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Easter Festivities and Restrictions in Jerusalem

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The dwindling Palestinian Christian population celebrated Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and even in Gaza. Eastern and Western Christian calendars were united this year, bringing larger numbers to the celebrations than usual. Israel again this year issued permits for Palestinian Christians from nearby Bethlehem and Ramallah to enter Jerusalem to celebrate the Easter festivities.

This season witnessed an increase in Egyptian Coptic pilgrims to Jerusalem. Air Sinai, which used to run four flights a week, increased them to 12, bringing 547 pilgrims to participate in the Easter celebrations.Press reports said that the number of pilgrims participating in Palm Sunday celebrations this year was more than double last year. Some 30,000 are reported to have participated, compared to 12,000 last year.Clergymen in Jerusalem say that the main reason for the increase is that Palm Sunday this year was celebrated on the same day by Christians who belong to the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches.In Gaza, Orthodox Bishop Alexas led the tiny Christian Palestinian congregation in celebrating the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem one week before his crucifixion.The traditional Palm Sunday celebrations follow the same route that Jesus took some 2,000 years ago, starting from the Mount of Olives neighbourhood of Beit Ania, down past the Church of Gethsemane and up to the old city via the Lion Gate. Boy scouts from various local Palestinian Christian churches usually participate in the pageantry, along with believers, church leaders, tourists and lay persons. Palm Sunday marchers on the traditional path carry branches of palm trees and sing hymns as they remember the days leading to Easter Sunday.Easter in Jerusalem is quite special; various churches and religious denominations hold events, church services and colorful pageants throughout the Passion Week.Greek and Cypriot pilgrims who often stay with local Palestinian Christians participate in these events leading to the Easter morning when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Many pilgrims observe a 40-day fast, abstaining from eating meat and their products. Easter Sunday is celebrated with meals containing various kinds of meat.Palm Sunday took a cultural dimension in Bethlehem; the local Chamber of Commerce organised a bazaar for cultural artifacts and the public visiting the popular market was able to enjoy the festival atmosphere that was also colored by music by local singers.

Local Christian priests were asked more than a month ago to submit names of their various parish members wishing to visit Jerusalem. Once the lists are vetted by the Israeli security, those whose names were not rejected were given a six-week permit to visit Jerusalem and Israel.The Israeli ministry of tourism said that more than 125,000 pilgrims and visitors were expected this year’s Easter and Passover season.Easter falls on April 20, the Jewish Passover holiday falls between April 14 and 21. The tourism ministry press release said that all hotels were fully booked for the multiple religious seasons this spring.At a time Christian and Jewish events are being celebrated in Jerusalem, Palestinians are concerned about a sharp increase in radical Jewish infiltration into the area of Al Aqsa Mosque.Waqf officials are expecting an increase in the number of Israelis entering into the mosque area from the only gate that is not under the control of the Jordanian Islamic waqf (the Moghrabi Gate).Israeli priests are also preparing for a possible rebuilding of the Jewish temple, reportedly in the same location as Al Aqsa Mosque. Priests are being prepared to be ready to offer rituals at the future temple.Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, the head of the Temple Institute in the Old City of Jerusalem, the leading body preparing for the establishment of the third temple, will teach the audience the laws of the Passover sacrifice.Palestinian leaders are calling for a series of public activities to protest the dangers to the Islamic mosque.In response, Palestinian Muslim leaders are calling for a general campaign to stand up in the defence of Al Aqsa because of the continued incursions into the holy shrine.