In holy land, Palestinians say Easter not what it was

Thu Apr 1, 2010 9:33am EDT
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By Tom Perry

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - As a boy growing up in Jerusalem, Yacoub Dahdal saw Christians from all over the Middle East converge on the city at Easter time to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Thousands would be hosted in the homes of the city's residents. Many would depart the city as godparents to newly born Jerusalemites baptized during the pilgrimage season.

"It was a festival with every meaning of the word," said Dahdal, now aged 72 and a senior member of the Palestinian Christian community in Jerusalem. "The Egyptians would come by train, the Lebanese and Syrians by bus," he said.

"Imagine when you were down in the Old City, you would hear all the different accents: Lebanese, Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian, mixed together," he said. "It was a real joy."

Today, he reflects on a very different Easter atmosphere in a city where tension is often more apparent than spirituality.

The home where he was born in the Old City's Muslim quarter, just a short walk from the First Station of the Cross, is today adorned with Israeli flags and houses settlers who have moved in since Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

Since that conflict, the flow of pilgrims from neighboring Arab states has dried up. Syria and Lebanon remain in a state of war with Israel. Few Egyptians or Jordanians make the trip, though their governments have made peace with the Jewish state.

Christian pilgrims still fly in for Easter, from Germany, Peru or Russia, as tourists on a once-in-a-lifetime visit who are largely unaware of Israeli restrictions -- apart from the obvious fact that police seem to be around every corner.   Continued...

<p>Spectators watch the Greek Orthodox Washing of the Feet ceremony from the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City April 1, 2010, ahead of Easter. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun</p>