Christians have expressed deep concern over Israeli restrictions and policies during Religious celebrations that have been in effect for the past 6 years. The Easter celebrations have been marked with clashes between local Christians and Israeli troops, who regularly prevent worshipers from accessing the religious sites.
Every year Christians try to spiritually connect Bethlehem, the city were Jesus was born with the city where the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus took place, but the heavy presence of Israeli Police and Military forces (around and in the Old City and surrounding the holy sites) disturbs the spiritual traditions of Easter.
Secretary-general of the Jerusalem Inter-church Center, Yusef Daher, said Israeli restrictions on reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for Holy Week and Easter are part of the current Israeli government’s policy of making Jerusalem an exclusively Jewish city.
Orthodox tradition holds that the Holy Fire ceremony is a miracle that happens annually on the day preceding Orthodox Easter, in which a blue light emanates within Jesus Christ’s tomb (usually rising from the marble slab covering the stone bed believed to be that upon which Jesus’ body was placed for burial) now in the Holy Sepulchre, which eventually forms a column containing a form of fire, from which candles are lit, which are then used to light the candles of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance.
Describing the struggles the Israeli police puts Christians living in Jerusalem through combined with the Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony during the Easter Vigil, the secretary-general admitted that although the single entrance and exit to the church cause a potential hazard in case of a fire, there had been no problem in more than a century.
“This (restrictions) did not happen 10 years ago," he said.
The ceremony has become a point of contention over the past 10 years between the Israeli police and local Christians.
Police claims that the single exit into a plaza during the ceremony puts the visitors in danger in case of a fire break-out.
“Yes, there are some security issues (in terms of fire exits)," Daher said. “Christians say that on a holy day God will not allow anything dangerous to happen. Secular people say that is nonsense and something has to be done, but closing the plaza is not (the solution).”
During a March 17 press briefing in Jerusalem’s Old City, Rector of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jalla, West Bank, Fr Jamal Khader condemned the Israeli restrictions saying, “It (reminds us) that this can’t go on forever, there is an end; like with the Gospel there is a resurrection of light and of happiness".