By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH
April 04, 2007

This year, three holidays for the three major monotheistic religions coincided in one week. On Saturday, March 31, Muslims celebrated Prophet Mohammed’s birthday (Al Mawlid Al Nabawi) according to the Hijri lunar calendar. The next day, Christians marked Palm Sunday, and on Monday, Jews began their Passover week.

Needless to say, faithful followers of the three religions descended in the thousands on Jerusalem’s Old City. Muslims flocked to the Aqsa Mosque compound, children and picnic lunches in tow, for a day of prayer and relaxation. Vendors lined the alleyways leading to the third holiest site in Islam, selling everything from cotton candy to electronics, their owners hoping for a prosperous day of selling.

That night began the Palm Sunday marches, faithful Christians carrying long, green palms through the streets of the Old City in commemoration of the day when Jesus first entered Jerusalem. According to tradition, the people of the city laid out palms before him as a sign of veneration. Jews, in the meantime, were preparing for their Passover week of prayer and sacrifice, commemorating the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.

It paints a pretty picture, no doubt. At least for those who have no clue as to the intricacies woven into the fiber of Jerusalem, the political webs, the power struggles and the ubiquitous Israeli military presence that puts a damper on any real celebrations.

The only group that can enjoy their religious holiday undisturbed are the Jews. Not only do Jewish Israelis have full access to their holy sites in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country, any Jew from anywhere around the world is free to visit the Western Wall this Passover or simply stroll through the streets of the Old City, granted to them by Israel as their “birthright”.

Palestinian Muslims and Christians don’t have it nearly as good. On the Mawlid Al Nabawi, while many were able to reach the Aqsa, the majority of Palestinian Muslims have long abandoned the possibility of traveling to the holy site. With strict Israeli measures put in place in and around Jerusalem, even Jerusalemite Muslims were wary of making their way down through the narrow streets to reach the mosque. Given that Passover was just days away, Israeli security had been beefed up throughout the city itself, especially around the grounds of Al Aqsa. Young men were frequently stopped by Israeli soldiers and policemen who demanded their ID’s. Only if their cards indicated that they were from Jerusalem or inside Israel or if they carried the rarely-issued permit for Palestinians to enter Jerusalem, were they allowed to proceed.

The same can be said for Palestinian Christians, for whom many Easter is the most important religious holiday. However, most will not be attending Easter Mass this Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. According to Israel’s absurd and arbitrary legal system, any person who carries a green-covered ID card, signifying that they are residents of the West Bank or Gaza, are banned from entry into Jerusalem. Only those “lucky” enough to be born on this side of border and have been granted blue (Israeli issued) ID cards may be allowed to practice their right to reach places of worship.

Israel’s oppressive regime against the Palestinians is not the most shocking element in the mix. Everyone knows there have been extremely oppressive regimes against scores of nations throughout history. The apartheid system only recently abolished in South Africa, which clearly and unabashedly characterized black and colored fellow countrymen as second and third class citizens, is the most jarring example of similar oppression.

What continues to be so shocking is the immunity with which Israel behaves. While the deprivation of religious freedoms pales in comparison to other violations of Palestinian rights, namely the right to life, independence and freedom, even this ban on people to reach their places of worship in the name of “security” should not go unnoticed, or un-criticized.

True, there are voices gradually rising against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians among people of conscience around the world. The fact that information is so quickly and efficiently disseminated in this day and age with such fast-paced technology also means that more people are exposed to what is truly happening to the Palestinians.

However, we must admit that these anti-occupation sentiments are a mere drop in the ocean of political and moral support for Israel. Over the 59 years since its creation, Israel has managed to convince much of the world that it does what it does to the Palestinians in self-defense and for the security of its own citizens.

Of course, other factors come into play here, particularly the role of the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally. We have all grown accustomed to the US’s blatant double standards when it comes to Israel and Palestinian rights. What would happen if the tables were turned and Jews were not allowed into a Palestinian-governed Old City of Jerusalem on the basis of Palestinian security? All hell would break loose, for sure.

It is unrealistic to believe that this Easter/Mawlid Nabawi season will turn out any different than from past holidays under the Israeli occupation, because if anything, Israel’s strict punitive measures against the Palestinians have only become worse. However, it is important to at least recognize that significant and basic human rights are being violated; ones which should not go without mention, because once we remain silent, we are giving our passive consent to have our rights trampled on.

It is time that Israel realizes that no injustice they commit against the Palestinians will go unnoticed. Muslims being able to reach the Aqsa Mosque for prayer, or Christians being able to attend mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher should be an indisputable right. Once that right is violated, our voices of condemnation and fury must be heard. Perhaps if we knock Israel down from its pedestal of moral impunity one kick at a time, one day its oppressive regime will be exposed for its true colors.

Everyone, regardless of nationality, race, religion or the color of their ID card, should be allowed to celebrate their religious holidays with freedom. The mysticism of Jerusalem is universal, as are its minarets, church bells and ancient stones. Muslims, Christians and Jews of conscience have a responsibility to drive that point home to this apartheid-like state which, for good reason, believes it can oppress, ban and violate Palestinian rights without fear of reprimand.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at


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