Israel Closes West Bank for Easter Despite Protests

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have sealed off the West Bank for the Jewish Passover despite protests from Palestinian Christians, who will be denied entry into the Holy Land to celebrate Easter.

The closure, which began at midnight on Sunday, will last until midnight on April 6 for the duration of the Passover, eclipsing Easter on April 4th.

The only people allowed to enter Israel with a permit are those with medical needs, doctors, non-governmental and humanitarian workers, and lawyers, although even those who obtain the permit are often denied entrance.

A letter signed by several Christian organizations in the area denounced the restrictions, and asked church leaders in the Holy Land to protect "the very existence of Christianity and take a clear stand" on allowing believers freedom to worship.

"No Palestinian, Christian or Muslim, should be forced to apply for a permit to have access to occupied East Jerusalem," the group wrote, saying that the Israeli measures go "against the status quo ... We reject any party who wants to either change our traditions or compromise our rights."

The statement was echoed by the Council of Arab Orthodox Organizations who also called on church leaders to "stand by the rights and aspirations of their congregation and to stand up to the discriminatory policies of Israel with the freedom of worship."

"We urge Palestinian Christians to celebrate Holy fire Saturday in Jerusalem despite all the Israeli occupation policies aiming to restrict our historic rights and push us toward immigration," the group said. "Easter is the most important holy celebration for Christians. Unfortunately, the Israeli authorities have been taking actions during the last years to prevent Palestinian Christians of reaching to the Holy Sepulcher and its environs under the pretext of security."

Tensions between West Bank Christians and Israeli authorities have been typical in recent years when Passover and Easter dates overlap.

Israeli authorities cite security as the reason for the closure, so as to prevent military attacks from disrupting the festivities.

In 2002, a Hamas suicide bomber killed 30 people when he blew himself up in an Israeli hotel during the beginning of the Passover feast.

The leader behind the attack, Omar Jabar, was arrested by Israeli police in 2008.

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