The stark contrast between Holy Saturday past to present

Our EAs this year provided protective presence and monitored the human rights situation throughout the Easter celebrations. This is the 2nd account from our EAs sharing from Easter 2014 in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

by David, Lindsey, Sandra, and Lynn, Jerusalem team

The Old City of Jerusalem was decorated for the Easter holiday. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio.

The Old City of Jerusalem was decorated for the Easter holiday. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio.

David, a member of the EAPPI Jerusalem team, sat in the home of a Christian Palestinian family in Beit Hanina, eating tabbouleh and talking about the situation in Jerusalem over Easter.

“We are going away to Galilee! It is not worth being in Jerusalem during Easter. There is just too much trouble.”

In recent years, the Easter week has seen a lot of police brutality and many people worried that the same thing would happen again this year. Especially because Jewish Passover, and both the Orthodox and Western Christian Easters fell on the same week, many expected the worst in 2014.

This year, during Holy Saturday, celebrations were relatively calm. The stark contrast, however, between Holy Saturdays of the past, when the Holy Sepulchre plaza was filled with pilgrims, and this year, when the plaza was empty,  was clearly visible.

“It used to be full of pilgrims there, but in recent years it has been empty, except for lots of police officers,” recalls Yusef Daher, a Palestinian Christian, director of the Jerusalem Interchurch Centre.

Before 2005, the plaza of the Holy Sepulchre church was open for pilgrims from around the world to congregate and wait for the Holy Fire. Increased restrictions continued this year, meaning that the plaza was empty. Many pilgrims and local Christians became frustrated and weary as they could not reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo EAPPI/J. Valkama.

Before 2005, the plaza of the Holy Sepulchre church was open for pilgrims from around the world to congregate and wait for the Holy Fire. Increased restrictions continued this year, meaning that the plaza was empty. Many pilgrims and local Christians became frustrated and weary as they could not reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo EAPPI/J. Valkama.

On Holy Saturday, two of our EAs stood on the roof of the Church of Holy Sepulchre. Traditionally local Christians gather here in order to allow pilgrims to stand in the plaza in anticipation of the Holy Fire. This year, however, mostly pilgrims, who had bought expensive tickets to get a guaranteed spot near the church, filled the roof, while the local Christians had a small plot of about 50 square meters. Nonetheless, Palestinian Christians danced into the church below us to drums and vocals, and then continued up to the roof. They were tightly packed, but continued celebrating through dancing and singing in joy while waiting for the fire.

We looked down from the roof and saw only fifty policemen and dozens of soldiers in the Holy Sepulchre plaza.  Yusef’s story about the empty square in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was also true this year.

Two EAs also monitored Jaffa Gate, where thousands of  disappointed pilgrims from all over the world, waited to come in. Those who were lucky enough to get into the Old City queued since 3 am, but the gate was closed at 6 am denying entry to the rest of the pilgrims who had been in the queue. With the temperature reaching  35°C, little shade and water, people grew weary and one even fainted from heat stroke.

At New Gate the situation grew tense, as Israeli authorities at Jaffa Gate sent pilgrims from there to New Gate giving them hope of getting into the Old City. Entry through New Gate, however, was only for local Palestinian Christians. In addition to the influx of pilgrims, local Christians faced Israeli soldiers and police who pushed the crowd of pilgrims back in order to make way for the locals.

Jaffa Gate was finally opened for all at 2:30pm and the throngs of people poured into the Old City.

But it was too late: the Holy Fire was on its way out into the world.

The scene from the roof of the Holy Sepulchre was quite different. Suddenly, the crowd below cheered and a man ran up the staircase to the roof with a torch in his hand and the Holy Fire spread like wildfire among everyone’s candles and torches. After all had received their fire, a flood of pilgrims and local Christians tried to push out through the entrance to the roof.  People were happy. Joy filled the small alleys of the Christian quarter, and in front of every small business there were candles alight with Holy Fire.

Within a few hours, the fire burned all over the world, in places as far away as Russia and the United States, but also throughout the Middle East where Christians prepared ceremonies in their churches for the reception of the fire.

Along with the Holy Fire, a message of peace was spread: Together we can all stand up to spread the fire; who then can say that we cannot accomplish peace in Israel and Palestine?

 

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