On Orthodox Great Saturday, Israel closes Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter

Today, the Great Saturday celebration for Christian Orthodox people ahead of Easter Sunday tomorrow, was ruined in Jerusalem by the Israeli police and the Greek Patriarch.

The Christian Quarter of the Old City was blocked off in four places by heavily armed Israeli police, which meant that Christian Orthodox Palestinians as well as members of the church who had flown in from Greece, could not enter their church for the service.

Many Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were prevented from reaching their homes for more than eight hours.

Palestinians said that the night before, Greek members of the church had shouted at the Patriarch Irineos during the service, calling him a thief and had then started to hit out at him. The Patriarch fled the church. According to Palestinians, church members, including women and children, were beaten by police after leaving the service. Some Palestinians took refuge back in the church, but said they were beaten when they eventually left.

Christian Orthodox church members from all over the world have been demanding the resignation and trial of the Patriarch who they say was behind a shady deal two months ago in which Palestinian land and buildings in Jerusalem were unilaterally sold to Israelis.

Patriarch Irineos told Ha’aretz newspaper last night that the land in Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Square has not been sold and he is not connected to any kind of sale of the two hotels and forty stores currently being operated by Palestinians. Yet Palestinians say that they have seen his signature on the documents and the Palestinian Authority is investigating.

“He treated us, as Arab Christians, as if we are nothing and sold our land. Nobody wants him any more, not the Palestinians and not even the Greeks, but he’s like a King, he has all the power,” said one of the Palestinians who was barred from attending the church service today.

Last week, the Patriarch had to be protected by dozens of Israeli police after churchgoers lashed out at him with palm leaf crosses.

Today, the Patriarch was nowhere in sight, while hundreds of Palestinians were stuck behind Israeli police barricades. A Palestinian bystander said, “This is a problem for us. We can’t get into our church and we don’t know what to do. If we push forward with force, for sure we will be hit by the police or they might do something worse.”

Anna is an activist with the International Solidarity Movement.

Holy fire