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Israel Bans Gazan Christians From Visiting Holy Sites in Bethlehem and Jerusalem on Christmas

The Christians living in the Gaza strip believe this harms their ability to honor Christ on His birthday.

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Israeli authorities declared on Thursday that Christians living in the Gaza strip would not be permitted to visit holy sites on Christmas.

Gazan Christians, who number roughly 1,000 and are mostly Greek Orthodox, will not be permitted to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem although some of them will be allowed to leave the tightly-controlled Gaza Strip for outside travel.

An Israeli spokeswoman told Reuters that due to these “security orders,” Gazan Christians are permitted to travel abroad through Israel’s Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan, but they are barred from visiting any city in Israel or the West Bank.

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Typically, Israel allows Christians in the Gaza strip to visit their holy sites, but they changed their policy this year. In 2018, they allowed Gazan Christians to travel to Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other areas important to worshipers of Christ. They rescinded that policy this year.

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Christians are crying foul over the change in policy by the Israelis.

“Every year I pray they will give me a permit so I can celebrate Christmas and see my family,” Randa El-Amash, 50, told Reuters.

“It will be more joyful to celebrate in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem,” she added.

Jerusalem’s Christian leaders are also angered by the decision and have launched an appeal to Israeli leadership to allow Gazan Christians to visit their holy lands during the Christmas season.

“Other people around the world are allowed to travel to Bethlehem. We think Gaza’s Christians should have that right, too,” said Wadie Abu Nassar, who advises Israeli church leaders.

The Christian population in the Gaza strip has been dwindling for decades and may go down as a casualty of the ongoing conflict:

In 2003, Israel began enclosing Bethlehem behind a 23-foot concrete wall. Its purpose was to keep suicide bombers from crossing out of the West Bank and into Israel during the Intifada. But even after the worst unrest settled, the wall kept growing. And Christians living in the town, who have never taken up arms against Israel, are suffering for it.

As Hanan Nasrallah, a Palestinian employee of the Catholic Relief Services, put it: “The separation wall… cuts family from each other. People get humiliated at checkpoints. People do not have many opportunities to improve their living standards. So, therefore, Christians who can afford to, are trying to leave this country.”

It’s not just families that are being split up, either. The wall also runs through the neighbouring village of Beit Jala, which is 80 percent Christian. Upon completion, it will cut off a Salesian monastery from its sister-convent and the rest of the local Christian community. The plight of Beit Jala’s Christians prompted Cardinal Vincent Nichols to write a letter to William Hague in 2012, asking him to appeal to Tel Aviv directly.

And this doesn’t even touch on those Palestinian Christians displaced from their historic homes by encroaching settlements, or those terrorised by “price tag attacks” carried out by radical Israeli nationalists. These are not acts of the Israeli government, though it is the government’s responsibility – both morally and under international law – to respect the rights of Palestinians, whatever their religion.

Israel claims the restriction is occurring due to security concerns, and they point to past instances in which Palestinians have stayed in Israel illegally after their short term permits expire.

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Canadian Police Report Almost 2,200 Home Visits To Monitor Quarantine Compliance

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Canadian police officers reportedly have conducted almost 2,200 home visits to ensure travelers into the country are complying with quarantine rules.

In late March, the Canadian government announced the start of the Quarantine Act, which mandates that anyone entering the country, with the exception of essential workers like truck drivers and those in healthcare, must self-isolate for 14 days.

Failure to comply can incur a fine of up to $750,000 and/or six months in prison. However, so far there have been no arrests, and only one fine of $1,000.

Still, many may find unsettling the degree to which the Canadian police, in coordination with official border and health services, are enforcing a nanny state by paying home visits to incoming travelers deemed at risk of non-compliance. In addition, prime minister Justin Trudeau has hinted that even tougher measures could be coming, even once Canada begins easing cross-border travel.

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Also in late March, the Trudeau government announced a halt to all immigration in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. However, current immigration applications would not be closed or denied due to failure to meet typical requirements.

Still, many pointed out that Canada’s response was actually stronger than the US’, which has continued to import thousands of H-1B workers even while under lockdown due to a global pandemic.

The border between the US and Canada has been closed since the end of March, and this was recently extended, likely into mid-June. Trudeau has stated that the closure and its extension were implemented with full cooperation from the US.

While travel into Canada has not stopped completely, it has fallen drastically since the implementation of restrictive policies. However, critics of the government question whether Trudeau reacted quickly enough, and argue that the policy going forward is too vague and requires more explanation and accountability.

As stated by Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus:

“It was the Trudeau government’s failure to close our borders that allowed the virus to spread in the first place. It is incumbent on the Trudeau government to explain how they plan to ensure that travelers who are coming back to Canada are not spreading COVID-19… Unfortunately, right now the Trudeau government is telling Canadians to ‘wait and see’ without explaining what metrics they are relying on to make decisions.”

While Canada is doing significantly better than the US in terms of the number of cases, one tragically sobering area in which it has exhibited clear failure is the fate of its elderly, particularly those in state and private long-term care institutions.

It is estimated that up to 86% of the Canadian death toll is from facilities such as long-term care, retirement, and corrections, with the first two making up the large majority. In one privately-run nursing home, as much as one third of residents have died from coronavirus.

While the situation is complex and there are few countries that do not seem to have significant problems with their approach, it is clear that something is wrong with Canada’s. Perhaps the government should focus more on taking care of its elderly than intrusively monitoring its citizens.

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