Israel severely restricts Orthodox Easter celebration in Jerusalem

Israel severely restricts Orthodox Easter celebration in Jerusalem

Anti-Christian hate crimes in Jerusalem have been soaring since Israel’s new extremist government took over – Easter is one of many targets by the government and Jewish radicals.

by Kathryn Shihadah

This Sunday marks Easter in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Israel has chosen the number of worshipers allowed to attend the festivities. Christian leaders in Palestine are angry, and tired of the growing hostility from the Israeli government and some Jewish factions.

In the past, up to 11,000 attended Easter worship – but this year only 1,800 will be permitted.

Israeli police claim that they will be providing security and traffic control during the celebrations, but that the attendance limits were set by the church.

According to the Greek Orthodox Church, Israel is using “heavy-handed restrictions” against Christians’ freedom to worship in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli police claim the restrictions are necessary to keep worshipers safe – but Christian leaders dispute this, pointing to Israel’s years of placing limitations on Christian and Muslim worship, and harsh treatment by Israeli law enforcement.

Father Mattheos Siopis stated, “The ceremony has been faithfully taking place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for nearly 2,000 years,” and there is no need to make changes.

Attacks targeting Christians on the rise

Christians and Christian properties in Jerusalem have been victims of vandalism, assaults, raids, and land confiscation for years – but have risen sharply since the new, extremist Israeli government was sworn in in December 2022. According to two Christian scholars:

The believers suffer spitting, pushing, blows on the head and curses, occasionally graffiti is sprayed and there are more serious attacks inside the churches.

If in the past people would spit without being seen, now they spit openly. It is no longer something that is done in secret,

One Armenian priest said he has been spat on more than 90 times so far in 2023. Below are several clips of Jewish Israeli individuals spitting on Palestinians – a group of pilgrims carrying a cross, and a group of nuns – and on the door of a house of worship.

Christians believe – often based on firsthand experience – that the Israeli police do not treat these incidents with appropriate seriousness, merely blaming teenagers or the mentally ill. In fact, the Israeli police have dropped many cases of property damage to non-Jewish places of worship; some Jewish leaders in Israel are reluctant to condemn church-burning.

One Armenian youth who had recently been attacked by settlers, offered his theory:

The minister of national security [Itamar Ben Gvir] is a lawyer who used to defend extremist Jews attacking Christian and other sites. What do you expect when the highest-ranking official in the equation is the most extremist?

Just over one percent of Jerusalem’s population are Christians – about 10,000 souls. A century ago, before the birth of Israel, a quarter of Jerusalemites were Christian. Christian leaders have been predicting for years that, unless Israel stops its mistreatment soon, the Christian presence will become extinct in the Holy Land.

Holy Fire celebration

On Saturday, Greek Orthodox Christians will celebrate the Holy Fire ritual on the grounds of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the 12th-century church built on the site where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried and resurrected.

In the ritual, the patriarch enters a chamber built on the site of Jesus’ tomb where, Christians believe, a miraculous flame appears in the chamber. The church father then steps out with two candles lit by that flame, and passes the flame along to candles held by thousands of worshipers. The flame is then taken to Athens and other regions with large Orthodox populations, where it is distributed to the faithful.

In the past, Israeli authorities have locked down parts of the Christian neighborhoods on Easter weekend, and “pretty much let no one else into the city except for those issued tickets by the [Israeli] police,” according to Donald Binder, chaplain to Jerusalem’s Anglican archbishop.

Kathryn Shihadah is an editor and staff writer for If Americans Knew. She also blogs at Palestine Home.



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