By EAs’ Thor, Elaine and Katherine,
Friday 25 March 2016 was a particularly holy day in the Holy Land. Purim, celebrating the events in the book of Esther, was just finishing. Christians were commemorating Good Friday in the place where Jesus was crucified. Muslims were preparing to pray at the third holiest place in Sunni Islam. EAs’ Thor, Elaine and Katherine write from Bethlehem:
At the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem elegant elderly gentlemen and soft-faced ladies begin to gather. Today the soldiers stop them at the first turnstile and they go no further. A young family with a special Easter permit goes through, as does a man with a pass to go to hospital. Those denied entry are joined by a man with a permit to visit his sick son in hospital. A Muslim man explains he works at the Baptist Church in Jerusalem and had gone in advance to apply for a permit for Easter as he does every year but was told he didn’t need one now he is over 60. Today he is not allowed to cross without one.
The speakers in the checkpoint play Purim holiday music. The soldier says that all the people know the checkpoint is closed, but many tell us they had heard on the news that it reopened. The closure was announced only the day before. There are no posters, leaflets or websites to consult. Over two hours we call the military-run humanitarian hotline seven times. As usual when we call they tell us to call back later, hang up or refuse to speak to us.
When asked why some are not allowed through the soldier says “The checkpoint is closed until Sunday because of the holidays and all the bombs they are throwing at Israel”. We meet one woman trying to get to a funeral that is not allowed to pass. She asks through her tears, “Have you no heart?”. Her work permit confirms she has passed all the Israeli security checks. All those refused would have been allowed through on any other day, from the elderly blind man guided by his granddaughter to the grandmother who just wants to deliver honey and cheese to her daughter.
The checkpoint has been closed for two days already, meaning no one can cross to go to work or see their family. Significantly, this checkpoint was built a year after the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its 2004 Advisory Opinion, called for the Wall to be dismantled and labelled it illegal due to the overwhelming economic and social problems it caused for Palestinians. The ICJ stated that the: “construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.” (Para.142). Notably, 85% of the Barrier route is within the West Bank itself, not along the Green Line.
A professor from Hebron University, trying to get through to see a colleague visiting from the US, shouts that this is discrimination. He is right. Israel has ratified the Universal Declaration on Human Rights under which everyone has the right to freedom of movement within the borders of each state (article 13), and the right to manifest their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance (article 18). The Fourth Geneva Convention says that those under occupation are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their person, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs (article 27).
Walking the Stations of the Cross within sight of Jerusalem. Elsewhere in Bethlehem, Christians who have not managed to get permits to go to Jerusalem gathered together in the Beir Ouna to walk the Stations of the Cross within sight of Jerusalem. One man tells us that although he was granted a permit, his mother got no response to her application. A couple have both received permits for the first time, normally one or the other receives a permit but not both. However, the woman’s father was refused. Another man has a permit but will not use it today because of all the extra security and searches between Bethlehem checkpoint and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
While the Purim holidays in Israel has resulted in checkpoint closures and sweeping movement restrictions, it has not stopped the work on the illegal Separation Barrier in the Cremisan Valley below. Half way through walking the Stations of the Cross we turn and reach our arms out across the valley that is being divided before our eyes and towards Jerusalem, just 7km away yet unreachable for so many.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer. At a Church service in the evening we hear the words from John’s gospel: “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” But we know this is not the end of the Easter story. May new life come soon to those who feel it is always Good Friday but never Easter.
Kairos Palestine 2016: Easter Alert
UNOCHA January 2015: Bethlehem Governorate: fragmentation and humanitarian concerns
B’Tselem: The Separation Barrier
International Court of Justice (ICJ): Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of 9 July 2004