Gisha: Israeli Defense Ministry Only Allow Christian Worshippers to Leave Gaza

08.03.11 – 11:18| PNN – Palestine News Network

Tal Aviv – Gisha to PNN – The Israeli Defense Ministry refuses to allow Muslim women from Gaza to enter east Jerusalem in order to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque but allows Christian residents of Gaza to pray at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.



The state’s policy became apparent from its answer to a petition submitted by the Israeli Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Gisha,  on behalf of seven Muslim women from the Gaza Strip, whose request to cross to east Jerusalem in order to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque was rejected out of hand, even though no security claims were raised against them. A hearing on the petition will be held Thursday at the Beersheba District Court.

The petitioners, mothers, grandmothers and career women over the age of 40, claim that the refusal to allow them to leave Gaza to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque violates their right to freedom of worship. What is more, 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 Israeli policy, prayer at Al-Aqsa 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 Aqsa.

The women worshippers requested to travel to Al-Aqsa for the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday on February 15, 2011. Since the Israeli army rejected their application, they hope to be able to pray there on the next Moslem holiday in June. Although the women first submitted their request on December 21, 1.5 months before the holiday, the Defense Ministry yesterday in its response asked the court to dismiss the petition as theoretical – because Mohammed’s birthday has already passed.

According to Kareema Ahrawat, a 43-year old mother of four: “I don’t know why they allow Christians to leave and not us”. The worshippers expressed frustration at the discriminatory policy, noting that “It’s easier for us to go all the way to Saudi Arabia to perform the Haj than to access Al Aqsa, which is so much closer to us”.

According to Attorney Nomi Heger of Gisha, who wrote the petition: “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 worshippers to access them on an egalitarian basis, subject only to individual security checks”.

Related news items:

PNN – Palestine News Network – Gisha: Israeli Defense Ministry Only Allow Christian Worshippers to Leave Gaza.

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