On the occasion of Palm Sunday, Palestinians held a special service in Gaza, with dozens of families gathering in the Church of Saint Porphyrius to celebrate the biblical story of Jesus Christ’s glorious entry into Jerusalem.
Yet, Palestinians, this year, would not share in the symbolism of the glorious entry to Jerusalem; this year, Israeli authorities denied Palestinian Christians the required permits to enter Jerusalem, and perform their religious rites at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. While some family members managed to secure entry permits, many others in the same family did not. As a result, the congregation decide to collectively hold the celebration in Gaza, in hopes of being able to celebrate in Jerusalem next year.
The day is "Palm Sunday", in commemoration of the celebration with which the people received Jesus Christ upon his entry to Jerusalem, with palms and olive branches in their hands. It is, therefore, ceremonially celebrated with palm leaves.
Gazan Amir Metas was unable to secure a permit to celebrate in Jerusalem this year, despite applying for one based on his age, whereby conditions stipulate that people older than a certain age are permitted entry. Nonetheless, he was denied the permit, with no justifications provided for the rejection.
On Palm Sunday, Metas had hoped that the border crossings would be opened, and that conditions would be slightly ameliorated in the struggling Gaza Strip.
Permits for Christians Adhere to a Quota
Head of the Department of Religious Relations at the Church of Saint Porphyrius, Jabr al-Jalda, notes that the church applied for about 1,100 permits, of which only 670 were approved. “An additional 100 permits were approved, but we didn’t receive them. We inquired through human rights organizations, which mediated on our behalf, to discover that permits granted to Christians adhere to a certain quota,” he says.
“Today, we hold a mass on the occasion of Palm Sunday, to commemorate Jesus Christ’s entry to Jerusalem,” he says, noting that many Christians should have been in Jerusalem today, but Israeli procedures dictated otherwise.
About 70% of the Christian population in Gaza are Roman Orthodox, while 30% are predominantly Catholic.
On a day when Christians all over the world celebrate Jesus' entrance to Jerusalem, the Gazans were denied that same rite. For the Palestinians of Gaza, the start of Passion Week is marked by the sadness, and inspiration from the Suffering of Jesus.
On a day when Christians all over the world celebrate Jesus' entrance to Jerusalem, the Gazans were denied that same rite.
For the Palestinians of Gaza, the start of Passion Week is marked by the sadness, and inspiration from the Suffering of Jesus.
The Unyielding Siege
Ibrahim Jahshan, an altar server at the Orthodox church, affirms that the Israeli siege on Gaza is in full force, affecting both Muslims and Christians alike.
“For how long will we remain at the mercy of this siege? Our children have the right to celebrate and wave their palm branches to celebrate this day in Jerusalem,” he says.
Jahshan notes that the Israeli forces could learn a lesson from Jesus Christ’s humility on Palm Sunday, calling on them to open up the borders to allow Christians from all sects to celebrate their holidays in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
“I am truly heartbroken that I won’t be able to celebrate in Jerusalem, but I am thankful that I am with my family in our church in our beloved Gaza, celebrating together. I will always remain a proud son of Gaza, and I’ll never leave,” he continues.
The Promised Land
Farouk George Farha, another Gazan Christian, says that they had hoped to be in Jerusalem on Sunday, noting that they were there in spirit, though they physically celebrated in Gaza. He further notes that every Palestinian, Muslim and Christian, hopes the border crossing will be opened on all holidays. Every Christian in the world wishes to celebrate Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, and not just those from Gaza, he says.
Similarly, Nasr al-Jalda shares the same sentiments, and hopes to secure an open-ended permit to allow him to celebrate holidays and perform religious rites in sacred places beyond the border wall.
“We hoped to enter Jerusalem the way Christ had entered, but the Israeli occupation has obstructed my entry for the fourth consecutive year,” he adds.
Bishop Alexios, head of the Episcopate of Sabria and Patron of the Roman Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius, gave a sermon for the occasion, in which he said: “As Christians, we are called upon to receive Christ with hymns of thanks from the heart, and to give thanks at all times, to relive his suffering, and understand its significance."
“As such," he continues, "it is our duty to participate in the church prayers and fully immerse ourselves in these days of passion and pain, for they signify the true meaning of our worship. During this holy week, the church must be a center of life for all, and our bibles should not leave our hands.”
For Christians, Palm Sunday marks the start of Passion Week, and in the majority of Eastern Christian churches, this week continues to be observed with deep commitment, holding special services throughout the week.
After the Palm Sunday service is completed, the decorations are taken down, and the church assumes a mournful appearance. For the Christians of Gaza, this year, the joy of the celebration, and the solemnity of the religious ritual were tainted with the bitterness of their denied entry to Jerusalem.