Israeli restrictions for Holy Week worry Christians

Restrictions imposed by the Israeli government are preventing Christians from worshipping freely in the Holy Land this Holy Week.

Yusef Daher, secretary-general of the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, said the network of Israeli police barriers disrupt the flow and number of people who are able to reach the church of the Holy Sepulchre for Good Friday services and the Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony at the Easter Vigil.

It is part of the Israel’s policy of making Jerusalem an exclusively Jewish city, said Daher. “This [restrictions] did not happen 10 years ago,” he said.

The Holy Fire ceremony involves the sharing of fire which, according to tradition, is brought forth miraculously from the tomb of Jesus by the Greek Orthodox and Armenian patriarchs.

The flames are passed from person to person by torches to bundles of candles. Eventually fire from the ceremony is sent to the various parishes of the Holy Land.

The ceremony has become a point of contention over the past 10 years between the Israeli police and local Christians.

Authorities are saying that the single exit into the plaza makes the ceremony a high risk for visitors if a fire breaks out.

In 1808, a fire severely damaged the dome of the Rotunda and dozens of pilgrims were trampled to death, while in the mid-1800s a fire during the Holy Fire Ceremony reportedly also killed hundreds of pilgrims.

Daher, who heads the umbrella group for Christian churches in Jerusalem,said that although the single entrance and exit to the church cause a potential fire safety hazard, there had been no problem in more than a century.

Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza, meanwhile, need special permits to attend Holy Week and Easter ceremonies.

Israel has said it will refrain from taking unilateral action concerning the churches in order to avoid provoking protests.


CNS/The Tablet
Catholic News Service
America Magazine
Image: EPA/America

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