Because of travel restrictions in past years, the vast majority of Christians living in the West Bank have been stopped at checkpoints and prevented from attending one of the most important religious services of the year. Israeli authorities require permits for entering Jerusalem. Local Christians estimate that only 2,000 — 3,000 permits are provided, despite the overwhelming desire among the 50,000 Palestinian Christians to travel from the West Bank and Gaza for the Easter week celebrations in Jerusalem.
Those who make it across checkpoints and into Israel are still barricaded by numerous walls and other security obstructions. As a result, even many who have permits are unable to make it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 2010, a Palestinian colleague of mine at World Vision, who had warm memories as a child of the Holy Fire service, was able to return to the Holy Sepulchre. She described the scene for those able to gain entrance to the church: “The crowd, striving to stay joyful, could still feel the change of what Easter had now become and the dark cloud of checkpoints, police forces, and denial of entry that had obscured the joy of this holiday.”
And throughout the rest of the year as well
The restrictions on travel for worship are not only in force during Holy Week, but also for routine Sunday services, weddings, funerals, and baptisms throughout the year. Certainly, Israel can take care of its own security concerns while accommodating peaceful Palestinian Christian worship.
In a recent letter by 80 Palestinian Christian leaders, including the Greek Orthodox archbishop of Jerusalem, Palestinian Christians spoke out against the lack of religious freedom inside Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. They complained of being forced to endure an “assault on our natural and basic right to worship.”
Israel is acting immorally. This is unacceptable in a democracy. Even if that democracy is in the Middle East. Will Christian’s who ‘love Israel’, ‘Christian’ Zionists, love Israel more than they love their brothers and sisters in Christ? Why isn’t John Hagee leading the charge to pressure Israel to allow Palestinian Christians the freedom they deserve? My answer- because ‘Christian’ Zionism isn’t Christian at all.