peace for all people. I hope for everyone’s sake that the days ahead are filled with goodness, peace, and love,” he continued.

The 33-year-old Fouad Ayad claimed that this Easter is one of the hardest because he was so hopeful to get a permit to celebrate in Jerusalem.

Ayad, a father of a one-year-old daughter and a teacher, said, “It is true the situation in Jerusalem is tense and does not inspire me to go, but I am tired of being stopped from visiting for several years without a good cause.

“I came here to join you in celebrating Holy Saturday.

According to Ayad, “I came here to celebrate Holy Saturday with the other Christian families in Gaza.”

He said that he has been attempting to obtain permission for his Egyptian wife since their marriage three years ago but to no effect. “It is known that the Christian community is a minority in Gaza, and they face great difficulties in movement and travel through the Israeli crossings,” he said.

According to Fouad Ayad [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera], “Easter is an occasion to emphasize the holy message of Christ of love and peace for the world.”

Every step of this process is fraught with significant difficulties, but he continued, “We hope things get better and the years to come.”

His wife, Angie Ayad, 24, told Al Jazeera that she considers the Easter mood at the Gaza Strip’s churches to be lovely and spiritual.

Since I moved to Egypt, I’ve always wanted to take my family to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter, but doing so is extremely challenging due to Israeli hurdles and the special circumstances in the Palestinian area, she added.

Since being married and moving to the Gaza Strip, I have attempted to file for a visitor’s permit, but this also seems to be challenging.

Despite this, Angie Ayad claimed that, in contrast to what she anticipated and observed in the media, she enjoyed living in Gaza. “The people are simple, the life is beautiful, and I’m happy to be here with my husband and child,” she said.

Madonna Ayad, an Egyptian woman in her 20s, believes that living in Gaza is wonderful “except for the wars.”

After getting married and moving to Gaza in 2020, the two pals are still awaiting the issuance of their formal identification documents.

On April 16, 2023, worshippers attended a Holy Sabbath service at the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza. [Al Jazeera’s Abdulhakim Abu Riash]
Madonna Ayad compares the Easter celebrations in Gaza to those in Egypt in terms of their joyous spirit.

Christians can typically go from Egypt to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to pray as usual, but getting a visitor’s pass from Gaza is challenging without a family reunion and a lot of requirements, according to the woman.

Imad Ayad, Madonna’s husband and a relative of Fouad, told Al Jazeera that the only issue that Christians in Gaza and the rest of the Palestinian region have is that they are “Palestinians.”

“What happened yesterday in Jerusalem was incredibly tragic. People look forward to being mercilessly attacked by Israeli forces on the holy Eid each year. It is not conceivable.

This year’s Easter celebrations take place against a backdrop of intense harassment of Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem, including assaults on worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, according to Elias al-Jilda, a member of the Council of Deputies of the Arab Orthodox Church in Gaza, who spoke to Al Jazeera.

Easter celebrations this year take place in Jerusalem against a backdrop of severe abuse of both Christians and Muslims [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

We also see racist acts in the media committed by Israeli zealots who spit on Christian nuns in Jerusalem. This demonstrates the fanaticism and extremism that the Israeli occupation, particularly the fanatical Israeli government headed by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, practises.

Al-Jilda stated that the limitations “aim to drive Christians and Muslims out of Jerusalem and force them to emigrate outside the country, as is happening, and this is a direct form of religious persecution.”

He claimed that Christians in Gaza are the ones who suffer the most from the ongoing denial of licences to travel to Bethlehem or Jerusalem, where there are almost never any authorised permits.

Al-Jilda stated that the purposeful restriction on the exercise of our inalienable freedom to practise our religion is against all international, legal, and ethical norms.
“We convey a message to the international community and proponents of peace and human rights that the discrimination against Muslims and Christians in Palestine regarding their ability to practise their religion is intolerable and requires immediate assistance. Our people have a right to live in freedom and dignity without occupation.

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