Christians in the Gaza Strip would not be allowed to visit holy cities such as Al-Quds to celebrate Christmas this year, Israeli authorities said on Thursday.
According to Xinhua, Israeli media reported on Saturday that Israel bans 500 Christians in the Gaza Strip from travelling to the occupied West Bank for Christmas and New Year holidays. In addition, Christian residents under the age of 45 will not be permitted to travel abroad while only 100 international permits have been granted to those above that age. The Israeli ban has left more disappointment, anger, and frustration among the Christians in Gaza, Kamel Ayyad told reporters.
According to Reuters, Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians – most of them Greek Orthodox – among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip. Hana Eassa, secretary general of the Palestinian Christian Islamic Corporation, also condemned Israel’s decision to ban Gaza’s Christians from reaching the West Bank. “The Israeli decision represents a serious violation and breach of the freedom of movement and worship stated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Eassa.
Bishop Atallah Hanna, Archbishop of Sebastia of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Palestine, said the Israeli measure against the Christians of Gaza is totally rejected and condemned. “On more than one occasion, we have expressed our reservations over the issue of providing permits by Israel to Christians and also to Muslims on their holidays so that they can reach the holy places all over Palestine,” said Hanna. “The holy city of Jerusalem must be opened for everyone,” he noted. This year’s decision is a break with usual policy. Last year, Israel granted permits for close to 700 Gazan Christians to travel to Occupied Al-Quds, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other holy cities that draw thousands of pilgrims each holiday season.