1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
Karfreitagsprozession in Jerusalem 18.04.2014
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Crowded streets

Kate Shuttleworth, Jerusalem
April 19, 2014

Jerusalem is always busy at Easter, but this year the holiday has coincided with Jewish Passover, bringing thousands of religious pilgrims to the Old Town. The week has been mostly peaceful, but tensions remain high.


From the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice the muezzin's cry breaks the hubbub of the Christian pilgrims below at the intersection of Via Dolorosa as prayers come to a momentary standstill.

All day, pilgrims have been carting wooden crosses along the Via Dolorosa, following the footsteps Jesus took nearly 2,000 years ago. They stop along the way at 14 stations of the cross for prayer and recitation of the liturgy.

Christians descended on Jerusalem's Old City in the same way they have every year, but this year, Easter and the Jewish Passover coincide so the religious happenings merge within the city. Growing tensions in and around al-Aqsa mosque this year are also part of the dynamic in the Old City, the site that has always been holy to Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Karfreitagsprozession in Jerusalem 18.04.2014
Pilgrims rent wooden crosses for the Via DolorosaImage: AFP/Getty Images

On Good Friday Israeli police cordoned off parts of the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the 'Way of Suffering,' as the procession of Christian pilgrims traveled toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Pilgrims packed behind cordons as Israeli border police gradually allowed them to trickle through on their way to the church. They were then herded around the holiest places within the church.

Pilgrims rented life-sized wooden crosses in remembrance of Jesus' crucifixion. Others carried smaller hand-held crosses while they visited the 14 stations of the cross ending at the church where Jesus was believed to have been crucified, buried and resurrected.

Spanish devotee Maria Romero, 75, carried a chair that doubled as a walking stick. She said the smooth cobbles of the route were treacherous and she'd had to move slowly while carrying her cross in her other hand. It was her first visit to Jerusalem and said walking along the Via Dolorosa had been an emotional moment. "I love being here, it's a very special day," she said.

Pessach Feier in Jerusalem 17.04.2014
Passover celebrates the Israelites' ancient flight from Egyptian slaveryImage: AFP/Getty Images

Hanka Radaka from the Czech Republic said she hadn't come to the Old City on Good Friday for religious reasons. "It's very busy today with all the religions coming together, I like it, it's very special," she said. As Christian pilgrims moved throughout the Old City, Jewish people traveled to Kotel, the Western Wall, and Muslims held Friday prayer.

Crosses and keffiyeh

The Old City has always been an assault on the senses, but during Easter processions the three religions became gridlocked as they tried to move amongst one another.

The narrow streets surrounding Via Dolorosa are lined with shops selling spices, underwear, imported incense, painted pottery, kitchenware, crosses and religious memorabilia, head scarves and keffiyeh, pro-Israel T-shirts and others calling to "free Palestine."

The streets became alive as nuns, priests, ultra-Orthodox Jews and devout Muslims, non-religious tourists, pilgrims, residents and armed Israeli border police were all woven together.

Last weekend the pathway from the Mount of Olives to the Old City was teeming with Christian pilgrims from across the world who sang, chanted and waved palm fronds in remembrance of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. A re-enactment of Jesus on a donkey was carried out.

While Christians enter Holy Week to reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus, Jewish families and friends also arrived from across the world in the thousands. At sundown last Monday, extended family dinners were held across Israel for the Seder night, a Passover meal that recounts the Israelites' ancient flight from Egyptian slavery. Bible recitations and songs are all part of the Seder.

Karfreitagsprozession in Jerusalem 18.04.2014
Jerusalem's Old Town was teeming with pilgrimsImage: Getty Images

According to the Bible Jesus ate his last supper, a Passover meal, just hours before he was betrayed. Christians believe Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday.

Christian prayer and processions will continue in the Old City until Easter Monday.

Tensions in the Old City

On Monday police arrested five Jews suspected of intending to sacrifice a goat at the al-Aqsa mosque complex - an attempt to re-enact an ancient Passover ritual. The Jews managed to smuggle the goat through strict bag inspections on entry.

Tensions at the complex remained high during the week. Thirty Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli police on Wednesday when the compound was opened to Jewish visitors.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said Palestinians threw rocks and firecrackers and police and police responded with stun grenades and close the complex to Jewish visitors.

Jerusalem Tempelberg Ausschreitungen 16.04.2014
Tensions have been high around the al-Aqsa mosque in the past weekImage: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Dozens of Palestinians were wounded by rubber-coated bullets and stun grenade canisters. Many remained inside al-Aqsa mosque out of fear of being arrested when they tried to leave.

Jewish fringe groups have vowed to build a third temple on the site Jewish people call Temple Mount.

A Palestinian shop owner in the Old City, Basem Hallak, told DW that Muslims had been forced to pray in the street within the Old City.

"Tensions have been high and many Muslims have had to find alternative places to worship to avoid trouble," he said.

On Good Friday Palestinians lined the streets of Khan az-Zait and al Wad streets, laying out prayer mats as it became difficult during Christian processions to get access into the mosque as Israeli border police blocked some access.

Member of the PLO's executive committee for Jerusalem affairs Ahmed Qurei condemned the police attacks saying it constituted "aggressive racism."

"The persistence of the Israeli occupation authorities is a continued attempt at Judaization of al-Aqsa mosque," he said.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section Related topics
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Rescuers carry a victim on the rubble as the search for survivors continues in the aftermath of an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria

Turkey-Syria: Time 'running out' for people trapped — LIVE

Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage