Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week and concludes on Easter Sunday. Palestinians follow the same path that Jesus took on his return to Jerusalem. Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode on a donkey as followers laid palm branches along his path.
During Holy week Palestinians retell the story of Jesus’ Sabeel (Arabic for just path), visit their churches, and attend candlelight services at some of the oldest standing churches in Christendom (Bethlehem, Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, Taibeh, Tabarieh, Arabe’, Beit Sahour, and Beit Jala). All week, in prayer they will share the same stories their forefathers told of past Holy Weeks and linking how Jesus suffered and sacrificed himself for the Palestinian Christians who followed him then and continue to follow him.
They will recount how Jesus entered their cherished and tortured Jerusalem greeted by a loving crowd who waved and covered his path with palm branches. They will contemplate their organic experience and unique narrative that connects them to the very first Christians and ancestors who lived through and witnessed the countless biblical accounts that speak of Jesus and the heavy cross he carried, and they still carry. They will recount the hardships and the Joys their ancestors before they experienced, and pray for the peaceful end of the innumerable hardships they daily confront.
This week, like every Holy week since Israel’s military occupation, those few Palestinians with an Israeli permit march on foot and waddle through Israel’s Separation Wall, checkpoints, and soldiers while carrying and waving their Palm fronds and olive branches.
On Good Friday, twenty Palestinian men will carry the heavy cross that Jesus carried alone. Twenty representatives of the same families will place the cross on the same position that their fathers before them placed on their shoulders. They will retrace Jesus’ Sabeel along the cobblestoned Via Dolorosa, mark the Stations of the Cross that lead to his crucifixion, reflect and pray at each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross that are depicted on East Jerusalem’s ancient walls. Others will carry and clutch the same small wooden cross their ancestors carried. Together they will march towards the Sanctuary of Flagellation and meander the narrow paths that commemorate the final steps of Jesus.
Like their mothers before them, young Palestinian women will gently release white pigeons of peace at the end of the procession in honor of their beloved and tormented Jerusalem. They pray for peace to reign on their precious city and reflect on their unique and arduous faith experience. Robbed of their lands, homes, freedoms, and peace for following and adopting their ancestral faith generations of Palestinian children continue to shoulder Jesus’s heavy cross and call for justice and peace.
On the eve of Holy Saturday, the Holy Sepulcher will spread the Holy Fire that has been kept lit for 1,500 years. The same fire will be carried to every town, city, and village across Palestine. Before the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem interrupted the spread of the Holy Fire, Palestinians on foot carried the Holy Fire to neighboring churches in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Until 1967, and for 1.200 years before their restrictive occupation, Palestinian delegates, clerics, and laymen crossed the borders to carry the Holy Fire to neighboring Christian churches to share and spread it to the next church.
This Easter Sunday, most Palestinian Christians will be confined by Israel’s Separation Wall, checkpoints and visa restrictions. However, before 1967, most celebrated Easter Sunday at the two holiest Christian sites that mark the birth of Jesus and his crucifixion (Bethlehem and East Jerusalem) where more than twenty separate masses are annually conducted within a span of 24 hours at the Church of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre.
For the Christians of Palestine, Holy Week marks and represents the organic manifestations of their faith, and directly connects them to their past, present, and future. In faith, they relentlessly practice non-violence while working for justice and peace for their own people and occupiers- Palestinians and Israelis. Like every Holy Week since 1967, Christians of Palestine will reaffirm their faith, carry their cross and painful existence, and recommit to remain faithful to Jesus’s just path.