CHRISTIANS from the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to visit holy sites in Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas this year, the so-called Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced yesterday.
This means that this Christmas, Gaza’s Christians will be denied access to the holy sites and their families in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In addition, only Christians over the age of 45 are eligible for a permit to travel abroad.
There are around 1,000 Christians – most of them Greek Orthodox – living in the Gaza Strip, among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal enclave.
This year’s decision is a break with usual policy. Last year, Israel granted permits for close to 700 Gazan Christians to travel to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other holy cities that draw thousands of pilgrims each holiday season.
Commenting on the Israeli decision, Gisha, an Israeli rights group, said: ‘The decrease in the number of holiday permits issued to Christians in Gaza over the years, and the fact that this Christmas Israel has not allocated any permits for Christians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, point to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, a deepening of Israel’s ‘separation policy’.
It said though COGAT regularly demonstrates pride in allowing Christians from Gaza to visit their family members in the West Bank, Jerusalem or Nazareth as proof of respect for religious freedom, ‘Israel’s conduct surrounding the publication of these quotas, and the unnecessary actions it imposes on who can obtain a permit in practice, fall far short of Israel’s obligations towards the Strip’s civilian population.’
- Citing the lack of building permits, the Israeli occupation forces authorities demolished 22 Palestinian-owned structures in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem in the past two weeks, displacing 49 people and otherwise affecting over 800 others, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its bi-weekly report on Israel’s violations of human rights.
OCHA said half of the structures demolished in the West Bank had been previously provided as humanitarian assistance, while four of the localities affected by the demolition of ten structures are Bedouin communities located in, or around an area planned for settlement expansion (the ‘E1’ plan) and face the risk of forcible transfer. Another eight structures were located in areas declared closed for Israeli military training (‘firing zones’), the report added.
On 28th November, Israeli forces punitively demolished four homes and three water cisterns in Beit Kahil village (Hebron), in Area B, displacing 15 people, including six children.
The structures belong to the families of four Palestinians accused of killing an Israeli soldier in August 2019. The incident triggered clashes with Israeli forces, which resulted in the injury of six Palestinians, including two children. This is the seventh punitive demolition incident so far this year, carried out citing ‘deterrence needs’.
On settler violence during the same period, the report said over 800 trees and 200 vehicles owned by Palestinians were vandalised in 11 separate incidents by Jewish settlers.
Coinciding with the end of the annual olive harvest season, damage to (mostly olive) trees was recorded in the West Bank villages of Sebastiya, Al Khadr and As Sawiya. In the latter village, which was attacked twice over the course of three days, Israeli settlers set up a tent near one of the targeted plots.
‘Since the beginning of 2019, over 7,500 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalised, reportedly by Israeli settlers,’ said OCHA.
‘On 9 December, assailants slashed the tyres of 189 Palestinian cars in the Shu’fat neighbourhood of East Jerusalem and sprayed ‘price tag’ graffiti in Hebrew on the walls of several buildings. Additional vehicles were vandalised or set on fire in the villages of Khallet Sakariya (Bethlehem), Deir Ammar and At Tayba (both in Ramallah).’
During the past two weeks also, Israeli forces shot and killed a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, east of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, and injured another eight Palestinians, including six children. The incident occurred on Friday, 29 November, when a group of youth approached Israel’s perimeter fence around Gaza and clashed with Israeli forces.
Another 90 Palestinians, including 36 children, were injured by Israeli forces near the perimeter fence between Gaza and Israel, during the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations, which resumed on 6 December after a three-week pause. Forty-four (44) of the injuries were hospitalised, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.
On 30 November, Israeli forces shot and killed an 18-year-old Palestinian youth in Beit ‘Awwa village (Hebron), reportedly after he threw a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli military patrol; the corpse has been withheld by the Israeli authorities. Another two Palestinians, including one child, were arrested during the same incident.
An additional 181 Palestinians, including at least 18 children, were injured by Israeli forces during multiple protests and clashes across the West Bank. Over half of these injuries were recorded on 26 November, during protests against a recent statement by the US Secretary of State about the legality of Israeli settlements, and in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, who are holding a hunger strike.
- Israeli occupation forces committed 2,149 violations against Palestinian civilians across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem during November, a report by Hamas’ Media Division in the West Bank found.
In its monthly report, Hamas said that Israeli attacks against Palestinians had escalated in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem last month, noting that the home demolitions doubled in November compared to October.
Last month saw a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinians wounded by Israeli gunfire as Israeli occupation forces attacked popular protests and activities held throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem, the report explained.
Israeli occupation forces shot and injured 261 people over the last month, including Palestinian journalist Moath Amarneh who lost his eye after being shot by an Israeli occupation soldier while covering anti-occupation protests in Surif town, north of Hebron.
The report revealed that Israeli occupation forces had deliberately gunned down Omar Badawi in al-Aroub refugee camp in northern Hebron.
Palestinian detainee Sami Abu Diak died in the Ramla prison clinic as a result of a deliberate policy of medical negligence followed by the Israeli Prison Service against Palestinian detainees.
The report documented a sharp spike in illegal settlement activity last month in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, which came in light of the US decision to consider Israeli settlement in the West Bank ‘not inconsistent with international law’, encouraging the Israeli occupation government to vow to annex the Jordan Valley.
During November, Israeli occupation forces stormed 470 Palestinian homes across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.
According to the report, Hebron witnessed the highest number of Israeli violations, about 380 violations, in November, where three Palestinian civilians were shot dead by Israeli occupation soldiers.
However, Jerusalem and Ramallah saw 337 and 283 Israeli violations against Palestinians respectively.
Over the past month, Israeli occupation forces detained 321 people, including children, women, and ex-detainees.
The number of attacks perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians civilians jumped to 95 assaults, in addition to 158 incidents in which Israeli occupation soldiers and settlers opened fire at Palestinians.
The report documented 24 Israeli assaults against Palestinian holy sites and places of worship in November, noting that nearly 1,525 Israeli settlers had broken into the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the same month.