AMMAN: The city of Jerusalem is fast becoming the new epicenter of the Palestine-Israel conflict as tensions rise between local citizens and authorities.
On Saturday, Bassem Khoury, a Palestinian Christian businessman, led a delegation of 37 diplomats in Jerusalem to attend Holy Fire ceremonies.
They were met by an Israeli force that denied their entry. An Israeli official physically attacked Khoury at the New Gate.
“He threw me to the ground and I had to be helped by a Russian diplomat,” Khoury told Arab News. “I plan to sue the Israeli policeman for this act and for the violation of a court order to the Orthodox Club that called on the police to ease the entry of Christians to participate in religious ceremonies.”
After a long wait, police apologized and the delegation was allowed to enter.
A Jerusalem police spokesman told Arab News that the number of worshippers was limited by the authorities due to congestion limits.
“Because the maximum number of participants reached the compound, the police had to act to prevent others from entering due to the safety of the
people, following the implementation of COVID-19 guidelines,” the spokesman said.
However, Khoury has denied that the church and surrounding areas were congested.
“Normally, tens of thousands of tourists and local Christians attend the event. This year, the number barely reached 2,000,” Khoury added.
He warned that Israeli attempts to restrict the entry of Christians is part of a larger policy against Palestinian Muslims and Christians that aims to make Jerusalem a “pure Jewish city.”
Khoury said: “They are denying Jerusalem Palestinians the right to vote, they are encroaching daily on Al-Aqsa Mosque and now they are even denying Palestinian Christians their basic right to freedom of worship.” Orthodox Christians in Palestine, Egypt and other countries celebrated Easter Sunday on May 2.
In Jordan and parts of the Palestinian territories, a communal agreement was reached to allow all Christians to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 alongside Catholics and Protestants, while marking Easter in accordance with the Orthodox tradition.
Separately, an Israeli court on Sunday postponed a decision to evict six Palestinian families from the Sheik Jarrah area.
Dozens of Palestinians are facing imminent dispossession from their homes in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in what they say is a move to force them out and build an Israeli settlement.
Jawdat Manna, coordinator of the Jerusalem campaign for the Sheikh Jarrah community, told Arab News that the decision “is an attempt by the apartheid regime to find a way out of the dilemma they are facing after lawyers have presented documentations that refute the settlers’ claims.”
Manna said that the court is now calling on the two parties to reach a compromise, adding that the Palestinians insist on holding on to their homes and are not willing to compromise their rights.
Lawyers from Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Turkey, the UK and the US are also joining the case, Manna said.