Monday, May 5, 2008

Jesus May Love the Children, But They Need Permits to Visit Jerusalem

While I do not know all the background to this event, the press release suggests that recent (and new) restrictions on Palestinian movement continue to create obstacles to peaceful people visiting the holy sites. It looks a little bad to restrict the "Jesus Loves the Children" program, doesn't it?

"Israel Blocks Children's Peace March;
Palestinian Christian Children Barred from Jerusalem"

The Israeli Government has imposed a new travel restriction which has prevented Palestinian Christian children from traveling to Jerusalem for this year's annual Children's Journey to Jerusalem, according to Bethlehem office of the event's sponsoring organization, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF). As a result of the new restriction, the event has been postponed.

This year, for the first time, the Israeli Government surprised the organizers of the event by announcing that the children, ages 13 and under, would require permits to enter the Holy City. With great effort, HCEF managed to submit applications for the permits three weeks before the scheduled date of the event on May 2, but on April 30 Israeli authorities told HCEF that there was not enough time to consider the applications.

In each of the last three Easter seasons, the Foundation has sponsored trips to Jerusalem for close to one thousand Christian school children from around 35 cities and towns in the Holy Land. This program, part of HCEF's "Jesus Loves the Children" program, has allowed children ages 13 and under to see, and worship, at the most important Christian shrines in Jerusalem, including the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This year about 850 children had registered for the event.

For most of the children, these trips are the first that they have been able to make to Jerusalem, even though most of them live not far from that city. The children have been kept away from the Christian sites by Israeli military roadblocks and military checkpoints, as well as by the inability of their parents and teachers to obtain travel documents from the Israeli authorities.

Protesting the refusal of the Israeli Government to permit this year's long- planned Children's Journey to Jerusalem, HCEF President Rateb Rabie stressed the peaceable, spiritual nature of the event. "These trips teach a message of love and peace, and they have taken place three times without any kind of incident," he said. "The visits of the children to the holy places have never presented any kind of threat to the security of Israel or to public order."

"These trips are important and exciting experiences for all of the children, who are otherwise virtual prisoners in their own towns," Mr. Rabie said. "It is unconscionable that the Israeli authorities are now preventing even young Palestinian Christian children from traveling a few kilometers within their own country to visit religious sites of paramount importance to them."

For additional information, please contact:

Karen Gainor
Executive Assistant
Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation ; 301 951-9400 ext 219

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