Israeli occupation forces prevented young Christians from the Gaza Strip from travelling to the West Bank to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. This restrictions were imposed in the context of Israel's illegal closure of the Gaza Strip, which has now been in place for 928 consecutive days. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns this form of collective punishment, and calls upon the international community to exert pressure on Israeli occupation authorities to cancel their decision and immediately allow all Christians to move freely, to grant access to the Church of the Nativity and Church of the Resurrection, and to respect the right to freedom of religion.
According to Palestinian sources, Israeli occupation authorities prevented Christians from the Gaza Strip aged 16-35 from traveling from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank to participate in the celebration of Christmas and the New Year in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They refused to consider any application for permits for those aged between 16 and 35 from both sexes for no apparent reason. This policy contradicts Israeli claims that it allowed all Gazan Christians to participate in the celebrations of Christmas in the West Bank.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at least 550 Christians applied for permits to travel to the West Bank, and Israeli occupation authorities refused to accept applications from 450 others aged 16-35. Israeli occupation forces allowed only 450 applicants, 70% of whom were children, to travel to the West Bank. PCHR note that most rejected applications were of parents, which in effect deprived children who obtained permits of traveling as their parents were not able to accompany them.
Such measures have been in place for the last number of years. Last year, the Palestinian Civil Affairs Commission submitted at least 1,000 applications to obtain permits for Christians to travel from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, but Israeli occupation authorities approved only 271, mostly of children and the eldery. Those who were allowed to travel were subjected to humiliating prolonged checking at Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing before being allowed to pass through the crossing.
PCHR is deeply concerned over the policy of collective punishment adopted by Israeli occupation authorities, which constitutes a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. PCHR calls upon the international community to immediately act to allow Palestinian civilians to enjoy their rights to freedom of movement and worship. PCHR stresses that everyone has the right to freedom of faith and religion, including the right to conduct religious rituals, and the right to freedom of movement and/or having access to sacred religious sites, which are fundamental rights that must be respected, protected and upheld.