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Easter in Jerusalem

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

On this Easter Sunday, we begin our broadcast in Israel, where Christians celebrated the holy day in far fewer numbers this year. During Holy Week, Jerusalem is typically packed with pilgrims, tourists and Christians from all over Israel and the occupied territories. But tourism is down, and authorities have placed tough travel restrictions on Palestinians, making the holiday a muted affair as the war in Gaza drags on. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

SIMON HOLLAND: Good morning, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Good morning.

HOLLAND: Welcome to the Garden Tomb.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Worshippers greeted the sunrise this Easter Sunday with a lively band at the popular tourist site among Protestant Christians.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Put your hands together. This one's for the risen king.

KAHN: As daylight illuminated the verdant gardens, many swayed with extended hands. Director Simon Holland reminded visitors that there was still a war not far from the gathering.

HOLLAND: Sadly, if a siren does sound off, you will have to just get to the ground where you are, OK? We pray that doesn't happen. But stay where you are and go down onto the ground.

KAHN: Holland says everyone is praying for peace this year. Michele Myer attended services with her family.

MICHELE MYER: We need to pray that the God who was risen from the dead will bring peace back to this region, so we're hoping for restoration for everybody.

KAHN: Like many visiting Jerusalem's most holy Christian sites today, Myer lives here. Her husband works at the U.S. Embassy. Sixty-one-year-old Riki Neeb has worked at the garden for more than 30 years.

RIKI NEEB: Bless you. Hi. Faithful ones.

KAHN: She says it's tough without tourists this year, but she's heartened to see so many local Christians who believe in Christ's resurrection.

NEEB: That's, for me, a very, very powerful thing, especially this year with all the death going on, that somebody conquered death, and it has lost its sting.

KAHN: Death is heavy on the minds of many worshippers at Holy Family Church in Gaza.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: Palestinian Christians sing and pray in the small parish today, one of the last places left for Gaza's tiny Catholic community. NPR producer Omar El Qattaa spoke with 43-year-old George Anton. He, his wife and three daughters took refuge in the compound surrounding the church soon after October 7. That's when Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing more than 1,200 and taking hundreds hostage. Israel then launched its air and ground assault.

GEORGE ANTON: Our homes were destroyed, and, you know, we have no other place to run.

KAHN: According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 32,000 Palestinians have died there as the war nears the six-month mark. Anton is struggling to find hope this Easter.

ANTON: So we have no sense to celebrate this year actually, as we are all the time threatened by tanks, threatened by bombardments, threatened by snipers.

KAHN: He misses spending the holiday in Jerusalem with family members and the throngs of worshippers.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELLS RINGING)

KAHN: At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on what is said to be the tomb of Jesus, the crowd was very thin in Jerusalem's Old City. The lack of people has been hard on merchants, especially those in the Christian quarter, who have seen sales plunge since the start of the war.

USMA: Believe me - nothing. We have very, very quiet times of business.

KAHN: Usma is a shopkeeper near the church. He won't give his full name out of fear of retribution from Israeli authorities. He is one of the only shops open.

USMA: We like to show to people how we are here, and we like to show them how we like to be continue to live in this city because it's our land.

KAHN: He says he just hopes the tourists come back soon. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.