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National Council of Churches urges Israeli government
to assure Palestinian Christians can visit holy sites at Easter

New York, March 30, 2010 -- The National Council of Churches is asking the Israeli government to provide access for Palestinian Christians who wish to visit Christian sites in Jerusalem during Holy Week.

Israel has stepped up security between Israel and the West Bank, essentially closing the border to all except individuals carrying government approved permits. However, reports from NCC partners in Jerusalem indicate that some Israeli checkpoints have denied access to the city and its holy sites for many Christians who have been given Easter permits.

Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the measure during the Passover holiday, citing "situation assessments adopted by the defense establishment."

This year Passover and the Christian celebration of Holy week take place during the same period.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, said he understood Israel's need to provide strict security during the religious holidays, when law enforcement agencies are particularly vigilant.

"But I hope the Israeli government realizes 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."

Kinnamon urged Israel to open its doors to West Bank Christians as widely as possible.

Christians from outside the area who are visiting Jerusalem, and Christian Arabs who live in Israel, have free access to the holy sites in Jerusalem.

Two leading rabbis have echoed Kinnamon's request to Israel to make it easier for Christians who live in occupied territories to have the same access.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, urged that the Israeli government find a way to "fulfill 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.

This year, through a confluence of calendars, Eastern and Western Christians will celebrate Easter on the same date.  This means that, in terms of celebrating the most important events of their faith, all Christians will be focused together and at the same time on what happened in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago. 

But travel restrictions encountered by Christians who live on the West Bank have made it impossible for thousands of the faithful to celebrate at some of Christianity's holiest sites.   

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell) ,

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