Gaza has only 1,000 Christians among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip.
“Israel is a sovereign state and it has the right to decide who will enter its gates. No foreign residents have an inherent right to enter Israel, including Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”
— Civil Administration (COGAT) spokesman
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said church authorities had applied for around 600 permits for Gazans to travel, but had not received any, three days before Good Friday.
Israel tightly restricts movements out of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by Hamas, an Islamist group that it considers a terrorist organization.
The Israeli military-run authority that operates in the West Bank defended its policy to restrict access as many Palestinians had stayed on illegally in the past, and said it would only issue permits to people aged at least 55.
Church leaders feared more restrictions than usual this year as Easter falls on the same weekend as the start of Passover, a Jewish holiday when Israel boosts security. Father Ibrahim Shomali, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said worshippers should not even be required to get permits.
“We have to have free access to the Holy Land, free access to our holy places,” he said at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
“Of course we apply, but in reality there must be no applying for permits to come to visit your own places.”