From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Palestinians Bemoan Israeli Restrictions
04 May 1996 15:23:16
96060 Palestinians Bemoan Israeli Restrictions
That Keep Them from Jerusalem
by Alexa Smith
JERUSALEM--The words to Psalm 137 -- "By the waters of Babylon -- there we
sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion" -- don't ring true for
Palestinian Christians who live near Jerusalem but who are not allowed to
What began as a security measure to stop Palestinians from entering
Jerusalem easily during the Gulf War has now become what many Palestinians
consider an Israeli strategy to further disrupt Palestinian family and
community life. Restricting movement into Jerusalem, they say, keeps
Palestinians on the West Bank away from their families and friends, from
their churches and mosques in the city -- and sometimes from their jobs.
Those who have entry permits say they are arbitrarily stopped by
armed Israeli soldiers anyway -- and often find themselves unable to get to
their jobs, to their churches, or even to a doctor's appointment, because
their permit has been abruptly canceled. Those allowed to enter have to be
out of Jerusalem by 7 p.m. or face a fine or an arrest.
So the words to their biblical lament now go: "By the side of the
roadblock, we sat down and wept when we remembered Jerusalem."
"Jerusalem is so near and so far away," said one Palestinian woman,
who was afraid to allow the use of her name in this story. She is pained
by the impact of such tight security on the lives of ordinary people.
"From my rooftop, I can see the lights of Jerusalem in the evening. ...
But it is out of reach.
"I see the pain of people who just want to come to Jerusalem for an
ordinary day, for quiet time in a church or a mosque. ... But that's not a
good enough reason," she said.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) liaison to the Middle East the Rev.
Victor Makari sympathizes with Israeli concern about terrorist acts. But he
is not persuaded that national security is the sole reason Jerusalem is
often closed to Palestinians who have no special permit.
"The aim of Israel, from the beginning, has been to disintegrate the
fabric of Palestinian society -- separating families, dislocating people,
not allowing some [Palestinians outside the country] to return," Makari
told the Presbyterian News Service. "Its fraying the unity of the
Palestinian community and these closures are another means to achieve that
What rankles many about needing a permit to get into Jerusalem is that
it stops Muslims and Christians from going to pray at the city's sacred
sites -- since pilgrimage is common practice among Christians and Muslims,
as well as Jews, in the Middle East.
"Though there are many mosques and many churches, there is something
significant about Jerusalem," said Antranig Bakerjian, an elderly Armenian
Christian who was born in Jerusalem and who says he has "never, never" in
his life wanted to leave. "We have an attitude here," he said, pondering
the differences in Western Christian faith and Eastern tradition, " ... The
stones speak to us. Every stone has a history ... associated with the life
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"When I walk the Via Dolorosa, I cannot but think of the passion of
Jesus. When I walk by Holy Sepulcher, I cannot ever not envision Christ
carrying his cross out of the city to the hill of Golgotha. ... And for
Easter, the main Christian feast! What is more exciting than spending
Easter at Holy Sepulcher?" said Bakerjian, who is free to move about the
city as one of its Arab residents.
He remembers when thousands of Egyptian Christian pilgrims would come
to Jerusalem and wait in the church's square on Easter Saturday. He
observes that although more Egyptians are coming to Jerusalem since the
peace treaty with Israel, there are fewer than in former years.
Others have a more political than religious take on the crux of the
problem of access to Jerusalem.
Dr. Geries Khoury, director of the Al-Liqa' Center for Religious and
Heritage Studies in Bethlehem, told international participants at a
conference on Jerusalem earlier this month that Palestinians' right to
enter the city and to pray at Holy Sepulcher is not so much an issue of
religious freedom as one of sovereignty.
"Jerusalem is important for me as a Palestinian because I was born
here. This is my homeland. This is my nation," insisted Khoury. Calling
Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, Khoury said it is now "an occupied
Another Palestinian woman told the Presbyterian News Service that
mobile Westerners have a hard time understanding the emotional
complications that make resolution of land disputes between Palestinians
and Israelis seemingly endless. "I don't think Americans understand the
attachment to land that has been handed down from your father and
grandfathers. If you were born in a place, as your parents were and your
grandparents and their parents, you feel attachment.
"It's different than moving from one place to another."
But regardless of those attachments, statistics show that
Palestinians are leaving their land. A study released by the Jewish
Municipality Planning Department, as reported in the "Jerusalem Post" in
1993, says 152,000 Israelis have moved into historically Arab East
Jerusalem, which has a Palestinian population of 150,600. The total
population of Jerusalem itself, according to the same survey, is 73 percent
Israeli and 27 percent Palestinian. Palestinians, including Christians,
are leaving in large numbers.
"It's a labyrinthine struggle," said Rick Black, public affairs and
press liaison for the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia. "Individual lives
are caught up in a bigger conflict. ...
"People are trying to function within a complex political situation,"
he said, adding that while getting permits is a complex process and
criteria for each applicant is individual, the authorities try to "work
with it as much as possible." He said 220,000 Palestinian Muslims were
permitted into Jerusalem Feb. 2 to go to the Dome of the Rock for
[Ramadan.] "A lot of people were allowed in," Black said. "But not every
Black said security is tight to reduce terrorism. But he says use of
the word "closure" is wrong when applied to Jerusalem -- that it is an
"open city." Roadblocks, checkpoints and soldiers are used occasionally in
and around Jerusalem, he says, to "help control the situation. ...
"There's no way to completely control it, unfortunately. There's no
way to know who is carrying a bomb and who isn't. Sometimes it's women.
Sometimes it's 14-year-old kids," he explained. Black admitted that
creating deterrents to terrorists, such as forcing the use of side roads,
does make life more complicated for ordinary Palestinians, especially those
from the West Bank or Gaza. He also acknowledged that how security policy
gets implemented varies from soldier to soldier. "But making it more
difficult for [terrorists] is the least you can do for yourself."
Makari, however, insists that "closure" is indeed the correct word to
use when referring to lack of Palestinian access to Jerusalem. "The stated
purpose," he said, "is the security of Israel. ...
"But in reality it is collective punishment, a massive reaction to
incidents of violence committed by some extremist Palestinian individuals.
... It creates an unpredictable kind of life for all Palestinians. They
don't know when or whether they would be permitted to enter the city. By
being barred, they have no access to jobs, places of worship, hospitals or
homes of relatives. ... There are endless stories of persons in critical
situations not able to obtain hospital care in Jerusalem. ... It's a
complicated, difficult process to get permits."
John Hamilton of the U.S. State Department's Middle East Bureau says
the U.S. government has no formal position on access to Jerusalem for
The 1995 General Assembly adopted a resolution on the status of
Jerusalem urging the "Israeli government to lift the military closures of
Jerusalem that deny Christians, Muslims, and others access to their places
of worship, employment, health care, education and other basic services."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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