Christians in Jerusalem 'identify more with Good Friday than with Easter'

"The people are afraid to come to Jerusalem. They fear that something could happen to them. We constantly hear about Palestinians being shot here."

By Oliver Maksan

JERUSALEM—On Palm Sunday this city belongs to the Christians. Bearing palm fronds and olive branches, thousands of locals and visitors from all over the world make their way singing and praying down the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem to receive the blessing of the Latin Patriarch.

With these celebrations Palestinian Christians not only want to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but also say to Jews and Muslims: ‘We are also still here – even though we make up just two percent of the population in Israel, and even less in West Bank and especially Gaza.’

However, this year the joy was subdued. The wave of violence that has shaken the Holy Land since the fall has left its mark. Fewer foreign pilgrims are traveling to the Holy Land because of the current situation, and the procession was much smaller than usual, drawing some 15,000 people, half last year’s number. Most notably, Christians from the West Bank were missing.

“Last year we arrived from Bethlehem in seven buses. This year there were only three,” Johnny, a Catholic from the birthplace of Christ, explained. He said that in contrast to previous years, no Christians came from West Bank cities such as Nablus or Jenin.

Johnny continued: “The people are afraid to come to Jerusalem. They fear that something could happen to them. We constantly hear about Palestinians being shot here.” In fact, since last fall more than 180 Palestinians have died in clashes with Israeli security forces. Most of them were killed because they attacked Israelis, including civilians. The attacks were carried out with knives, scissors or guns. More than 30 Jews were killed in this way.

Palm Sunday Procession Jerusalem, 2016.jpg

Father Jamal Khader, rector of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jalla, a neighbouring town of Bethlehem, said that problems started in the late nineties with the checkpoints. He explained: “The people often had to wait for hours. Then came the wall and the permits. I used to come to Jerusalem for an ice cream. Today, I avoid coming here whenever I can. I do not want to have to pass through the checkpoints. And many feel the same.

“Not everyone is issued an entry permit for the high feast days. Sometimes only the parents receive a permit and not the children. Then everyone stays home of course. Sometimes they are all issued a permit, but are then turned back again for some reason. This can’t be. Jerusalem has to be an open city. It belongs to everyone, Jews, Christians, Muslims. It can never be an exclusive city. Because then there will never be peace.”

Father Khader said: “We Christians of Palestine identify more with Good Friday than with Easter. We closely relate to the sufferings of Christ. When we see Christ suffering, we see our suffering. That does not mean that we do not believe in resurrection and the hope that goes along with this. But we are not that far yet.”

Palm Sunday 2016, Jerusalem; ACN photo

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