Palm Sunday detainees still in Israeli custody 28Mar10 March 29, 2010

Ma’an News Agency -  28 March 2010


Israel detained 11 Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Sunday, amid protests over restrictions preventing Christians from performing religious rites in Jerusalem over Easter.

Dozens of protesters, joined by international peace activists and Muslim supporters, took to the streets after Sunday prayers held for the Christian holiday of Palm Sunday in the Nativity Church.

Participants performed the symbolic march of Jesus Christ to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, carrying palm branches and banners denouncing Israel’s wall and continued settlement expansion.

The rally reached the Gilo checkpoint, used predominantly by tourists and through which West Bankers can only pass with permission from Israel. Participants tried to transit the military installation before being barred by waiting Israeli soldiers. Border guards, some donning riot gear, were seen on the opposite side of the barrier.

Israeli peace activist Jonathan Pollack said that protesters managed to transit the checkpoint and enter Jerusalem. “Once blocked, the demonstrators, who all remained peaceful throughout the protest, held speeches, and then began heading back. It was at this point that the police staged its unprovoked attack on the retreating protesters.”

Among the detained were Fatah Central Committee member Abbas Zaki and Fatah Regional Office member Marwan Farajeh, who was transferred to an Israeli hospital in a Magen David Adom ambulance amid clashes. Another detainee was identified as Ahmad Al-A’za, as well as a resident on horseback who was carrying a palm branch.

Those detained have remained in Israeli custody for over six hours in an interrogation room at the Gilo checkpoint, while Zaki is said to have been transferred to the Russian Compound interrogation center in Jerusalem.

Shadi Fawaghreh, one of the detainees, told Ma’an that they are being kept in a holding cell with nine other detains, reporting that a number of them were beaten during their detention. He added that four Israeli peace activists detained during the rally have been released.

Pollack added that Israeli forces detained four were Israeli, one foreign national, an AP photographer, Fadi Hamad, as well as four members of the local popular committees against the wall and settlements.

A spokesman for the Israeli police operating in the West Bank did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The Palm Sunday detainees

Those detained during the rally have been identified as follows:

Abbas Zaki, member of the Fatah Central Committee

Mohammad Al-Hubani, member of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bethlehem

Mahmoud Zawahreh, member of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Al-Ma’sara

Fadi Hamad, Associated Press photographer

Hassen Breijeiyah, member of the Popular Committee Against the wall in Al-Ma’sara

Marwan Fararjeh, member of Fatah’s Regional Office in Bethlehem

Toni Shahwwan, member of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Beit Jala

Ahmad Al-A’za, member of the Holy Land Trust

Shadi Fawaghreh, member of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Wad Rahhal, Bethlehem district

Two detainees remain unidentified.

Call for Palestinian Christians to mark Easter in Jerusalem

Orthodox organizations in Palestine have called on Palestinian Christians to celebrate Holy Fire Saturday in Jerusalem, in spite of Israeli restrictions placed upon worshipers and others wishing to visit the parts of the city occupied by Israel.

The traditional Orthodox ceremony that takes place after Palm Sunday is the transfer of fire, which is said to emanate from Jesus’ tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City, by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch via candles and torches.

Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip are made to apply for permits allowing them entry to the occupied part of the city. Gaza’s Christian community are less likely to receive approval from Israeli authorities.

The Council of Arab Orthodox Organizations urged the heads of churches in Jerusalem “to stand by the rights and aspirations of their congregation and to stand up to the discriminatory policies of Israel with the freedom of worship.”

“We urge Palestinian Christians to celebrate Holy fire Saturday in Jerusalem despite all the Israeli occupation policies aiming to restrict our historic rights and push us toward immigration,” a statement read.

Christian leaders slam Israeli policy

At a news conference organized by the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land in Jerusalem Saturday morning, church representatives denounced the Israeli policies, which they said prohibit Palestinians from accessing religious sites during Christianity’s holiest holiday.

Coalition President Dimitri Diliani said that as Easter approaches, “Israeli discrimination appears clearly when we compare the treatment of Jews celebrating Passover.” Dilani added that “if what Israel practices against Christians were practiced anywhere in the world against Jews, that place would be boycotted by the international community at once.”

Father Issa Misleh, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, said attempts to negotiate with Israeli security over arrangements for his congregation were met with “inflexibility,” noting that throughout history, Christians were not prohibited from entering holy sites in Jerusalem. This, he said, was an Israeli attempt to “downplay” the Christian character of the city. Misleh added that both Christian and Muslim Palestinians endure the same restrictive Israeli policies.

Representing the Episcopal Church, Reverend Zahi Nasser said continued Israeli building policies in Jerusalem and the separation wall directly contradicted Israel’s claims to be a democracy. Jerusalem, he said, is suffering as Jesus did “in the hands of his captors.”

From the Armenian Patriarchate, Bishop Aris Shirverian expressed his church’s dismay at Israeli policy in Jerusalem, particularly during Easter, when thousands of pilgrims are prohibited from visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Meanwhile, Father Peter Madrous assured that one who plants injustice will harvest animosity “and that is the reason for the Israeli paranoia, Israel has planted injustice for years.”

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