Some West Bank Christians don't get Easter permits to enter Jerusalem

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

BEIT JALLA, West Bank (CNS) — Nicola
Sansour’s voice had a tinge of sadness as he recounted how his family planned
to celebrate Easter this year. They planned to attend Holy Week services at
Beit Jalla’s Annunciation Parish, purchase new clothes for the three small
children, decorate eggs and attend the parish Easter egg hunt. His wife, Nivine,
34, would gather with his mother and sisters to make the traditional stuffed
semolina “mamoul” Easter cookies.

But this would be another year
in which he and his family would not be able to celebrate the holiday with a
visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher — a mere three miles from his home.

Christian Palestinians need a
special Israeli entry permit to enter Jerusalem for the holiday, and Nivine Sansour
received the entry permit, but her husband did not.

As a university student during
the first Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s, Nicola Sansour took part in
anti-Israeli demonstrations and was stopped by Israeli soldiers but never
arrested. Perhaps, he said, that may be the black spot on his record that
prevents him from being giving the permit. But 20 years have passed since then;
he has received a university degree and become a teacher.

He has sent written appeals to
the Israeli Civil Administration but has not received a response as to why they
will not issue him a permit.

“It is important for us as
Christians here to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on these very holy
days. And I can’t go,” he said. “There is only one checkpoint I have
to cross. I feel like I am in a big jail. Many times I just sit, and think that
they are taking something away from me. “

“I am a peaceful person.
They never told me (why I can’t get a permit),” he added.

“We need to be able to go
to Jerusalem every day,” said Nivine Sansour. “But here we are in a prison,
and only on the holidays are we free.”

Of the 350 families in their
parish, some 30 families are in the same situation as they are, Nicola Sansour
noted, with the fathers being denied the permit. In addition, 10 unmarried men
also did not receive permits. His brother was among those denied a permit.

Yusef Daher, executive secretary
of the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, earlier said there were many similar cases
of some members of Christian families not receiving permits throughout the West
Bank, but the exact numbers would not be known until the end of the holiday

The Latin Patriarchate of
Jerusalem website said 847 of the 890 Christian Gazans who had requested
permits for the holiday received them, for some — 95 percent of the requests.

“The most impressive thing
was that the majority of young Christians got the permit. Some of them didn’t
leave Gaza since eight years. We praise the Lord for this grace,” Father Mario de Silva,
parish priest, was quoted as saying.

Israel maintains that the system
of permits and checkpoints — including the separation barrier that surrounds
Bethlehem and the adjacent villages of Beit Jalla and Beit Sahour — are needed
for security reasons following the second intifada, when Palestinian suicide
bombers from the West Bank carried out deadly attacks in Israeli cities, many
of them in Jerusalem which borders Bethlehem.

According to the Israeli Foreign
Ministry, some 34 Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks and 404 people
injured, including four Palestinians, in the wave of violence that began last
autumn. There have been 331 stabbings and other attacks and attempted attacks,
according to their statistics. According to Defense for Children International, some 180
Palestinians were killed and more than 15,000 injured from September through
February. Some of the injured and killed included attackers.

Last year, Nicola Sansour
received a permit to travel to Jerusalem for Christmas, but Nivine Sansour’s permit
got lost in the bureaucracy, and she could not go.

Nicola Sansour went alone and
spent the day meandering around the streets of the Old City before he returned
home. But it was lonely without his family, he said.

“When I go to Jerusalem, I
feel the past. I feel what it was like in the past, and Jerusalem was a very,
very big city,” said Nicola Sansour, who said he enjoys watching movies
about Jerusalem’s Crusader history. “I would like to introduce my children
to the church (of the Holy Sepulcher). I need them to feel the moment. To be
able to take all my children to the church during Easter would be like a dream.”

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