PHOTOS: Christians face barriers to Easter worship in Jerusalem

Year after year, Palestinian Christians and international pilgrims face checkpoints and harsh treatment by Israeli police officers as they attempt to celebrate the Easter season in Jerusalem.

Text and photos by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org

An Israeli police checkpoint blocks access to the Old City of Jerusalem, April 19, 2014. The day before Easter, thousands of Palestinian Christians and international pilgrims attempt to enter Jerusalem’s Old CIty to participate in the “Saturday of Light” or “Holy Fire” celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)
An Israeli police checkpoint blocks access to the Old City of Jerusalem, April 19, 2014. The day before Easter, thousands of Palestinian Christians and international pilgrims attempt to enter Jerusalem’s Old CIty to participate in the “Saturday of Light” or “Holy Fire” celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinian Christians and international pilgrims faced Israeli barriers and harsh treatment by officers as they attempted to celebrate the Easter season in Jerusalem this year. In scenes similar to previous years, thousands of worshipers were denied entry to the Old City of Jerusalem by police barricades as a heavy presence of security forces controlled access to the city.

Despite VIP status, even Robert H. Serry, the United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, faced similar treatment. The Washington Post reports:

But despite earlier assurances of unhindered access to the church, Serry said in a statement, the Israeli police refused to allow his group entry, saying they had orders to that effect…. The special coordinator expressed dismay at the incident and called on “all parties to respect the right of religious freedom, granting access to holy sites for worshipers of all faiths and refraining from provocations not least during religious holidays.” …

This month, the Israeli High Court of Justice agreed that Palestinians’ rights were being violated by police checkpoints and other restrictions that annually create obstacles to worship.

While Palestinian Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and Gaza have to apply for permits to enter Jerusalem for their religious celebrations, Israeli Jews (and effectively, any Jew regardless of their nationality) participate in their religious celebrations in occupied East Jerusalem without any restriction. Even Jerusalem ID holders and Palestinian citizens of Israel needed special police-issued wristbands to pass checkpoints into the Old City on Saturday, while in at least some cases Jewish worshipers were allowed to pass freely by police while crowds of other pilgrims were forced to wait.

Palestinians and others who face these checkpoints and barricades often report harsh treatment by police. Last year, a Coptic priest was choked and beaten by police in an incident caught on video. While authorities claimed the case was a rare exception, and that the massive police presence is needed to maintain order, Palestinian Christians maintain that such abuses are commonplace.

Israeli police block the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, April 19, 2014. The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled this month that Palestinians’ rights are being violated by checkpoints and other restrictions that annually create obstacles to worship. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)
Israeli police block the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, April 19, 2014. The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled this month that Palestinians’ rights are being violated by checkpoints and other restrictions that annually create obstacles to worship. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

 

Israeli police restrict the movement of Christians in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem while letting a Jewish man pass through, April 19, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)
Israeli police restrict the movement of Christians in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem while letting a Jewish man pass through, April 19, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

 

Orthodox Christian nuns stand trapped behind an Israeli police barrier in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 19, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)
Orthodox Christian nuns stand trapped behind an Israeli police barrier in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 19, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

 

Israeli police push worshipers in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 19, 2014. Many Palestinians report harsh treatment by Israeli police while attempting to access holy sites in Jerusalem. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)
Israeli police push worshipers in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 19, 2014. Many Palestinians report harsh treatment by Israeli police while attempting to access holy sites in Jerusalem. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)