Israel denies permits: no Bethlehem or Jerusalem for Gaza’s Christians
The faithful will be able to go abroad, but not visit the holy places and holy cities in Israel and the West Bank. Military sources speak of "security issues" behind the decision. The disappointment of the Christians of the Strip. Christian leaders announce an appeal. Israeli activist: strengthening of the "separation" policy between the two Palestinian areas.
Gaza (AsiaNews) - Christians in Gaza will not be able to visit symbolic cities of the Holy Land such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem, to participate in the celebrations scheduled during the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays.
This is what the Jewish authorities established yesterday, based on a provision that allows the faithful of the Strip to go abroad, but not to go to the holy places of Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank.
A spokesman for the Israeli army that deals with relations with the Palestinians confirms that the Christians in Gaza will therefore be able to go abroad, but will not be able to visit the holy places within their territory and in the West Bank. A decision that confirms the blockade on the inhabitants of the Strip, controlled by Hamas and recently the scene of a new escalation of violence.
The Israeli military source adds that for "security issues", the inhabitants of Gaza will be able to leave the Israeli border area of Allenby Bridge (to go to Jordan), but will not be able to travel to the holy cities of the country.
The Gaza Strip has been repeatedly defined in the past as the largest open-air prison in the world: two million people live within it below the threshold of survival, unemployment is at 60%, poverty at 80%. And the same is true for Christian families, around 300 in the whole Strip (a thousand people in total), 34% of which have no source of income.
Last year the Israeli authorities had granted permits to 700 Christians from the Gaza Strip to travel among others to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. Gisha, an Israeli activist group, points out that the ban is a confirmation of the "increasing access restrictions" between the two sectors of the Palestinian territory, the West Bank and Gaza, in a "strengthening" of the "Separation Policy".
Among the Christians of Gaza, who are awaiting the visit of the apostolic administrator of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem of the Latins, Msgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, disappointment and disillusionment reign.
One woman confesses that she hopes the decision is not final, so she can visit her family in Ramallah. "Every year I pray that they will give me permission - says 50-year-old Randa El-Amash - to be able to celebrate Christmas with my family." Spending holidays in Jerusalem and Bethlehem "is a source of great joy for us".
Some Christian leaders of the Holy Land have condemned the decision of the Jewish state and announce that they want to appeal to the Israeli authorities to change the decision.