Following public pressure, Israel issued 300 permits for Gaza Christians to travel to holy sites during Easter

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. Photo by Chris Yunker

April 29, 2019. Following public pressure and local and international media coverage of Israel’s decision to deny Gaza Christians travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem for Easter, last week Israel reversed course, adding a 300-permit quota for travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem. The permits were delivered to Christians in Gaza on April 22, and remain valid until May 5.

Four days ahead of Easter, COGAT declared that this year, only 200 Gaza Christians above the age of 55 would be given permits, but only permits for travel abroad. This was the first time that we knew of that Israel was outright denying all access of Gaza Christians to the West Bank and Israel (on Christmas or Easter). This was also a far smaller quota than previous holidays, when COGAT set quotas of at least 500 permits, or more. Such a sweeping restriction cannot be justified by security needs. As of now, Gisha has been told that only about 30 residents met the arbitrary criterion set by Israel for travel abroad and received permits to do so.

The decision attracted attention both in Israel and abroad. Member of Israeli Knesset Aida Touma-Sliman drew on Gisha’s analysis in a letter she wrote to the deputy minister of defense (Hebrew) to demand Christians from Gaza be allowed to celebrate Easter outside of Gaza without restrictions on what age they must be in order to do so.

On April 22, COGAT added a quota of 300 permits to be distributed to Christians in Gaza for travel from the Strip to Jerusalem and the West Bank. The last minute announcement, and the extremely limited quota allocated (about a third of the total Christian population in Gaza) reflect the disturbingly little concern that Israeli authorities have towards the actual needs of Gaza residents, let alone their fundamental rights.

Israel continues to frame exit permits it gives during the holidays not as a right but rather as a “gesture of goodwill.” The decrease in the number of holiday permits issued to Christians in Gaza throughout the years point to an exacerbation of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, and a worsening of Israel’s policy of separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.