Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – Palestinians lined the streets of Ramallah to watch scouts (kashaf in Arabic) march in the traditional Sabt al-Nour parade on Sunday, marking the arrival of the Holy Fire from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
According to Christian tradition, every year, on the day before Orthodox Easter, a flame lights itself at the site of Jesus’ burial. The fire is then transported from Jerusalem to Orthodox communities across Palestine, and around the world.
There are 50,000 Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza. The festival serves as a celebration of Palestine’s rich history and national identity in the context of a protracted Israeli occupation and increased fragmentation of Palestinian land.
“The community is getting smaller and smaller,” Father George Award of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jifna, told Al Jazeera. “Most families have a relative who emigrated to America or Australia. The situation is very difficult here. There are checkpoints and no jobs and it’s hard to care for your family.”
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) found that Palestinian Christians are increasingly unable to complete pilgrimage to Christian holy sites in Jerusalem during Easter or Christmas.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and unilaterally annexed it in 1980, declaring the city the undivided capital of the State of Israel. Palestinians’ entry to Jerusalem has since been regulated by a strict permit regime.
Israel reportedly issued 20,000 permits for Palestinian Christians to attend Easter festivities in Jerusalem this year. While Israel claims restrictions are implemented to guarantee public security and avoid overcrowding, it has been repeatedly criticised for not guaranteeing full Palestinian access to the city’s religious sites.
In early April, Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna condemned restricted access to the Holy Sepulchre. And on Saturday, UN peace envoy Robert Serry claimed that he was blocked from attending a pre-Easter service.