All the data collected in recent years confirm the steady increase in the number of pilgrims and tourists who come from all over the world to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to visit the Holy Places especially on the occasion of the Christian solemnities of Christmas and Easter. But this year, among the many who will celebrate the Christmas holidays where Christ was born, died and rose again, there will be no Christians in the Gaza Strip. On Thursday, December 12, 2019, Israeli authorities announced that the baptized Palestinians will only be granted permits to go abroad, via Jordan, but none of them will be able to go to Israel or the West Bank to spend their Christmas days at the Christian Holy Places. The spokeswoman for the Israeli military office dealing with relations with the Palestinians justified this provision by referring to security reasons, according to Fides News Agency.
The measure taken this year by the Israeli authorities represents a further step in the process of the gradual restriction from the provisions implemented by Israel in similar circumstances. In recent years, the Israeli authorities had sometimes guaranteed a limited but substantial number of permits reserved for Christians of Gaza who wanted to go especially to Bethlehem, Nazareth or Jerusalem to celebrate the Christian holidays of Christmas or Easter there. Already last year there was a substantial limitation of permits granted by the Israeli authorities, which had been reserved only for people over the age of 55.
For example, in December 2015 the Israeli authorities granted 600 nominative permits to as many Christians residing in the Gaza Strip to allow them to visit the Holy Places – starting with those located in Bethlehem – on the occasion of the Christmas holidays. The permits granted that time had a monthly duration, and no permit was granted to people in the age range between twelve and thirty.
Christians in the Gaza Strip are now just over a thousand, mostly Greek Orthodox, out of a total population of 2 million Palestinians. The small Christian reality of the Strip continues to shrink: the young people who succeed, leave the land in which they were born to emigrate, while in churches the funerals of the elderly who end their earthly life are often celebrated. The many departures are a symptom that nobody believes in a near-future change, compared to a collective condition marked by international isolation, lack of work and the never-ending threat of new wars.