Christians hoping for 'open Jerusalem' for Easter and Passover

Christians are hoping for an "open Jerusalem" during the Passover and Easter so that other Palestinian believers can come over and celebrate the sacred holidays with their families at the city.

(REUTERS / Ronen Zvulun)Worshippers light candles as the newly restored Edicule, the ancient structure housing the tomb, which according to Christian belief is where Jesus's body was anointed and buried, is seen in the background at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City March 20, 2017.

Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Gaza are now required to secure special permits to be able to visit holy sites in eastern Jerusalem, which is occupied by Israelis. However, the number of permits issued is limited, so there are many families who cannot be together to celebrate the Christian festivals, the AFP details.

"Many families, in Gaza for example, get them only for some members and are therefore separated for the festival," said Youssef Daher, a Palestinian Christian.

Latin Patriarchate seminary director Father Jamal Khader said the introduction of permits has slowly removed them from Jerusalem. He also lamented that there are young Palestinians who are not able to see the holy sites in person.

"It is awful to see young Palestinians living all their lives without seeing Jerusalem. They don't know the Holy Sepulchre or the Dome of the Rock (Muslim shrine) except from pictures. They are forbidden to enter (by Israel) on the pretext of security reasons," Fr. Khader told AFP in Arabic. "We want an open Jerusalem: Jerusalem should receive all Christian, Muslim and Jewish visitors and pilgrims."

Meanwhile, religious leaders in Jerusalem are expecting a massive influx of visitors to the Old City during the Holy Week. Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem's spokesman Issa Musleh said the place will be even more crowded because more people will want to see the newly renovated tomb of Jesus, which was unveiled to the public in a ceremony on March 22, Al-Monitor reports.

Another reason for the surge in the number of visitors this Easter is the increase in the number of Coptic Christians going on pilgrimages. Father Ibrahim Faltas, a Franciscan pastor in the Custody of the Holy Land, expects around 15,000 Coptic Christian pilgrims to flock to the place this year.