The Rev Dr Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the US, was told by Ambassador Michael Oren on Wednesday that the travel ban had been lifted, allowing Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank access to Jerusalem.
Oren reportedly said he had contacted Israeli officials about the travel restrictions and they assured him that Palestinian Christians can visit sacred sites for Easter. The ambassador also told NCC to notify him directly if there are incidents at check points with Palestinian Christians in which the orders are not followed.
The call from Oren was in response to concerns conveyed by Kinnamon and two American rabbis over Israel’s increased security for Passover, which they said had inadvertently closed the border to Palestinian Christians who want to worship in the Holy City during Easter week.
“I hope the Israeli government realises that it is unacceptable to us that Christians be denied the right to worship in Jerusalem, especially Christians whose roots in the region go back to the time of Christ,” said Kinnamon on Tuesday.
While acknowledging Israel’s need for security, Kinnamon urged Israel to open its doors to West Bank Christians for the Holy week. NCC partners in Jerusalem, he said, had reported that some Israeli checkpoints have denied access to Jerusalem even for Palestinian Christians who had Easter permits.
Two prominent American rabbis joined Kinnamon’s call – Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director and council of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.
Both rabbis urged the Israeli government to find a way to “fulfil its security concerns while also seeking accommodations to permit Christians to worship at their holy sites during the holidays”.
“I’m grateful to Steve and David for their partnership in supporting our call to the Israeli government to help all Christians participate in the celebration of the most holy events in our calendar,” Kinnamon said.
Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians, have long complained about travel restrictions between the West Bank and Israel.
A group of Palestinian church leaders last year released the “Kairos Palestine Document”, which details their grievances living under Israeli control. Among the complaints is the “daily humiliation” of military checkpoints.
Israel, however, maintains it has a right to protect its borders and citizens from the frequent terrorist attacks by Palestinians angry about the occupation.
The US government and a growing number of American church leaders, including evangelicals, in recent years have pushed for a two-state solution that promises Israel greater security in exchange for yielding land for a Palestinian state.
The Obama administration currently supports and is working towards a two-state solution.