Gaza’s Christian community numbers around 1,200 people. This year, 951 of them asked Israel for permission to leave the Strip and go to Bethlehem and Jerusalem in order to meet with relatives and attend Christmas Mass. But whereas in previous years between 300 and 500 people were given exit permits — some to Jordan and a few dozen to Bethlehem and elsewhere in the West Bank — this year the coordinator of government activity in the territories, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, issued only 100 permits, restricted to adults aged 45 and up.
Moreover, as reported by Jack Khoury in Haaretz, these 100 lucky people were told that they would be allowed to travel abroad via the Allenby Bridge border crossing but not to visit the West Bank, where Christian holy sites are located, particularly Bethlehem, the primary place of worship for Palestinian Christians.
The military liaison’s response was a classic example of the occupation’s bureaucratic banality: “In accordance with security orders, civilian measures were approved for the Gaza Strip’s Christian residents for Christmas, under which ... exit permits will be issued to go abroad via the Allenby crossing.” In the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, on holidays as on weekdays, “security orders” are the magic words that allow Israel to do with the Palestinians as it pleases, including restricting their freedom of movement and worship and undermining their right to a normal family life.
The right wing protests when Gaza and its residents are referred to as being under Israeli control. Since the 2005 disengagement, it claims, Gazans are masters of their own fate, and Israel cannot be blamed for the humanitarian disaster in their territory. But here is more proof that this is a myth; even freedom of worship is limited and closely overseen by Israel.
This example represents the general reality: Israel controls Gaza’s skies, waters and ground crossings; it blocks any connection between it and the West Bank; it controls the entry and exit of goods and controls the flow of water and electricity.
Gaza’s Christians were angered and frustrated by the decision. “This is a very small community, and there’s no reason everyone shouldn’t go to the West Bank or Israel, or even abroad during the holiday,” one Christian activist told Haaretz. “The fact that they’ve set a quota of 100 people over age 45 means that almost no one will leave.”
But the Israeli ban is not a means but an end: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has devoted his years in power to severing the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, to separating the two populations and thus continuing to control the entire Palestinian people. One can only hope that the election will lead to a change in government and a change in the shameful attitude toward the Palestinians, certainly toward that small number of people who want only to celebrate Christmas.
- Israel bars Gaza's Christians from visiting Bethlehem, Jerusalem for Christmas
- After two thousand years, Jesus' manger returns to Bethlehem in time for Christmas
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.