Israel will not allow any Palestinian Christian residents of the Gaza Strip to visit the West Bank or East Jerusalem for Christmas, the military liaison to the Palestinians has announced, purportedly “for security reasons.”
Israel will issue permits for residents of the Palestinian coastal enclave to travel abroad during the upcoming Christian festival, but not to Israel or the West Bank, a spokeswoman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said, according to Al-Ittihad, the daily Communist newspaper.
In past years, members of the Christian community in the Gaza Strip were allowed to visit their families in Israel and the West Bank, including visiting Christian holy cities such as Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. In 2018, 700 such permits were issued.
Towards Easter of this year, COGAT initially announced that only 200 Gaza Christians above the age of 55 would be given permits, but only for travel abroad. The Israeli NGO Gisha (“Access”) criticized the ban as “an extreme violation of freedom of movement.” Easter 2019 was the first time that Gisha knows of that Israel denied outright all access for Gazan Christians to the West Bank and Jerusalem (whether for Easter or Christmas).
Towards last year’s Christmas season, following public pressure and local and international media coverage of Israel’s decision, military authorities added an additional 300 permits to the previously granted 400 for travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem for Christians from Gaza. The additional permits were allocated only after the holiday had begun, and their number was much smaller than in previous years.
The decrease in the number of holiday permits issued to Christians in Gaza over the years, and the fact that this Christmas Israel has not allocated any permits for Christians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, point to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, a deepening of Israel’s “separation policy.” Gisha maintains that this policy is intended to advance Israel’s annexation goals in the West Bank.