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Christians decry Israeli restrictions on holy sites

Instead of spending Easter week praying, we fight with Israeli soldiers, says former Palestinian minister.

A delegation of Palestinian Christians visiting South Africa has complained about Israeli discrimination that restricts them from accessing holy sites in Jerusalem during Christian holidays.

“From 2005, Israel has been denying us access to the holy city of Jerusalem to practice traditions that are 2,000 years old,” former Palestinian minister Hind Khoury told a gathering in Johannesburg Thursday night.

She said that Israel puts up check points every few meters during Easter week.

“Instead of spending Easter week praying, we fight with Israeli soldiers,” she said.

Khoury said that Israel has a policy of not allowing Palestinians to return to their cities once they have lived abroad for a long time.

“I was the ambassador to France, and after four years they told me you do not live here even though my husband was there and I have a house and children there,” she said.

Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre, agrees with Khoury.

“My brother and his three daughters and wife went to the U.S. on a work permit for three years. But now he cannot come back to live in Jerusalem where his daughters and wife were born,” he said.

Daher said according to Israel law his family can only be allowed in as American citizens on a visitor’s visa not exceeding three months.

He said although his brother and family are not allowed to return to their place of birth, Israel can bring in thousands of Jews from different parts of the world and gives them citizenship.

Daher said although there are tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians inside Palestine, Israel grants them few permits allowing them access holy sites in Easter.

“During Jewish holidays, Israel closes the whole of the West Bank and opens Jerusalem for Israeli Jews who come by walking, entering East Jerusalem without a single barrier,” he said.

An American Christian pastor based at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem told the same gathering that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not about religion but land and resources.

“It is a conflict over land. It is a political conflict over resources. It is a political conflict over principles of self-determination and decolonization,” said Reverend Robert O. Smith, who currently serves as co-moderator of the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches.

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