Israel bars Gaza’s Christians from visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Christmas

Christian visitors shop near the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AP Photo)
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Updated 13 December 2019

Israel bars Gaza’s Christians from visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Christmas

  • Gazan Christians will be granted permits to travel abroad but none will be allowed to go to Israel and the occupied West Bank
  • Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians — most of them Greek Orthodox — among a population of 2 million

JERUSALEM/GAZA: Christians in the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas this year, Israeli authorities said on Thursday.
Gazan Christians will be granted permits to travel abroad but none will be allowed to go to Israel and the occupied West Bank, home to many sites holy to Christians, a spokeswoman for Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said.
Israel tightly restricts movements out of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by Hamas.
The spokeswoman said that following “security orders,” Gazans would be allowed to travel abroad via Israel’s Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan but not to visit cities in Israel or the West Bank.
Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians — most of them Greek Orthodox — among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip.
This year’s decision is a break with usual policy. Last year, Israel granted permits for close to 700 Gazan Christians to travel to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other holy cities that draw thousands of pilgrims each holiday season.
Gisha, an Israeli rights group, said the ban points “to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory,” calling it “a deepening of Israel’s separation policy” for the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinians seek to set up a state in the West Bank and Gaza, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel in the past has defended its restrictions on Gazans traveling to the West Bank, saying many Palestinians from Gaza stay on illegally when granted short-term permits.
In Gaza, one Christian woman voiced hope Israel would reverse its policy so she could visit her family in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“Every year I pray they will give me a permit so I can celebrate Christmas and see my family,” Randa El-Amash, 50, said, adding: “It will be more joyful to celebrate in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem.”
Christian leaders in Jerusalem condemned the move, but added that they are appealing to Israeli authorities to reverse the decision.
“Other people around the world are allowed to travel to Bethlehem. We think Gaza’s Christians should have that right, too,” said Wadie Abu Nassar, an adviser to local church leaders.


Israeli PM: Palestinians in Jordan Valley won’t be citizens

Updated 28 May 2020

Israeli PM: Palestinians in Jordan Valley won’t be citizens

  • Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with plans to annex the Jordan Valley

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley will remain in what he described as an “enclave” after Israel annexes the territory and will not be granted Israeli citizenship.
Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with plans to annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in line with President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, a process that could begin as early as July 1.
The annexation of the Jordan Valley and the far-flung settlements would make it virtually impossible to create a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, which is still widely seen as the only way to resolve the decades-old conflict.
In an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper, Netanyahu said Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, including residents of the city of Jericho, would remain under limited Palestinian self-rule, with Israel having overall security control.
“They will remain a Palestinian enclave,” he said. “You’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two. You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them. They will remain Palestinian subjects, if you will. But security control also applies to these places.”
Palestinians in the West Bank have lived under Israeli military rule since the 1967 war, when Israel captured the territory, along with east Jerusalem and Gaza. The Palestinians want all three territories to form their future state.
The Trump plan would grant the Palestinians limited statehood over scattered enclaves surrounded by Israel if they meet a long list of conditions. Israel has embraced the plan, while the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, has angrily rejected it and cut ties with the US and Israel.
Netanyahu said that if the Palestinians accept all the conditions in the plan, including Israel maintaining overall security control, “then they will have an entity of their own that President Trump defines as a state.”
Under a coalition agreement reached last month, Netanyahu can bring his annexation plans before the government as early as July 1.
The Palestinian Authority has said it is no longer bound by any agreements signed with Israel and the US, and says it has cut off security coordination with Israel. Neighboring Jordan, a close Western ally and one of only two Arab states to have made peace with Israel, has warned of a “massive conflict” if Israel proceeds with annexation.