Despite the annual laments that Palestinian Christians must celebrate Easter under siege unable to freely practice their religion, Israel on Sunday facilitated the entry of some 35,000 Palestinians to Jerusalem and its holy sites. It does so every year, barring a major security threat.
Five hundred of those Christians came from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian nationalists and their supporters often argue that Israel is suppressing Christian freedom of religion by requiring special entry permits for those coming from Palestinian Authority-controlled areas. They point to the fact that Christians living in the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, cannot freely travel the few miles to holy sites in neighboring Jerusalem.
Israel's policies are "an assault on more than 2000 years of Christian history in the Holy Land for it disconnects, for the first time in history, the holy cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem," said Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Shaath, who went on to call the presence of Jews in the biblical heartland "an insult to the rich history of the Holy Land."
What those making these arguments often sidestep is the fact that they are the ones calling for a separate, independent Palestinian state. Every nation in the world requires special entry permits from residents of a neighboring political entity, even for special religious occasions.
Nor was Israel the one to separate Bethlehem from Jerusalem. That deed was first done by the Arab armies in 1948, just before Jordan illegally annexed what it called the "West Bank." Israel reunited Bethlehem with Jerusalem in 1967, but was strong-armed by the international community into surrendering it to another Arab entity, the Palestinian Authority, just two decades ago. It should be noted that for most of those years when Israel fully controlled both cities, entry permits were not required.
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