Gaza’s Christians want to celebrate Christmas in Jerusalem and Bethlehem
By the Right Rev Colin Sinclair, Moderator of the Church of Scotland
At this time of year, when Christians from across the world will be looking to, and visiting, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, as they celebrate the birth of Jesus into our world, the Church of Scotland is deeply concerned that Gazan Christians have not yet been granted permission by Israel to visit their holy sites in these places. This permission is normally granted every year at Christmas, and last year 700 permits were granted.
The Israeli Human Rights organisation B’TSELEM has reported that restricting movement is one of the main tools Israel employs to enforce its regime of occupation. The Church of Scotland calls on Israel to affirm the right of Christians in Gaza to visit their holy sites and families at this time of year. Enshrined in Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence is the guarantee that it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.
It is estimated that the Christian community of Gaza numbers around 800, amongst a population of two million, living in an area the size of the island of Jura. Many of Gaza’s Christians have family members living in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. The Church of Scotland affirms the right of the indigenous Christian community of Gaza to be able to visit their holy sites. It therefore calls on Israel to grant permission so that they may be able to visit and worship freely during this special season of the Christian year.
Just as with so many families around the world who take the chance of this season to meet and spend time together, so it is a very special opportunity for those from Gaza to meet with their wider family members, to have time together, and an opportunity to celebrate the coming of the Christ as a child in Bethlehem. On behalf of the Church of Scotland, I pray that our brothers and sisters will have such an opportunity this year and urge the government of Israel to grant the necessary permits.