Despite the decades-long ban by the Egyptian Coptic Church, 4,700 Egyptian Christians are planning to make their way to Jerusalem this year, an official at EgyptAir told Ahram Online on Monday.
“Around 800 pilgrims have already left from Cairo to Tel Aviv on Air Sinai starting from 29 March,” the official said.
Each Holy Week and Easter, many of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Christians aim to visit Jerusalem.
However, a papal decree issued in 1979 by the late Pope Shenouda III forbade Coptic travel to the city in protest of the Israeli occupation.
The EgyptAir official explained that a total of 26 charter flights are planned to travel from Cairo to Tel Aviv over the next week, yet there was no statement on timing of the trips.
During his visit to Cairo in January 2018, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Arabs to visit Jerusalem.
“Do not leave us alone. Going to Jerusalem is not going to Israel and supporting Israel. It is supporting Palestinians,” he said at the Al-Azhar International Conference in Support of Jerusalem.
“All reservations for this trip are done through the tourism agencies.”
There has been a debate on whether travel to Jerusalem — occupied by Israel in 1967 — may divide Christians.
Some believe they should not be barred from the “blessing” of visiting the Holy City, while others see such visits as giving legitimicy to over 50 years of Israeli occupation.
Since the Camp David Accords were signed between Egypt and Israel in 1978, there have been no official travel restrictions, other than the Coptic Orthodox Church's decree.
The church continues to renew its committment to the 1979 decree with statements against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The number of religious pilgrims to Jerusalem has increased over the last few years.
Egyptian Coptic Christians make up 10 percent of the country's 93 million population.