From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Palestinians Bemoan Israeli Restrictions

Date 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 
go there. 
     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   Web page: 


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