Erez Crossing 311 (R).
(photo credit:Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
The Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement NGO on Tuesday accused the
Defense Ministry of discriminating between Christians and Muslims in allowing
Gazan access to holy sites in Israel.
In its response, the state said
that Christians were allowed to cross over for diplomatic and humanitarian
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In December, the Tel Aviv-based Gisha filed a petition to the
Beersheba District Court, following the Defense Ministry’s refusal to allow
seven Muslim women from the Gaza Strip to pray at the Aksa Mosque in honor of
the prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
The petition said that the Defense
Ministry refuses to allow Muslim women from Gaza to enter east Jerusalem, but
allows Christian residents of Gaza to pray at the Church of the Nativity in
Bethlehem, thus violating the Muslims’ right to freedom of worship. It noted
that no security claims were made against the women.
“The refusal to
allow their exit is part of a policy that discriminates between Muslims and
Christians, all residents of the Gaza Strip. Under the current policy, prayer at
Al-Aksa is permitted for Palestinian Muslims from the West Bank, subject to age
restrictions and an individual security check. Furthermore, Christian residents
of the Gaza Strip receive permits to travel to pray in Bethlehem and Jerusalem
on religious holidays, also subject to age restrictions. Muslims, however, are
categorically denied permits to leave Gaza for purposes of prayer at Al-Aksa,”
“Israel's refusal to allow these women out of Gaza to pray
at their holy sites, while allowing Christians to do so, raises the specter of
discrimination based on religious belief. Israel’s control of sites holy to
multiple religions imposes an obligation to allow worshipers to access them on
an egalitarian basis, subject only to individual security checks,” Gisha’s
lawyer Nomi Heger said.
The state wrote to the court that the petition
should be dismissed out of hand, because it referred to a date that has already
passed and therefore was no longer relevant.
The response did, however,
outline the reasons for allowing the Christian devout to cross over to
Bethlehem, describing it as an “ad hoc” approval and an exception to the general
“Indeed, in the past three years the entrance of
Christian residents of Gaza to Nazareth and Bethlehem was approved for the
purpose of prayer in the holy sites during the major holidays, subject to
This entrance was enabled in light of the defense
minister’s decision to ease restrictions on this population,” the state’s
“The main grounds for this decision were for the most
part diplomatic, touching on Israel’s foreign policy, strategic and
humanitarian, in light of this population [Christians] being a persecuted group
with little possibility of holding religious ceremonies in the Strip, as opposed
to the Muslim population, who aside from the available options within the Strip,
can exit the Strip for the purpose of prayer in Mecca, through
The state rejected the claim that the decision infringed on the
women’s right to freedom of worship, arguing that the freedom was not guaranteed
to citizens of enemy entities and that allowing some people to enter did not
obligate Israel to allow all to enter.
The first hearing on the petition
will be held in Beersheba on Thursday.
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