Thousands of Palestinian Christians and pilgrims from all over the world descended in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday to commemorate the Orthodox Holy Light celebration, despite a substantial Israeli police presence that has sparked outrage among churches.
Thousands of believers go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believe Jesus was buried, for the millennium-old festival, which symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection.
But Israeli police this year have significantly limited access to the event, citing safety concerns.
In contrast to previous years, when as many as 10,000 worshippers packed into the church, only 1,800 will be allowed inside this year, with another 1,200 outside. Additional checkpoints around the Old City will also restrict access to the area around the church.
The churches said they would not be cooperating with the police restrictions, which they see as part of long-standing efforts to push out the local Christian community.
Some church leaders have voiced concern over what they describe as an environment of impunity in the face of rising acts of violence and vandalism targeting Christians and their properties in Jerusalem.
Israel has been on high alert in recent weeks in the Old City – a frequent flashpoint for violence – as Christians, Muslims and Jews all celebrated holidays.
Police also faced criticism over a lack of regulation at a crowded Jewish pilgrimage site in northern Israel after a stampede there in 2021 killed 45 people.